You’ve probably heard well-intentioned church people say things like “We need to train our children well — they’re the church of the future” or “Let’s use music that appeals to our kids; after all, they’re tomorrow’s church.”
Not so! Children aren’t the church of tomorrow — they’re the church of today just as much as adults are! There’s no magic moment at which people become old enough to “be the church.” In fact, as we know, Jesus more than once reminded the folks of his day that children are a vital part of his kingdom.
We do well to read and reread 1 Corinthians 12 to remind ourselves what it means to be many parts, but one body — and then to apply Paul’s words to the children among us in a way that nudges us to look for their particular gifts within the body. For example, when a four-year-old kisses the cast on a senior’s broken leg, she’s putting to good use her gifts of mercy, healing, and encouragement. And when a seven-year-old responds to the pastor’s question during the children’s message, he’s using his gift of wisdom and discernment. A ten-year-old’s comments and questions about a divisive denominational issue might cause adults to reconsider their own dogmatic opinions on both sides. You’ve probably got your own stories about similar ways in which the kids in your congregation — and your Sunday school class — have deepened your faith.
Here are some ways you can help kids identify, develop, and use their gifts for the benefit of the body:
- Be an encourager. Many people learn about their spiritual gifts when others notice them and offer encouragement: “You’re an excellent helper, Pete!” or “You ask the most interesting questions, Julie — you really make me think.” Such comments alert kids to the gifts God’s Spirit has given them and encourages kids to use those gifts.
- Be a facilitator. In your work with children, you’ll notice strengths and gifts that may be less obvious to others in the congregation. If a child in your group has drawn a particularly moving picture of the crucifixion or written an especially beautiful poem, find ways of sharing these gifts with the rest of the congregation by posting them on a bulletin board or giving them to the church newsletter editor for publication. You might also come across ways your kids can serve or put their gifts to good use on church projects, work Saturdays, and in worship. Consider yourself the link!
- Be a teacher. Introduce the idea of spiritual gifts (and the language used to describe them) to your kids by incorporating it into your storytelling and teaching. You can do this by naming the gifts of people in the Bible and talking about how they used them for the Lord and his people. Share historical and contemporary stories of Christians who’ve used their gifts to build up the church.
- Be a model. Remind yourself that you are gifted too! Are you serving God’s kingdom with joy? Are you nurturing your own gifts and using them ever more effectively through new learning? Are you relying on the Holy Spirit to see you through the challenges? Are you seeking support, prayer, and encouragement from God’s family to deepen and strengthen your commitment?
Consider these encouraging words from Jesus himself: “Whoever welcomes one such child” — his or her smile, energy, creativity, loving spirit, helpfulness, inquisitiveness — “in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). That’s exactly what you’re doing when you help the kids in your group be the church — today!
Do you have any other suggestions for helping kids identify, develop, and use their gifts?