Can my Toddler be a Contributing Part of the Body of Christ?

My testimony usually involves something about how I “prayed the prayer” when I was four but I don’t remember that happening. I don’t remember becoming a Christians and I don’t remember a time before I was a Christian but I don’t doubt that I am a Christian now.

When the Bible talks about spiritual gifts, it talks about how all believers have them and how all believers need to be an active and contributing part of the body.  You need to be the best hand, eye, or whatever that God created you to be.

My understanding of spiritual gifts allows for any “natural” ability to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, as well as including the possibility of supernatural gifting.  I believe that God wants us to rely on him in our weakness but often uses us according to our strengths.  I believe our experiences and personalities often play a part in how God uses us. 

That said, I don’t think I was ever asked to be a contributing member of the body of Christ until I was in jr. high and I got to play with babies in the nursery.   In high school I taught Sunday School to my fellow teens once or twice.  But it’s not like I was asked or allowed to do those things because my leaders knew I was gifted or called.   It was more just that there was a need and I was available and responsible and so they let me do it.

I want more than that for my child. 

She’s only three now, but I want to be discovering and sharpening her strengths now.  I want her to grow up believing she has something personal and unique to offer.  If she’s compassionate, I want her to be begin thinking early about compassion from a theological perspective, I want her to see people with big hearts model setting big boundaries, I want her to know that she can and should reach out to those she sees who are hurting and to walk with her through the process of figuring out what that looks like for her.  If I see a tendency toward leadership I want to help her find ways to intentionally influence her peers and learn how to handle the responsibility of leadership, recognizing that leadership is not about her but about advancing God’s kingdom.  If she might be a good teacher, how can I develop her as a teacher, while she’s still a child?  

A few disclaimers: I don’t want to pigeon-hole her.  I know we all change and grow over time so it’s likely that I’ll seek to develop traits or characteristics that go nowhere or fan in to flame passions that are, in reality, fleeting.  I’m not suggesting we need kids to contribute in order to justify the effort we put into them or to balance the scales in any way.  I just want them to have the freedom to be who God has called them to be in the same way we seek to give adults that freedom.  And I want to give them that freedom now, not just when they’re all grown up.  I also know that God’s call on our lives and his desires for us vary depending on the seasons and circumstances in our lives, but if every part of the body is supposed to be an active part of the body, how do we help toddlers and preschoolers and elementary kids be hands, and eyes, and prophets and teachers and mercy-givers?

While I can think of a few parents who model this kind of intentionality with their kids, I have no idea what this looks like in reality for my own home or for the church.  And when I say “church” I mean the local body of believers and the programming that the local body does.   What kind of language can I use to help call out gifts in our children?  In what ways I can I be intentional to develop opportunities for kids not based on needs but based on strengths?  What in my own perception and biases needs to change in order to let kids be functioning part of the body? 

Thoughts, ideas?  I’ll take them.  I’m just beginning to think through what this looks like.

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