Helping preteens understand their spiritual gifts can be a complicated — but joyous — experience.
In a Peanuts comic, Lucy contemplates with Charlie Brown the meaning of life. Lucy says, “Life is like a deck chair. Some place it where they are going; some place it where they have been; and some place it so they can see where they are at present.” Charlie Brown’s reply: “I can’t even get mine unfolded.”
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Unfolding a life is no easy task. It’s especially difficult if you’re responsible for unfolding someone else’s. Yet this is our calling as children’s ministers. Scripture tells us that we’re to “train a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). A proper understanding of this often-misunderstood verse suggests that children each have a particular path to follow and that as ministers, teachers, and parents we’re to guide them to find this God-given way. We’re to help them hear the voice Isaiah referred to when he said, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it'” (Isaiah 30:21).
Our dilemma is this: How do we help children live out their way (fulfill their calling) when we have no idea what their way is? Fortunately, God places in children a spiritual blueprint that, when correctly read, makes clear the way they’re to go.
DNA: God’s Blueprint for Destiny
Deep within the cell structure of each child is genetic information that determines everything from nose size to resistance to cancer. These microscopic strands of genetic data are called DNA. Every single hereditary characteristic of our sons or daughters is determined by this material. DNA is a physiological blueprint for life.
There’s another form of DNA that’s less well-known. You can’t see it with an electron microscope, and it’s impossible for human beings to engineer. It’s also formed in the womb and has an even greater determining force than biological DNA. It’s spiritual DNA — our Divine Notion Awaiting — God’s spiritual blueprint for life. Like its biological counterpart, spiritual DNA possesses information about our children’s unique potential. By carefully (and prayerfully) analyzing this code, we can collect and interpret data that reveals mysteries about our children’s futures.
King David’s DNA
The psalmist David recognized the existence of his spiritual DNA in Psalm 139:15-16: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
God’s plan for David’s life was recorded in his spiritual DNA. He would be a great leader of his people — a gifted king, a tremendous worship leader, and a powerful warrior.
When Samuel called on Jesse’s family to anoint the next king of Israel, David was such an unlikely candidate that he was left to tend sheep in the field. Samuel, however, was a trained spiritual geneticist. With God’s help, he analyzed David’s DNA and he saw the future in the boy. The boy with a passion and gifts to shepherd and worship would grow up to shepherd God’s people as king and lead them into the sanctuary of the Lord with praise. “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23).
How tragic if David had missed God’s plan for his life because of a lack of guidance. “No son of mine is gonna be some wimpy musician!” “What your father means, dearest, is there’s no financial security in psalmistry. We’d hoped you’d go to agricultural school like your brother.”
Like Samuel, we’re called to see the future in children. What are their gifts? What are their passions? These are the two strands of their spiritual DNA. Gifting is what a child is good at doing. Spiritual passion is what a child likes to do. The “way the child is to go” is located at the place where these two components of destiny overlap. Where avocation becomes vocation.
Like David, our kids have a call on their lives to fulfill a specific kingdom purpose. It was placed in them before they were born. Let’s look at some examples. Don used to read the encyclopedia for fun when he was 10. He had an insatiable appetite to learn how things worked. He also loved to hike and explore new trails and would spend hours out in the woods. Today, he chases down atomic particles for a living in a radiology lab. Don is a nuclear physicist.
As a boy, John loved to gather a group of kids in the neighborhood to play softball. He would encourage everyone on the team to new levels of performance with his enthusiastic cheers and screams. Today, he’s a pastor.
The majority of Nick’s first five years of life were spent in a hospital. Born with a congenital heart defect, Nick’s chest looked like a checkerboard from all his surgeries. During his long stays, he would greet and encourage other children who were unfamiliar with the hospital environment. Today, he’s a nurse. Katlin was always the champion of the underdog. That she was petite made no difference if a boy were being bullied on the playground. Her peers considered her to be confrontational and at times aggressive. She also had the unsettling habit of always having to be right about everything. Today, she’s a lawyer!
So how do we analyze children’s spiritual DNA? And how do we confirm their calling so they confidently live it out? Observation and interview are key.
Tell the children in your group: “God has given each of you special abilities so that you can do many wonderful things for him. I want to help you discover those special abilities.”
1. List accomplishments. Have kids reflect on their lives and list as many achievements and accomplishments as they can remember. Share with them that these achievements don’t have to be formally recognized. They may be as trivial as “makes friends easily” or “collects baseball cards.” Have them record any event or activity that clearly reveals a talent or ability. Encourage them to list these accomplishments chronologically — preschool, elementary, and preteen as follows.
- Preschool — Starred as Mary in a preschool pageant. Won a coloring contest. Learned to play songs on piano by ear.
- Elementary — Advanced to highest level in Bible club class. Made jewelry to sell to relatives and friends. Started and organized a kids’ newsletter at church.
- Preteen — Swam competitively and won several meets. Started a pet-care and grooming business. Assisted in 4- and 5-year-olds’ Sunday school class.
2. Identify favorites. Ask kids which activities and events they considered “really enjoyable” or “the most fun.” Have the children underline them.
Referring to each underlined event or activity, ask kids to respond to the following interview questions: “What did you like most about each activity or event? What made it so much fun for you?” If their answers seem superficial, follow up with probing questions. For example: “Think back to a time you were making jewelry. What did you like about it?” The child might answer: “I liked to design the jewelry best.” Or, “Think about a time you were playing baseball. What were you doing when you had the most fun?” Answer: “I like to play baseball because I love being part of a team. It’s really fun to cheer for my friends.”
