Stewardship versus ownership. Perhaps at first glance these words seem similar. Upon looking deeper, however, a vast difference opens up. We understand ownership - an owner has the authority to say what should happen to their property, money or possessions. It is their unique right as an owner to use them in any way they choose.
Not so with stewardship. A steward is someone who manages something that is not their own. They are given the responsibility to care for something on behalf of the owner, but has no say in how that owner may choose to use that which is under the stewardcare.
As parents, we need to be vitally aware that our role in our children's lives is the role of a steward - not an owner. God has entrusted His children to our care. Yet how subtly an attitude of ownership can creep in. We may begin to feel like “These are my children and they will do and be as I think they should.” If we're not careful, we can lose sight of the child as a person created by and belonging to the Lord, and begin to view him as an extension of ourselves as parents, an expression of ourselves for all the world to see and marvel at what we are creating.
When viewed through the lens filter of stewardship though, our function as parents takes on added dimension. As stewards, we need to seek the Owner's thoughts and intentions for each child He has put under our care. What giftings has He given each child? What works does He want them equipped to perform - works He foreordained that they would walk in before the foundation of the world (Eph. 2:10)?
For me that is a sobering thought. Suddenly it's not all about having a crew of well-behaved kids that make me look good. It's about doing all the Lord asks me to do on His behalf - much like the ministry of John the Baptist - raising up the low places and leveling the mountains in my children's lives so that His way is made plain. It's about one day handing over to the Owner that which He entrusted to me and being able to hear His “well done.”
Narrowing the Focus
There are many aspects of stewardship as parents, but what I want to focus on is the area of nourishing and encouraging the giftings the Lord has given each child for His purposes. Too many children grow to adulthood without gaining expertise and confidence in at least one area that God has designed them for - and if that happens, we as stewards have not done part of our job, and are in danger of falling into the category of the servant who buried the talent he was entrusted with.
We have been given the privilege of preparing these children to be able to step into their adult roles in the Kingdom of God, and that is not something to treat lightly. It is a huge responsibility the Lord has given - yet also one that promises great reward for us, as well as for His kingdom, if we are faithful in this feature of our stewardship.
So how do we do that? How can we facilitate this aspect of God's will for our children and help prepare them for what He has called them to do in life? How do we uncover and encourage them in their area(s) of gifting?
Prayer paves the way for this. The Lord can show us what He has created in our child. With some children, gifts are easy to see. In fact, multiple giftings may be readily identifiable. The difficulty may be in narrowing it down to one or two specific areas. In others, talents are less obvious and you may have to dig. But one thing is certain, somewhere within each person is a unique expression of the Lord's creativity - a gifting waiting to blossom.
If you have a child whose bent is not readily identifiable, don't be discouraged. It may take some time to draw him out. Listen to what excites him. Brainstorm with him about his interests. Pray with him that the Lord would open up the area He has instilled deep within.
So Many Opportunities!
Music. There are many instruments, many choices. Perhaps the Lord has given your child an interest or a musical bent and you can help free this gift. Be prepared though - in most cases you will have to function as the power behind the practicing, once the novelty wears off. But it is worth the effort, for there will come a time - usually a few years down the road, when the child will become self-motivated, and more than that, will thank you for enforcing practice time.
Maybe your child loves animals. Animals may not seem to have much to do with God's ultimate purpose in a child's life. However, small beginnings often lead to grand endings - who but God is able to see all the connecting lines He draws in a person's life? A specific animal they are interested in could become an area of expertise and may prepare and/or equip them for something later in life. There are clubs for certain breeds, shows, obedience trials, etc., that the child could become proficient in. Are horses her love? Seriously consider bringing that dream into reality. Even if it is not possible to own a horse, what about riding lessons? Perhaps your horse-crazy child could even trade labor at the stables for horse time. Do you live in a place where having a dog is not a feasible? Look into helping your child volunteer at a dog groomer's, or some other related field.
