“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV).
Today’s Children’s Church lesson was on the Parable of the Talents which is located in Matthew 25:14-30. As a refresher, this is the parable where a king leaves on a journey. Beforehand, he calls his servants to him and entrusts each of them with a certain sum of money. Two of the servants take that money and multiply it, but one simply buries the money. When the king comes back, he rewards the two who increased the money, but he sends the third servant away from his presence. As with all parables, this one contains a deeper meaning. Often when we look at this parable, we translate the meaning into literal talents, or gifts, that God has given us. That is the direction I went today in children’s church. I had the children think about their gifts — what they were good at — and then we brainstormed ways they could use those abilities to serve God.
This lesson has been on my mind a lot today. The Bible tells us that each one of us has been gifted in special ways to serve God. Each one. Wouldn’t that include our children, too? Yet, many times we are guilty of telling children that they aren’t old enough to do certain jobs, that they must wait until they grow up to serve in the church. Oh, we might not come right out and say it, but we say it just as loudly by what we don’t do. We don’t give them the opportunity to develop and use their gifts as they are growing up. We don’t let them do ministry alongside us.
There have been many theories given about why young people who grow up in the church leave the church and never come back. What if one of the reasons they leave is because they never really felt a part of it to begin with? What if they became so used to being told that they weren’t “old enough yet” or that they needed to “let an adult do that”, that they continued to expect the older members of the church to do all the serving? What if they were never taught to fall in love with serving in the local church and that their involvement and service was important — even vital — to the ministry?
I am not saying that we should turn the church over to our children. Nor am I saying that adults serving in the church is not as important as children. On the contrary, we need our adults to model joyful service to the next generation. (Indeed, there are many adults who are guilty of burying their talents, but that is a topic for another time.) After thinking through this topic, I have compiled a list of 11 ways that we can help our children use their gifts to serve God in the local church setting.
1. Music — At first glance, helping children who are gifted musically can seem like one of the simplest gifts to implement. Many churches have specials on Sunday morning. Let your musically gifted children perform these specials once in awhile. It is also easy to incorporate them in special programs, such as the Christmas or Easter program. Yet, there are other ways to help these kids use their gifts. Do you sing as part of your preschool class? Have your musically gifted kids lead the singing. One of the most helpful experiences I had learning to serve in my home church came when I was in the 7th grade and the preschool Sunday School teacher asked me to play the piano for her Sunday School class. I was by no means a professional pianist. In fact, some of the songs were played one handed! However, I gained skills that I would never have gained by piano lessons alone. (For example, I learned how to play for a group that had their own ideas about how the song should be sung. This is a skill that has helped me tremendously as I occasionally lead music in a church setting today.) Children who are gifted musically can also occasionally sing with the worship team, or perhaps you could form your own children’s worship team that could be used during Children’s worship or as part of youth Sundays.
2. Friendliness/Social Gifts — You might not think of a child’s friendliness as a gift, but I certainly do. Just as with adults, some kids are friendlier than others. Some are able to communicate with any kid in your group. You know the ones. These are the ones that you have to constantly separate from others because, no matter where they sit, they seem to strike up a conversation while you are trying to teach! Why not take advantage of their friendliness and desire to socialize? Help them discover that this is a way that God has gifted them and use them as greeters. Imagine how a new family would feel if they visit your church and, not only is there an adult who greets them and makes them feel welcome, but there is also a child who helps make their children feel welcome. Have your social children help pass out bulletins. Give them a little direction, and then set them free greeting everyone who walks in the doors of your church. It would help your church feel more inviting, and it would help your social children learn that they are important and that they can use their outgoing personalities in a mighty way to serve God!
3. Drawing/Art — Many children like to draw, and there are some who are really good at it! Let them know that their gifts are appreciated in the church by giving them jobs to do. An obvious way to do this is to pair them up with the people who are doing the sets and props for your special programs and letting them help. But there are also a couple not-so-obvious ways to help these kids use their gifts in the church. Do you have a weekly bulletin? Why don’t you have your artistic children design the front page of this bulletin once in awhile? Give them the responsibilty of designing the cards that you send to first time visitors or shut ins. Have them help design and decorate the bulletin boards at the church, or, if their art gift is combined with a leadership gift, have them lead an art project for the rest of the kids (or combine them with one of your Teaching/Leadership kids to lead an art project together.)
4. Reading — Some kids are very fluent, expressive readers. Obviously, these kids can be utilized quite well in your special programs, but they can also be used in regular services as well. Have them read the announcements during service. Pair them up with the worship team once in awhile and have them read Scripture. Take them to the preschool class and have them read the Bible story from a storybook to the younger kids. Have them read a communion or offering meditation, or have them read stories to the kids in the nursery. Try to fit them in however you can, after all, if their gift is reading . . . let them read!
