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Don’t let your students be…Unopened Gifts

By Carey Huffman

Christmas with my 2-year-old was bound to be a festive occasion. Captivated more by glittery packaging than the present inside, she once was delighted to sit and play with crumpled ribbon and cellophane while the rest of us exchanged gifts. But this time she took keen interest in the contents of packages—all the packages. Unopened gifts, no matter whose name they bore, were up for grabs. If she didn’t get a hand in unwrapping more than her share, she lost her holiday cheer.

While I’m trying to help my daughter grow beyond her selfish notion that everything is hers, I’m reminded of the truth revealed in the ultimate Gift—that it really is just for her—as it is for us all. And true joy and fulfillment come from sharing our gifts with one another.

Perhaps we should never outgrow the desire to help each other open the gifts God has given us. So many gifts to the body of Christ sit on the shelf—unnoticed, unopened, unused—the recipients either unaware of their gift or reluctant to open it in front of anyone. With child-like anxiety we all could assist those who have yet to discover what God has placed inside of them for his glory. Another parallel—youngsters express greater enthusiasm about receiving gifts, and are eager to put them to use right away.

Even so, the best time for people to unwrap their gifts and start using them for God is when they are young. Teenagers are the church of today. Like all other believers, they need to participate in their faith. However, mature believers often stifle the fervor of youth by disallowing them to "play" with their gifts in church. Yet the sign of a healthy church, youth ministry, or Sunday school class is one that helps all to discover their gifts and express them through serving in ministry.

Sunday school can play a huge role in opening teens minds to ministry. Students enjoy discovering they are gifted and that God wants to use them. Most are ready for a more active and challenging role in overall church life and we can steer them into it by helping teens discover, develop and employ their spiritual gifts in ministry.

Help Them Learn and Appreciate Their Gifts

Continually communicate messages that convey the joy of participation. Remind students that a life of observation is wasted, but one of active participation in God’s work is the very reason we exist. Our role as teachers, according to Ephesians 4:11,12, is "to prepare God’s people for works of service, so the body of Christ may be built up." Understanding the truth that all Christians are called to ministry can be revolutionary, and we cannot just assume that students will discover these truths on their own:

  • Created for ministry (Eph. 2:10)
  • Saved for ministry (2 Tim. 1:9)
  • Called into ministry (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
  • Gifted for ministry (1Pet. 4:10)
  • Authorized for ministry (Matt. 28: 18-20)
  • Commanded to minister (Matt. 20: 26-8)
  • To be Prepared for ministry (Eph. 4:11-12)
  • Needed in ministry (1 Cor. 12:27)
  • Rewarded for faithfulness in ministry (Col. 3:23-24)

Help Them Discover and Identify Their Gifts

Students have not only been recruited to "play" in the game of ministry, they have been given the equipment as well. However, we often wait so long to let our teens get into the game that by the time they are called up they have left the field and joined the spectators in the stands. Many have left the stadium altogether. We must help them suit up and get into the action now. Spark student’s interest with a spiritual gifts inventory. Such an exercise is not definitive, but may get students thinking about their gift tendencies and direction for involvement. You can also help students discover how God has uniquely shaped them for ministry by asking:

    • What do you love to do? What are you passionate about?
    • What natural-born abilities and talents do you possess?
    • How will your unique personality impact your ministry?
    • How can your past experiences be used to help others?

Help Them Develop and Incorporate Their Gifts

Outwardly affirm gifts and abilities observed in your students. Encourage them to keep doing what they do well. Spend individual time with students, exploring avenues of service and assisting in ministry placement. Provide practical training opportunities that will help them develop their gifts more fully and furnish service outlets that aid all facets of the church. Congregational unity and enthusiasm will prevail as teenagers accept real responsibility in ministries such as:

  • Art
  • Audio/sound
  • Babysitting/
  • nursery
  • Boys and girls clubs
  • Children’s church
  • Community outreach
  • Cooking
  • Computers
  • Drama
  • Greeting/
  • Hospitality
  • Missions projects
  • Music/praise band
  • Prayer
  • Service set-up
  • Small group leadership
  • Sports outreach
  • Sunday school teaching
  • Video/photography
  • Visitation

Create new and unique ministries to fit individual needs and interests. Reward commitment and faithfulness, not just accomplishment.

Keep Them Active and Accountable through Mentoring

Although discipleship has almost become a Christian buzzword over the years, it has always been the church’s mission. Yet very few have gotten a handle on it—perhaps because most have sidestepped the personal, relational, and individual nature of discipleship. Fortunately, an emphasis on mentoring is gaining momentum. As a leader, one of the most effective things you can do to promote practical ministry and personal growth is connect students to spiritually solid adults with similar interests, abilities and heart for ministry. Working side by side provides challenge both ways, giving kids worthy adult role models and building bridges of unity across generation and cultural gaps.

We cannot assume that once we’ve given students opportunity for involvement we can leave them alone. Mentoring provides responsibility with accountability, promoting giving, growth and vitality churchwide.