Iowa Talents For Christ judge Dave Tebbenkamp meets with contestant James Stephenson.

As the national Talents For Christ competition nears, state competitions around the country are under way. First- and second-place winners in their state contests qualify to move on to the national level, held at the GARBC Conference in Clarks Summit, Pa., June 25–29.

The state competitions top off months of hard work and practice for teens. They have chosen among a wide variety of categories, including music, public speaking, Bible knowledge, art, writing, and digital media. Some are competing for college scholarships, while others, who are just developing their skills or not planning to attend one of the participating colleges, compete in what’s known as the open competition.

Competitions have already taken place in Iowa, Kansas, western Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arizona. Later this month teens will compete in Michigan, New York, and Minnesota. On March 31 teens competed at Grandview Park Baptist Church in Des Moines. Danielle Celarier of Faith Baptist Church, Iowa City, won first place in strings after placing second in the national competition last year. Morgan Elizondo of Calvary Baptist Church, Grinnell, had a similar accomplishment, placing first in visualized Bible teaching after coming in second at last year’s national competition.

At the same time the teens in Iowa were seeing their preparations come to fruition, teens in Illinois and eastern Missouri were competing at Berean Baptist Church, Bunker Hill, Ill., and teens in Ohio were competing at First Baptist Church, Elyria.

In Illinois, Sara Todd, who attends Emmanuel Baptist Church of Warrenville, located in Naperville, placed first in piano after receiving second in nationals last year. I had the privilege of watching Sara’s fingers fly through Brahms’ “Rhapsody in D Minor” at a piano recital on Saturday. There I learned that Sara is headed to LeTourneau University this fall to study aeronautical science. But she won’t be leaving her gift as a pianist in Illinois. She will be playing at a nearby church that has been without a pianist for two years.

Philip Williams, also of Emmanuel Baptist, earned a first-place rating as well. Not only are Sara and Philip from the same church, but they take piano lessons from the same teacher, Linda Kaufman of Warrenville, who attends Faith Baptist Church in Winfield.

An ensemble competes in Iowa’s Talents For Christ.

Talents For Christ is more than a talent competition; it is a way to develop skills, gain direction in ministry, build confidence, and make friends. Some churches have taken these goals and run with them. The Empire State Fellowship hosts an annual Share Your Talents prior to the state contest. During this event, teens perform in front of adults, who give feedback and encouragement. In some churches, teens choose to compete as a group, as Faith Baptist Church, Iowa City, did in 2010. Performing in a vocal ensemble, says youth group director Laurie Hamilton, forces the teens to think about each other instead of about themselves.

Regardless of the category or competition level, students develop their God-given talents for ministry through Talents For Christ. And while it is always fun to win, TFC is all about creating a habit that will lead to a lifetime of serving God.

Melissa Meyer is associate editor for Regular Baptist Press.