One of my greatest joys in children’s ministry has been the discovery of spiritual gifts in children. I was privileged to serve on staff at my last church for more than 13 years. Through those years, I walked alongside some incredible kids who are now adults. They showed me how the Holy Spirit was at work in their lives through their total dependence on Him to empower them in ministry. Their gift(s) manifested in many ways often in the church and especially in our community and on mission. Children’s Ministry became exciting to me! I stepped out of a box in which I was trapped for over 13 years, and I moved into a new paradigm as I watched God working in and through the lives of the kids.
You see, I was like many children’s ministers in the church today. I had embraced the idea that kids should just sit and be taught about Jesus and His Word. Then one day, they would be mature enough to serve. But, it was through God’s Word that I discovered their value in His church today. I found that young believers were not given a “baby” Holy Spirit when they were reborn; they were given THE HOLY SPIRIT! This meant that they were gifted by the Holy Spirit at the moment they said yes to Jesus. They are not the church of the future; they are the church TODAY because of Who lives in them today!
On the flip side of my journey in discovering the spiritual gifts of children was the disturbing number of adults in my church who did not accept them. Many had the belief that children are “to be seen and not heard.” That sounds familiar, doesn’t it! However, through my 13-year tenure, the eyes of many leaders were opened, and they saw God’s glory shine through the children as they ministered in the body.
Adam Stadtmiller shares, “I’m not sure when or why it happened, but somewhere back in the Church’s grand history, we decided that only certain elements of a full life in Christ are available to our kids. This is definitely true in regard to spiritual gifts in kids. At some point, someone put up a spiritual height chart, and generations of Christian kids have been missing out on the ride of their lives.” It’s time to throw the spiritual growth chart away and let God determine who is big enough to serve in His church!
I have learned a few lessons along this journey that I would love to share with you:
- We have a calling to equip children now (Eph. 4:11-13). There is nothing in Scripture that tells us that children should have to wait until they become adults to be equipped for ministry. On the contrary, there are many examples in God’s Word of children who started serving and leading at a young age (i.e., Samuel, David, Esther, Josiah, Jesus).
- Spiritual gifts give them identity and purpose. Children want to feel important. They are important to the Lord. Through discipleship and service using their gifts, they develop a spiritual confidence that sustains them for life. Current research backs it up.
- Give them tasks that give them value. Help them discover their spiritual gifts and then assign them tasks that give them ownership and value using their gifts.
- Allow them to win at what they do. The church should be a place where everyone is in the game and everyone wins. As children serve, you become their biggest cheerleader. Encourage them, rebuke when needed, but believe in them, and they will step up every time. Remember, no one sits on the bench in Jesus’ kingdom.
- Always look at them as younger brothers and sisters in Christ. They are Christ’s children, and they are your brothers and sisters in Christ. When we take this perspective, it causes us to give them a voice as co-equals in the body of Christ.
- Equipping them according to their gifts fulfills our calling as ministers (Eph. 4:11-13). One of our callings that we cannot escape is our duty to equip the saints—not just the adult saints, but the kid saints. When we do, we fulfill our calling as ministers and leaders in the body of Christ.
- Use caution when using spiritual gift tests. Spiritual gift tests are great tools, but proceed with caution. When we score a test, we can be tempted to hold a child to certain tasks based on that score. Remember, the Holy Spirit asks all of us to do things at times that are totally out of our comfort zones and gifting. Also, spiritual gifts manifest more as they mature and grow in their faith.
- Look at their highest score. When using the SGT, look at the highest score of each child and start there. If they have the gift of teaching, allow them (with a parent’s permission) to serve alongside a teacher for a season with the intent of learning from and teaching with a master teacher. If they have the gift of administration, they can help with check-in or take records in class. Encourage small group leaders to equip kids in their groups according to their gifts and allow them to serve in various ways.
- Some gifts manifest at different times. Pray for discernment. I once had a young lady who served in my area when she was in fourth grade. She was gifted in administration. Years later when asked to teach, she did an amazing job. She has discovered that she has multiple gifts, and they showed up over a period of time.
- Take small steps with them; start out with small tasks. Expect children to follow through. As they are faithful in the little things, give them greater responsibility. I have five students who started serving as young as fourth grade who now run our mission trips for our ministry. The oldest is 21 years of age. Altogether, they have more than 50 years of ministry experience in the church and on mission.
May the Lord bless you as you take this new path. Remember, not everyone will be excited, but hearts will be changed as people witness firsthand the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of children. Step out of the box and see what the Lord will do when you trust Him with bigger and better things.
Dr. Clint May
President, L.I.T. Ministries
 Adam Stadtmiller. Discovering Your Kids Spiritual Gifts: A Journey into Your Child’s Unique Identity in Christ (Ventura: Regal Book, 2012), 16.