“I want to hear your voice, God. Help me hear your voice.” With hands tightly clasped and eyes clenched shut, 4-year-old Andrew pleaded with God to hear His voice.
He had asked his mother, his father, his teacher, the pastor—everyone he knew who knew God—“What does God SOUND like? How do I know if I’ve heard Him?”
One day, Andrew’s mom excitedly called the church to tell us Andrew had heard God’s voice!
Andrew took the phone. With both awe and confidence, he declared, “It started as a whisper across my heart, and then it went up to my head.”
If 4-year-old Andrew can discern the voice of God, it should move us to a serious exploration of how God speaks to our kids. We should seek how we can help them discern what He might be calling them to do. And, we should help facilitate their response to God’s calling in their lives.
Where do we even begin to help kids hear and respond to God?
As leaders with a desire to help kids discern the voice of God above all others and respond by the power of the Holy Spirit, we must analyze our ministries through a series of questions.
Do Our Kids Know Who God Is?
Remember the teacher in the old Charlie Brown cartoons? The unknown voice that droned on “wah wah wah wah wah…”?
As a baby grows in the womb for 9 months, its mother’s heartbeat and voice become familiar. Her same voice is comforting once the baby is born because the infant has learned to trust that voice.
The same is true with our kids and their faith development.
Each week, our lessons focus on one Scriptural truth about God. One truth might be “God Is a Covenant Keeper.”
If our kids know that God keeps His promises, they learn to trust what they learn from His Word.
Imagine being in 4th grade and feeling like you heard God calling you into ministry.
If you know the character of God as one who keeps His promises, it will make that calling an anchor in your life—a promise you can count on as you grow up and make choices about your future.
When our kids come to know who God is, you’ll begin seeing them discern His voice above all others. This is step one to hearing a calling from God.
Do Our Kids Know Who They Are?
Knowing and trusting in the truth of who God is should lead us from theology to our own identity.
Once kids are confident in truths such as “God is the giver of good gifts,” and “God’s Holy Spirit is powerful,” they start connecting the dots. They will realize God gives them good gifts, and that this powerful Holy Spirit lives in them!
Teaching kids that that they are made in the image of this all-powerful God is vital. It will cause them to reflect the God who made them, and their theology will inform their identity.
As our kids gain more independence and encounter culture, having a strong understanding of who they are in Christ will allow them to stand firm in what God calls them to do—no matter how counter-cultural it is.
A firm knowledge of God coupled with a child’s identity in Christ serves as an anchor. This anchor reaches into a kid’s maturing soul and helps them make life decisions.
Knowing the truth of who God is and what that means in their own lives will lead kids to a place of faith. It allows them to step out and see what God may be actually calling them to do!
Do We Know Who Our Kids Are?
If we are teaching our kids to know God’s voice by studying His Word, we have to be ready to receive those words of calling with them. And, we need to be ready to help them test and discern what God’s calling might be for their lives.
This is where we reflect back to them what they may be hearing from God. We help test if it feels consistent with what we know to be true about God and our kids.
This practice includes helping them discover their spiritual gifts through prayer and discernment. Acknowledge the talents and experiences that have given them hearts for certain types of people and ministries.
Helping Kids Seek Discernment
One 6th grader, who is particularly quiet (and generally prefers to be by herself), recently asked me how she could serve in our kids’ ministry.
I told her to think and pray about it. Once she had prayed, we could then talk about what she felt God was calling her to. A week later she told me, “I think I could teach large group.”
As a spiritual leader in her life, I prayed with her and asked some important questions.
As we talked, she began to realize that she liked the idea of teaching since she knows the Bible really well. Although she “doesn’t really like to be around a lot of people,” (her words), she thought that teaching was the only way to use the gifts God had given her.
We talked more and decided maybe God could use her gifts to help write questions for small groups. She could write questions about the Bible and what it was teaching them about God.
Maybe as she grows in this and someday sits in on small groups, this would develop into teaching.
Had I simply affirmed what she thought, we might have put her in an uncomfortable—or disillusioning—position. This is why it’s important to take time to know your students and who God has created them to be.
Do You Show Them the Possibilities?
Kids will live out the hope we have as followers of Jesus in their beliefs and behaviors. As leaders, we have to remember how important it is to have accurate theology. We must share a “real-life” faith that assures kids in their identity as God’s children.
Our kids need the church to be a place where they can safely explore and firmly declare who they are in God.
In middle school, I asked my associate pastor if I could work with kids at church.
She kindly told me I should probably be a doctor because I was a smart kid and could help a lot of people. Because I respected her, from seventh grade until my freshman year of college, I believed her.
It wasn’t until God spoke to me as a college freshman that I remembered the call He had given me at 12-years-old.
I always want kids to see and explore the ways God might use them to serve in the church and in the world.
That may be by using their knowledge and discernment gifts to be a doctor, or that maybe by serving vocationally in the church.
Take time to suggest possible areas where kids’ gifts might be used inside or outside of the church. Then take the time to guide them to those possibilities. Their beliefs will shape their behaviors, which just might change the world!
My Own Son’s Calling
When my son Micah was 11 years old, he had a solid theology of who God is and a firm identity in Christ.
He heard about children in the foster system who would carry their belongings in trash bags from one placement to the next. Because he knows that God is just, Micah could see how unfair it was to these kids.
Micah is a talented runner and has a gift of leadership and discernment. As he prayed about this issue, he sought out how he could help these kids.
He eventually asked if we could hold a glow-in-the-dark color run. He wanted to host this event in order to raise money for backpacks filled with necessities to give these kids.
Our student ministries pastors affirmed Micah’s belief and calling. They helped him plan and organize the event, which raised $22,000 for backpacks for kids in need.
Because Micah knows God is bigger than anything we could ever imagine, he continued to pray for these kids. He felt God calling him to collect 2,000 filled backpacks for these kids. They would come to know they are not forgotten by God.
Micah has surpassed that goal, and I believe it is because of the people who helped him discern God’s voice from a very young age.
These people helped form his theology, taught him the Big God Story of what God has done, and helped him to have faith in what God can do. They explained how who God is shapes who he is as one made in God’s image. And they showed my son how his beliefs can be expressed in a tangible way as he lives out God’s call for his life.
Steps for Hearing and Responding to God’s Calling
Ultimately, as we help kids to hear and respond to God’s calling, it will help us to keep four steps in mind.
Help them to know God,
So they can know who they are,
And we can know them,
So we can show them the possibilities of what God can do through them.