Exploring Spiritual Gifts Is Important to Develop Young Disciples!

By Audrey Stanton-Smith

“Philip answered quickly that there was not enough money to buy bread for the multitude. Then Andrew, Peter’s brother, said, “There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes.” — John 6:9

“It was a young person with the gift of generosity, nurtured by the community, that resulted in thousands being fed,” Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi said. “Maybe that one youth who is already connected to your church or is in your community has a gift they can use to transform thousands of lives. The first step is getting them to participate in Fall Workshop.”

This year’s Fall Workshop, themed “Find Your Fit,” isn’t just one day or one weekend. It’s a virtual gathering of pre-teens and teens that begins during Advent and extends into spring, culminating with an in-person event on college campuses in April. This year’s focus? Identifying and exploring spiritual gifts. 

“I’m really excited about Fall Workshop this year,” said Shea James, director of Young Disciples and Outdoor Ministries for the WVUMC. “We’ve built it so people can join as they feel comfortable.”

Participants will be placed in small groups according to the top three results of their spiritual gifts assessments. Between monthly meetings, each small group will check in or chat with each other via social media or texts.

“We’re calling this program ‘Find Your Fit,’ because God gives all of us spiritual gifts to serve,” Shea said. “We want you to find a way that you fit into the life of the church. It’s about affirming who God has made you to be. We want to give you the chance to explore that and grow into that.” 

Registration for individuals and youth groups is already underway, online (click here), and will continue through December.

Then, beginning in January, small groups gatherings will take place via Zoom, and on April 9, 2022, participants will unite for the in-person gathering.

And there are prizes! “Find Your Fit” features an earning program.

Participating youth can earn stickers to decorate water bottles, laptops, or phone cases just for taking a spiritual gifts inventory. If they register for a small group, they’ll earn a $5 gift card. Then, if they attend one small group meeting, they earn free pizza (which should be eaten during a virtual pizza party discussion time). Two Zoom meetings earn a hot chocolate gift pack; three, a t-shirt; and students who attend all four small group meetings win a smartwatch/activity tracker.

The in-person gathering at five locations throughout the state will have more prizes, for long-term participants and even for those who come only to the spring event.

Of course, the best prize of all will be the connections participating youth make. 

“Our hope is that you will get to know other people who will help you grow, and that you all can brainstorm together to help the church,” Shea said. “If they’re nervous, they should know that everyone will be with people they don’t know. God makes us all unique, and this is an opportunity for us all to get to know new people and grow in that way together.

Caroline Nichols, an 11th grader who co-chairs the event along with Katie Howard, said she looks forward to a “super fun” time.

“It will be neat to meet cool youth from around the conference,” she said. “I think it’s a really interesting idea to take a test like that to learn and explore what gifts God gave us.”

Watch this video as Caroline and Katie explore their spiritual gifts with Shea James!

Addressing not only youth, but anyone exploring spiritual gifts, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball emphasized the importance of spiritual friends like the ones youth group members will make through Fall Workshop.

“We have our pastor, and we have our congregation, but the development of spiritual friends, where you can really talk about what it is that you believe God is saying to you and get that reflection back with someone that prays for you, that seeks to see and hear your heart, and believes deeply in a transforming power of Christ and movement of God’s Holy Spirit — that kind of spiritual friend is really important and helps you in discerning how and when to use those gifts for the benefit of the whole body of Christ and God’s world,” she said.

One additional benefit of the virtual workshop is that it will give smaller youth groups an opportunity to connect and share experiences with youth from throughout the conference.

“You are not alone,” Bishop Sandra said. “You are in connection with other people in life and in faith and growth. It is a really powerful thing you can discover and uncover. You can get to know someone that could be your best spiritual friend for the rest of your life”

She and Bishop Cynthia emphasized the importance of exploring spiritual gifts at any point in life.

“I would encourage you, this year in particular, to really take the spiritual gifts inventory opportunity that you’re being offered,” Steiner Ball said.  “It is exciting because, in taking that spiritual gifts inventory, you could discover something about yourself.”

 Everyone has been blessed with spiritual gifts, the bishops said, so even middle schoolers should take advantage of this year’s workshop.

Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball

“You can have your conversation with God about what it is God might be calling you to do as a middle schooler,” Bishop Cynthia said. “These gifts are not something you need to wait until college to live into … but God is calling you right now to be in ministry, to have an impact on your local church and in your local community.

“God has given you a gift to be used for the building up of the body of Christ,” Bishop Cynthia continued. “So what is your gift? What is your unique call at this time, at this season in your life?”

“This could be the gateway that opens their life up to something,” Bishop Sandra added. “And they might just find themselves renewed and encouraged.”

The bishops also reminded adults how they, as congregations, made a promise to these youth when they were baptized.

“They owe it to them to do all that they can to nurture them so that they can live into their God-given potential,” Bishop Cynthia said. “ … That’s part of our commitment that we made when we were there with them at their baptism. This is just one of the steps along the journey.”

And Shea said she wants to be sure everyone has access to that step. Apportionment dollars have made it possible not only to have the conference-wide youth event and prizes, but to ensure that it is accessible to everyone. Anyone with technical issues, including access to a device or to the Internet, should contact Shea James via email (click this link). Resources are available. 

“And share this with your friends!” Shea added. “While we have designed this event for United Methodist students, it is open for everybody. Friends from other traditions will benefit from it, too. We want them all to find their fit.”