Machines. Boys often find their niche here. It may be small engines, bikes, cars, inventive or creative mechanics. If he (or the occasional she) has a bent in this direction, make the materials available, help him find learning resources, or perhaps locate an older person he can apprentice with.
A word on computer whizzes. It is totally amazing what some children can do with a computer. But playing computer games doesn't exactly qualify as developing a gift. You might explore courses on computer programming or other ways to stretch his gifting and mold it into something useful, not just time-consuming.
These are just a few possibilities, but you may discover your child's strengths lie anywhere from cooking and handiwork to gardening or carpentry. If he likes to work with his hands, look for a class or books that may give him an outlet.
To make the whole process more challenging, each child will vary in self-motivation and the intensity with which they attack a field of interest. Some children will work at something they aren't very interested in, just because they think it is important to you as a parent. That is not the goal here. Again, this is not for us as parents. We are the stewards. God is the owner.
Sometimes you may have to investigate an area, try something for a while, and then assess the child's interest. Do it for six months or more, long enough to truly ascertain whether it is working or not. If that particular field is just not drawing out what is within, phase into another. The important thing to keep in mind in the change is two-fold: Firstly, the child must not feel like the switchover is due to failure on his part. This finding and developing God's giftings in a person is not an issue of success or failure, but rather of discovering and exploring an area of talent, enjoyment and/or service. Secondly, we must be careful to communicate that following through and finishing something is important. It would be to a child's detriment to start many things, yet carry none to a definite conclusion.
With that in mind, it is helpful to keep the focus narrow - one or two areas. Helping a child achieve excellence in one area is more valuable than facilitating a dabbling in many but mastering none.
Beware of starting a child too young. This can be a tricky one, especially for home school parents. A common trap is to try to prove to the skeptical world that you are indeed schooling your child, and isn't he amazing. See? He's playing the violin at three years old! Young starters often “burn out”. Also, for many young children, it may be too early to really discover their strength(s).
Watch out for favoritism. I know that is a bad word, but it can happen in the realm of facilitating giftings. I recently heard of a family that has a daughter with a talent for the violin. They had promised their son that they would buy him a gun (he loves hunting) - but ended up using that money to buy sister a violin instead, and he had to wait another year or two for the promised gun. It's not too hard to figure out what kind of message this sent to the boy - “I'm not as important to Dad and Mom as my sister.”
This is a pretty glaring example, but it emphasizes the importance of treating every child's gifting with the same importance, whether it is easily identifiable or not. Again, as stewards, our role is to facilitate God's gifts within our children, not to label one more acceptable than another. In fact, the less visible gifts often need more encouragement and opportunities than the ones that tend to take center stage.
And finally, steer far from the snare that lies so subtly across our path - parental pride. It is so easy to forget that our worth as parents is not determined by the performance of our children, but by the very fact that Jesus loved us enough to die for us. All else has no bearing on our value. These children of ours do not exist to give us worth, and their achievements do not validate our existence. We are involved in their lives as stewards - not for ourselves, but for the Lord and for what He wants to draw out of each of them.
How Old is Too Old?
So what is the optimum age to begin this process? Figuring in the variables of individual personalities, maturity, and focus, a general guideline would be from age eight on up. Just remember - the object is not to have child prodigies, the goal is to draw out of a child what God has deposited in them. Ages eight to twelve are good years for this - a time of optimal interest and learning. By the time they become teenagers, they will have had close to four years to become proficient in their gifting.
But by all means start, even if the child is already a teen. Teens are good at making up for lost time, and they tend to be much more motivated and self-sustaining. They have a view to the future and more understanding of why they're doing what they're doing.
So as the future stretches before us, full of unknown potential, it's always a great time to:
- Look for areas of gifting the Lord has built into your children.
- Take the steps to encourage the development of those giftings, being active in support, encouragement and enablement.
- Listen for the “well done,” and enjoy the smile of God as you faithfully steward the children He has shared with you.
Leslie Wyatt and her husband, Dave, are long-time homeschoolers of their six children.
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