One of the most powerful and memorable experiences for me in my K-12 school career was my 8th grade teacher taking individual time to name some of my gifts and encourage me to develop them. What an encouragement and boost it was to me! I am absolutely convinced that this “naming” and “blessing” is critical for our students and one of the joys and satisfaction points we have in our work. It also reminds us to look for the good in each student and see them as God sees them – a marvelous creation, made in His image.
This summer I had the opportunity to teach a workshop on student faith development. One of the excellent papers I received as part of the course requirement was from Jane Hilbrands from Grand Rapids Christian and follows below:
As a high schooler, John was above average academically, well known through sports and well liked. The high school counselor looked at his grades, summarized the results of the standard career interest survey, and gave him some suggestions of careers that matched him. He became a college freshman with a declared major that he dropped during that year, and then later he followed the crowd into a business major. He received little to no guidance as to how his unique set of spiritual gifts and talents could be utilized in God’s kingdom within his major. He now is a successful business man who has questioned his career path and wished to find personal passion in his vocation for the last ten years.
Janine was similar to John in high school, being successful academically, athletically and socially. She completed a spiritual gifts survey in Sunday School and again later in an adult small group at church. Janine and her parents noticed that her “waiting” gifts discovered earlier had now become her stronger gifts. After her freshman year in college Janine felt drawn to a major that matched many of her spiritual gifts and is looking forward to starting those classes.
Justin is a high schooler with no solid ideas for the future. He enjoys athletics and receives tutoring help in the school support services. During his sophomore year he was considering taking a vo-tech path and spending time in a skills program instead of taking college prep classes. His tutor surprised him by noticing and telling him what a gift of the spirit he possessed in his ability to not look down on or be judgmental of others and in his exceptional ability to unconditionally accept others. “Very rare in teenagers,” she told him. She mentioned she could see him being a great special education or middle school teacher, especially because of this gift and because he is so social. Justin was rather flabbergasted at the thought of being a teacher, but he began pondering his future and decided to stick with his college prep classes for now.
At the Googling Youth Conference at Calvin College, many speakers discussed topics concerning teenagers, faith formation, culture and identity. Many of them addressed the importance of “calling out” spiritual gifts and talents in individual teenagers; in other words, to notice and name the unique radiance of God’s spirit in a person and sometimes to imagine vocational applications for those gifts of the Spirit. Claudia Beversluis described the narrative of creation to restoration which raises issues of belonging, purpose and identity. It is the age old adolescent questions of “Who am I?” and “Why am I?” When asked during a panel discussion how much we should limit media consumption, Quentin Schulze responded by professing the importance of knowing kids’ unique talents, naming their gifts, and letting them appropriately pursue their passions. Denise Isom defined identity as “becoming who we are” and emphasized the need of youth to see themselves. Doug Kamstra challenged us to take the time necessary to see young people as significant image bearers of God, which would include their individual giftedness. Lew VanderMeer encouraged us to give youth visions and goals for “growing up.” Dan Beerens asked us to be able to describe youth, including their potential vocations, spiritual gifts and evident “fruits”.
The search for self has always been central to the adolescent years. For youth, understanding spiritual strengths – the touches of heaven where God radiates in you brighter than in others, and the more measurable talents in academic, physical, social and emotional skills can give teenagers a sense of purpose and belonging, an identity. Even knowing weaknesses is part of the puzzle of self. With a secure concept of identity, adolescents feel less misunderstood or alone and more passionate and motivated. Having giftedness “called out” can be a crucial turning point in an adolescent’s emotional state and their concept of personal responsibility to actively engage in their world. Self identity gives purpose, which in turn creates passion. However, calling out giftedness is not simple.
Jane’s oldest son is a new teenager in middle school. She’s seen his ups and downs since the “terrible twos.” Although she hopes that as his mom she would be able to call out his spiritual gifts, she feels that perhaps her vision is limited, and she sees too much of the past and not enough of the quickly changing present. She hopes that other adults will see more sides of her son as he interacts more and more with peers and other adults in settings outside her sphere, the home. She hopes he will find his place of passionate work in God’s kingdom.
As youth director, Jeff feels great responsibility to guide his church kids in a growing understanding of God’s character, Christ’s example and our worshipful response. Jeff fervently prays for his kids and their daily faith walk. He sees his youth group almost weekly, and he slides between Bible study, rowdy crowd control, prayer requests, and whipped cream eating contests. He’d like to give as much guidance as he can to many life questions including “Who am I?” and “Why am I?” but he also feels limited, seeing only pieces of a person’s whole picture. He’s just not up to speed in a number of their areas of giftedness and talents.
Julie thoroughly enjoys her students in her high school English classes, and even though twenty-six different students walk into her classroom world every fifty minutes, she feels she knows them, although some better than others. Some students have definite talents in her classroom: creativity, organization, assimilating ideas, public speaking, verbal dexterity. But she realizes this is only the tip of the ice berg of who these kids are and how complexly God has gifted them.
Who is responsible for or able to call out giftedness in youth? Who is spending enough time with each youth to clearly see them? Who is able to see their many sides? In what ways must adults grow in their understanding of giftedness to be able to call it out in youth? How do you call out giftedness? Is a career interest survey comprehensive enough? Do church-based spiritual gift inventories allow for enough uniqueness? How can we create an effective model for calling out giftedness that collaborates between home, church and school that also creates compelling visions of the future for an individual?