Since you read K! Magazine, you are almost certainly gifted to work with children. You like and connect with them, and they like you. Now you need to draw other people into your ministry. There are different ways to do that. I believe the most biblical way is to find other people who are gifted to work with children. So let’s be sure we understand the biblical concept of giftedness.
The Body of Christ
Most American schools have a program for “gifted” students. Usually, that program includes 3-10 percent of all students. If your child is included in the gifted program, it shows what superior genetics and parenting can do! Scripture says God has a “gifted program” too—but 100 percent of us get to be in it. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Then he used an inspired illustration. The church, he wrote, is the “body of Christ.” Each Christian is a member of that body. We know no one uses their toes to listen to music, their ears to unlock a door, or their elbows to digest food. Each part of our body does certain things that contribute to the body’s overall well-being. The body only thrives when each unique part is healthy, and responds to the head. When any body part fails to do what it is designed to do, the whole body is less healthy. That, Paul wrote, is how God means for the church to work.
Several years ago, a speaker at our church was urging people to work in children’s ministry. He told about taking his six-year-old daughter to a new Sunday school. She felt shy and scared. The teacher met them at the door, dropped to one knee to be on the girl’s eye level, introduced herself, asked the child her name, inquired if she liked puppies or making paper daisies (whatever that day’s activity was), and soon led the now-happy girl to join her new classmates. Then the speaker said, emphatically, “Anyone can do that.”
He meant well. But it’s just not so. That teacher served his daughter’s needs much better than “just anyone.” We could see she was gifted. She was comfortable with a frightened child. She knew to get on her eye level rather than to loom over her. She drew the child in by appealing to her interests. Because of her gifts, those behaviors may have been natural and intuitive to her. We know many devoted Christians wouldn’t deal with a child that effectively.
No physical body part would be correct in thinking “any body part could do what I do.” If that were true, according to what Paul wrote, it would cripple the body: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” (1 Corinthians 12:17) Your love for children, your instincts and knowledge about how to engage them, is a gift, an ability not everyone has. To honor the fact that you work very effectively with children is not bragging. It’s accepting the Bible’s plain teaching, and valuing your God-given ministry gifts.
Scouting for gifted volunteers
When you seek volunteers who will embrace your ministry, then, you aren’t looking for just anyone. You’re looking for people with some of the same qualities that lead you to embrace children’s ministry. You’re seeking individuals whose gifts make the work a good fit for them. You need to become a “gifts scout.”
Spiritual gifts’ teaching often focuses only on discovering your gifts. But as members of the Body of Christ, we can help one another discover the abilities, dreams and individual traits that suit us uniquely for particular roles. To discover your gifts, you think and pray about what you do well. You also notice what others do well. To discover your gifts, you pay attention to what kinds of service bring you deep inner joy and satisfaction. You can also watch others “light up” when serving in certain ways. Most importantly, you can share what you see. When you tell another person, “You connect really well with children” (or whatever strength you see), it’s amazing how often that person is surprised. Many of us have learned, consciously or sub-consciously, to disregard or minimize our strengths. When you serve as a gifts scout, God can use you to make others aware of gifts they don’t see.
Of course, your sharing must be honest, not just a way to manipulate someone into accepting a job. Gifts scouting is very different from filling slots. One of Paul’s most challenging statements is, “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” (1 Corinthians 12:18) Like corporations, churches often create an organization chart, and then try to persuade people to fill positions on the chart. A gifts scouting approach challenges us to build our ministry around people and their spiritual gifts, rather than making the people fit the ministry. It leads us into the uncomfortable position of asking Christ, the head of the Body, to be the leader and designer of our ministry, rather than being fully in charge ourselves. It makes it vital that we help all members of the Body identify and activate their gifts, since often a gift that seems to be missing is actually present, but not discovered and in use. In the long term, gifts scouting builds flexible, powerful ministries filled with gifted, passionate volunteers who love their work. It minimizes burnout, and avoids situations where people say things like “I put in my year in kids’ ministry. No more.”
Gifts scouts need sharp eyes, attentive hearts and a focus on people’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. At our church, we created a simple grid to help with personal gift exploration and with gift scouting. (See p. 3 of the booklet at http://www.cor.org/fileadmin/users/adult_discipleship/Stride_Guide_08.pdf.) A tool like this can help you become more intentional about noticing the strengths of others.
Spiritual gifts are one of the main ways God calls us to service. Scouting the gifts of others is a great way to boost their spiritual power and vitality, and build your children’s ministry. Helping all members use their gifts in service is as vital to the Body of Christ as a healthy pancreas is to your physical body!
Scout the gifts of children, also
Here’s a bonus: gifts scouting will also bless the children you serve. Sometimes people think spiritual gifts are only for adults. Many gifts discovery tools focus on experiences. An assessment item like “I find joy working with children” doesn’t say much to a person who’s never worked with children. So, the line of thinking is: until you’ve had lots of experiences, you can’t discover your spiritual gifts.
But you know that, at an early age, some children are neater than others, others more musical, and others more analytical. Those may be “just” natural talents. Still, observation says that much of the time (not always) an adult with the spiritual gift of administration was more organized as a child than siblings or playmates. Much of the time (not always) an adult with the spiritual gift of teaching “taught” his playmates, or had her dolls lined up on the couch to report on their homework.
Spiritual gifts are more than just natural talents. Natural talents, by themselves, can be used in selfish or hurtful ways. Spiritual gifts require a yielded heart and a submissive spirit open to the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. They work for the common good, and build up God’s Kingdom. But it seems that much of the time (not always) the Holy Spirit shapes a person’s natural talents into spiritual gifts that serve others and build God’s Kingdom.
Gifts scouting can shape a child’s life. For example, well-meaning adults tried to discourage young Mary Engelbreit from pursuing art, to be more practical. Janice Elsheimer, in her book The Creative Call, recounts that “whenever she became discouraged, Engelbreit would remember how, even at a young age, her parents had encouraged her to pursue her artwork. When she was nine, Mary announced that she needed a studio, and her mother promptly converted a linen closet into one for her.”
You, too, can notice each child’s special strengths and abilities and encourage them. You can teach children that each person’s uniqueness is a gift from God, to be used to bless others and honor God.
The apostle Paul wasn’t a father, as far as we know, but he had a “son of the heart” named Timothy. To Timothy he wrote, “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7) You, like Timothy, can value your gifts, and kindle them afresh. And you, like Paul, can encourage others to discover, develop and deploy their gifts in God’s service. As you do both, the Holy Spirit will strengthen and grow the Body of Christ in wonderful ways through your ministry.
Possible sidebar material:
Author’s Recommended Spiritual Gifts Resources:
1) Serving from the Heart, Cartmill and Gentile; Serving from the Heart for Youth, Cartmill, Gentile, and Broyles
2) What You Do Best in the Body of Christ, Bugbee
3) Live Your Calling, Brennfleck and Brennfleck
4) Now Discover Your Strengths, Clifton and Buckingham
5) Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Buckingham
6) Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, Wagner