More interview questions include: “If I were not afraid of anything I would…,” “The people I’d like to help the most are…,” “If time and money were no problem I would want to serve…,” “The one thing I wish I could do to help others would be to…,” and “Sometimes I think God is telling me to…”
3. Analyze word choices. Responses from this final set of questions reveal a great deal about a child’s direction in life. Look at the verbs and verb phrases. Children who are called to some form of craftsmanship (from blacksmithing to wordsmithing) often use words such as “make, create, design, look at when finished, or build” to describe what they enjoyed about an achievement. Kids who use words such as “get a group together, lead, win as a team, invite, guide, start, or help others improve” often express leadership qualities. (For further insight into verbs and verb phrases see the “Action Word List.”)
4. Partner with parents. To gain more understanding about a child’s Divine Notion Awaiting, have parents save physical evidence of spiritual DNA. Encourage parents to keep a scrapbook for their children — “A Destiny Journal.” Have parents save special awards, pieces of artwork, pictures, photographs of projects, and letters that reveal aptitude and interest.
Among my most treasured destiny finds is a math test my daughter Rebekah gave to her dolls when she was 7. Of the two dolls who took the test, one scored a B+ and the other a C. The test had several arithmetic problems and word problems — each doll answered separately. Rebekah had to have known the right answer to each problem to be able to correct the test. Not only does the test show Rebekah’s passion and gift for teaching but also her aptitude for math.
5. Report results. While this isn’t scientific, it is an informative process. Over time, these things may or may not be confirmed. This information does, though, give children and their parents insight into the way to go. Share with children and their parents your findings in the following format:
God seems to be calling Rachael to touch the lives of others through craftsmanship; she also demonstrates a calling to minister in encouragement and mercy. God seems to be calling Mike to touch the lives of others through encouragement; he also demonstrates a calling to minister in administration.
God has given each child a unique calling — some will grow up to teach, some to administrate, others to pastor and lead. Our job as teachers and pastors is to help every boy and girl find their God-given way and equip them to live it out. A tall order! Fortunately, the God who calls our children is willing to share his secrets with us. The God who calls our kids promises to be found. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
Wes Fleming is a pastor and the author of Raising Children On Purpose. For more information about his book and seminars, go to www.raisingchildrenonpurpose.com. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.
Action Word List
The following is a list of words associated with various gifts kids may have in their spiritual DNA.
Administration — list, straighten up, straighten out, solve, manage, control, direct, oversee, govern, rule, carry out, organize, figure out, order, arrange, line up, prepare, measure, schedule, plan, prepare, collect, file, sort, set up, save, be on time, record, remember, maintain, sustain.
Artisanship and Craftsmanship — make, construct, design, invent, write, build, devise, assemble, put together, mold, form, beautify, embellish, adorn, fix, repair, improve, paint, create, share a creation with others.
Discernment — know, make clear, clarify, simplify, clear up, summarize, solve, determine, resolve, decide, perceive, understand, judge, referee, arbitrate, discriminate, notice, sift, discern, distinguish, make decisions, correct, listen, think.
Encouragement — talk, make friends, encourage, inspire, bring hope, make happy, fill with courage or confidence, support, stimulate, spur, cheer, coach, push, challenge, promote, comfort, assure, urge, provoke, incite, excite, exhort, talk, improve, grow, develop, advance, progress, motivate.
Evangelism — persuade, compel, show, convince, win over, rescue, save, free, sell, win, reach, overcome, succeed, prevail, tell others.
Giving — share, give, care, offer, provide, contribute.
Helping — help, assist, support, aid, ease, relieve, take care of it, rescue, serve, join.
Hospitality — welcome, invite, host, greet, care, love, chat, mingle, visit.
Intercession and Prayer — pray, advocate, uphold, support, defend, reconcile, appeal.
Leadership — lead, build a team, tell others what to do, overcome, urge, direct, guide, demand, command, order, influence, initiate, start, dream, take charge, go first, take others to new heights and limits, expect more from others and self, compel, improve, change, make happen, persuade, convince, inspire, advance, improve, excel.
Music and Worship — perform, play and make music, entertain, applaud, cheer, clap, sing, keep the beat, whistle, drum, worship, compose, create, write music, represent, display, feel strongly about God.
Mercy and Compassion — show compassion, express kindness, show mercy, help, relieve, care, support, alleviate, lessen, ease, comfort, empathize, sympathize, pity, aid, soothe, calm, love.
Pastoring — direct, steer, lead, guide, comfort, take care of, mentor, equip, train, show how, help get ready, advise, counsel, gather together, round up, get together, team up, meet with, to be with friends, to make friends, join, belong, care, love, protect, defend.
Preaching — preach, implore, plead, persuade, convince, warn, admonish, urge, caution, correct the behavior of, talk, speak, discuss, tell others to follow the truth, declare, reveal truth, perform well under stress, compete, speak truth.
Teaching — teach, figure out, instruct, clarify, explain, demonstrate, help others understand, inform, make known, investigate, study, read, research, explore, look up, analyze, solve, examine, learn, discover, observe, show, present, display, illustrate.
Use this preteen spiritual gift inventory with kids to help them discover their God-given gifts and talents.