5. Teaching/Leadership — Now, obviously, you don’t want to turn over all of your teaching responsibilies to your kids. They need to still be part of the children’s ministry and be ministered to. However, there are kids in your ministry that are natural teachers and leaders. These are the ones who are always spending time with the younger kids, trying to help them out with projects. Why not help them develop these abilities in a safe way? Pair them up with your lead teachers as an assistant in the preschool class once a month. Or, and this could be very interesting, let them teach some of your older adults a skill such as how to use social media. Imagine a class held on a weeknight or Saturday for older adults led by the kids on a topic such as that. This could be a great project for your kids who are gifted in teaching and leadership and your kids who are gifted in technology (see below), and it could be a lot of fun to see the generations interacting in such an innovative way.
6. Sports — When I asked the kids today where they felt they were gifted, many of them responded with sports. A lot of elementary kids enjoy playing sports, and, while it may not be where their primary gifts lie, it would still be worthwhile to show them that they could even use a skill like sports to serve God. One way you could use them is to have a small group serve as a sample group in trying out new games. Perhaps you have a game that you want to use with your large group but you aren’t sure of all the logistics. Bring in your sports-minded kids and teach them the game. This will help you see what changes you may need to make, plus it also gives you a group of kids who know how to play that game which can help tremendously when you play it with the large group. Furthermore, it helps these kids feel important. They are helping you in a practical way in your ministry! Other ways you can use sports-minded kids is to have them help lead games with the younger kids, or have them work one-on-one with smaller kids who are trying to learn a sport. Set up a basketball hoop and have your older basketball players show the younger ones how to play. Get a football out and have your football stars toss the football back and forth with some of your younger kids. Many kids love sports — it is your job to help them see that even sports can be used to serve God!
7. Cleaning/organizing — Do you have kids in your ministry who seem to always be organizing items? Do your parents tell you that their rooms are always spotless and they are always cleaning up after everyone else? (If you do, send them to me!!) Believe it or not, there are kids who are gifted in this way. Utilize their gifts! Give them the responsibility of reorganizing your materials after class, have them help with the cleaning of the building, put them in charge of the art closet. Or, get a group of organizers/cleaners together and do a service project. A very practical, thoughtful way that you can help someone who is going through a difficult time is to clean their house for them. So, if you have an elderly person who can’t do it herself, or a cancer patient who is just too tired to be bothered with housecleaning, or a new widow who can’t even begin to think about cleaning, take your group of organizers/cleaners over to that house and clean! It will be an experience that will stay with those kids forever!
8. Cooking — Do you have any aspiring chefs in your group? Ask them to make cookies once a month for the class or to take to first time visitors or shut ins. Have them help in the kitchen during special dinners so they can learn from the adults who normally cook for activities. Get their ideas about special snacks for VBS or after school programs. Have them write down their favorite recipes and then put those together and offer the congregation a “Children’s Ministry” cookbook. (Sell it for a small price and use that money for your ministry). Have the kids put on a special dinner for the adults where the food is cooked by your cooking specialists.
9. Writing — You may have children in your group who absolutely love to write. They are constantly writing poems or short stories (or passing notes when they should be paying attention during class). Help these kids use their gifts by giving them a safe, and helpful, outlet for their talents. Perhaps you can have a guest writer for your newsletter once in awhile, (or your website or blog). Have your kids who are skilled at writing compose a communion meditation or write letters to shut ins or first time visitors. Have a bulletin board that showcases their newest poems or short stories. Let them know that their contributions are important!
10. Evangelism — Yes, evangelism can be a gift. Just like some adults are better at evangelizing than others, some kids just seem to have that ability. These are the kids that you want to pair up with your visitation team once in awhile. Have them go along when you call on first time visitors. Teach them how to share their testimony, and then have them do that, both while on visitations, and also in front of the rest of the congregation. Have them share their testimony at special events, or as part of an outreach to the community. Give them opportunities to share with others and then watch their gift shine!
11. Technology — I’m sure that 10 years ago many of you would never have thought technology would make the list of gifts, but I think that today there are kids who are gifted in this area (and many adults who are not). Help these kids use their gifts in ways that can benefit your ministry! Do you have a church website? If you do, have these kids help keep it current. If you don’t, have these kids design one for you! During services, you can put them in charge of running the sound and power point. I have given my oldest son the task of getting the computer ready for me every Sunday before the Sunday School opening. He is using his gifts in a practical way, and it is one less thing that I have to worry about on Sunday mornings.
So there you have it. My list of eleven ways that children can be taught to use their gifts in the local church setting. I am sure that there are many more ways this can be accomplished. If you can think of any other ways, or if you have ways that you are already using successfully, please share. I’d love to hear from you. The most important thing I’d like you to take from this, however, is that KIDS ARE IMPORTANT!! They have gifts just like adults do, and they need to be taught how to use them for God’s service. We do not want them turning into adults who bury their talents!