For a few years after college, I lived in New York City. The congregation I attended was full of extremely talented people who were gifted by God in lots of ways. The thing I enjoyed the most though, was that the people there had found so many creative ways to use their gifts to glorify God. The experience opened my eyes to the many ways people are gifted by God and how they can use these gifts to serve God in an infinite number of ways.
Research is showing that the Church is losing its young people more rapidly than ever before. Not only that, but if a young person is considered creative or artistic, they are even more likely to leave the Church and in theory, God. No one knows for sure why and I am sure there are lots of reasons. I do think though, that the Church can be horribly slow in not only recognizing the gifts God has given our children, but also in finding meaningful ways for the children to use those gifts to serve God.
I was baptized relatively young and I remember my enthusiasm at the idea of being able to serve God in some meaningful way. The Sunday after my baptism, I marched right up to some adult (probably an elder or preacher) and offered my services. After quite a bit of thinking, the only idea anyone had was to let me fill the track rack! I realize the “jobs” of the church need to be done, but I think I was really asking the adults to help me find out what God had gifted me to do in His Kingdom. I wanted to find my place in the Body and feel that I was an essential part of the Church. Thankfully, a few years later, a children’s Bible class teacher took me under her wing and I was able to soar with her help. I am not sure every child has been so blessed.
I have found that many gifts given by God (or at least the first ones) are very obvious to everyone and are often first discovered when the child is still very young. Often as an adult, I have heard many people recount how they just somehow “knew” at least roughly how God would one day use them as early as their teen years. Most of us ignored those first stirrings until it suddenly dawned on us years later that we were doing the very thing serving God which God had gifted us for years earlier.
You are probably saying to yourself, but my kid is just “average”. Maybe he hasn’t shown any signs of an obvious gift. Perhaps you have even thought she has no gifts at all. I think the scriptures teach us some people have more “gifts” than others, but everyone is gifted to do something in God’s Kingdom. It is only a matter of discovering what the gift is and figuring out how to use it.
Part of the problem is we have stopped much of the experimentation that used to be a part of childhood. Gone are the days when Girl Scouts was about trying out hundreds of different areas to discover talents in favor of highly stylized “Journeys” and a focus on camping, camping, camping (at least in our area). Summers are no longer long, lazy days for trying out lots of new ideas and skills, but are filled with highly structured camps focusing twelve hours a day on one skill. A well rounded child has been replaced by a child who has focused on one skill set for hours each day in hopes of landing a college scholarship.
If a child is truly gifted in an area, they may also be quite passionate about it and want to spend hours perfecting it. Don’t let them forget to try other things too, though. Many talented people will find they have talents in a number of areas. If your child’s talents are a little less obvious, I really encourage you to let them experiment a little. Athletics is not the only way to college scholarships and honestly, not everyone even needs to attend college! Give your child the freedom and the time to discover what God has gifted them to do. Don’t forget that not all talents are artistic or athletic. Some children are gifted organizers, planners or have other less obvious gifts. All are important to God’s Kingdom.
Once you are starting to see how God has gifted your children and have encouraged them to develop those gifts, it is time to help them use their gifts for God. Depending on your congregation, this may take more effort on your part. I believe it is worth any extra effort though, to ensure your children see where they fit in and are needed by the Church.
Over the next few days, I will explore some of the gifts I have seen in children and the creative ways churches can encourage these budding servants of God. I know many parents of children with special needs struggle with how to integrate their children in the Church in a meaningful way. I believe God has a place and a purpose for everyone. Hopefully, no matter how “gifted”, “average” or “special” your children are, together we can find a way for them to use their gifts for God. Maybe if they can see their place in the Church as meaningful at a young age, they will be less tempted to leave and find a more worldly place to appreciate those gifts.
In the mean time, what gifts are you beginning to see in your children? What ways have you found for them to use those gifts for God? What are some creative ways you have seen Christians use their gifts to glorify and serve God?