How Parents & Caregivers Can Help Kids Discern Their Giftings

By Amy and Rob Dixon, Authors of Penny Preaches

What do you want to be when you grow up? That question might just be the one we are asked most in our childhood. And when we're wide-eyed and still blissfully unaware of the challenges that seem to lurk around every corner, the answers are free flowing. An astronaut, a ballet dancer, an Olympic swimmer: anything and everything feels within our reach. But that moment in time—the age when joyful possibility reigns supreme—is fleeting.

Penny Preaches by Amy and Rob Dixon

As we grow, so do our insecurities, and before we know it, doubt and uncertainty have crept in. By the time we reach high school, What do you want to be when you grow up? has morphed into, What will you do after graduation? Which college will you go to? What are you going to do with your life? And speaking as parents who are about to celebrate their third child's high school graduation, we can tell you, those are not always easy questions for teenagers to answer.

Discovering the ways that God has gifted each one of us, and finding our path to exercise those gifts, is often a lifelong process. Our desire in writing Penny Preaches was to catch our readers in that moment of radiant confidence—When I grow up, I'm going to be a mermaid!—to see that God gives good gifts to everyone, and to begin the sacred process of wondering, What good gifts has God given to me?

In God's grace and mercy, God doles out gifts to each one of us. Indeed, as we read in James 1:17, "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." So, before we start the process of helping kids discover their gifts, we can start by getting to know the Giftgiver. In Penny Preaches, Penny talks about how her brother gave her a smelly sock for her birthday. Now, no one would argue that a used sock was a good gift, but knowing that gift came from a place of love—from a brother who just wanted to participate in the joy of giftgiving—made all the difference to Penny.

Knowing the heart of any giftgiver is essential. And when we get to know God's heart, that allows us to trust that the gifts God gives are good. They are good because they are intended to be a blessing to others and to the church. This is what the apostle Paul means when he says in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that gifts are given "for the common good." Our sacred and joyful responsibility, then, is to put our gifts to work to benefit our neighbors.  

If God gives good gifts for the purpose of the common good, part of the journey for every Jesus-follower is discovering which "good gifts" God has given them. That's true for adults, but it's also true for kids. Parents and caregivers can propel kids into their lifelong experience of exploring their gifts by having them serve! When families serve together at church, at school, or with a local nonprofit, it creates opportunities for kids to try out ministry, a process that can eventually reveal which gifts God has bestowed upon them.

When our kids were in elementary school, we took them to Costa Rica for a week of ministry. What a joy it was to serve together, and as parents we got a glimpse of how God had wired our kids. In particular, we noted that Josh was great at connecting with kids through a shared love of sports, that Lucy was a wonderfully curious person who asked great questions, that Gracie was always up for taking a risk, and that Lily was full of empathy. This gave us so much insight into how God was forming them, even at so young an age. What could it look like to create a space for your kids to serve?

When gifts are talked about in the New Testament, it is notable that they are not allocated by gender, race, or any other social distinction. The apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 12:6-8: "We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the encourager, in encouragement; the giver, in sincerity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness."

God's gifts are for everyone, to be allocated only by God's sovereign grace. In our story, Penny faces internal and external obstacles as she explores her possible preaching gift. Our hope for every child is that they would be able to discern, embrace, and cultivate whatever gifts God has given them, even if those gifts push the boundaries of how the church has historically understood gifting for women and men.

As Penny reminds us, God gives good gifts to everyone. And while being a mermaid is, sadly, not one of the gifts, parents and caregivers have a crucial role to play in the process of helping kids discover theirs. We pray that as more young people discover their good gifts and are given the freedom to exercise them in the church, we will grow into the flourishing community we were always meant to be.

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About the Authors