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Spiritual Gift Assessments & The Bible

Quite a while ago I wrote an article about spiritual gift assessments. Today I am hauling that article out of storage and am going to update it. At the time I first wrote about spiritual gift assessments I was responding to a question a friend had asked me. He was interested in knowing my opinion on these assessments. I had taken them a few times through my church and various men’s groups and had always found them somewhat helpful, though they never really had a significant impact on my spiritual life. I grew up attending Reformed churches and the term “spiritual gifts” was largely foreign to me since these gifts are not a great emphasis in Reformed circles. Therefore, I decided to begin by researching spiritual gifts.

As I began to research them I found one strange thing: it seems no one can agree about these gifts. It seems everyone has a different list of the gifts and even a different idea of how and when they are dispensed. One thing they all agree on is that these gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to believers after they become Christians and thus they are available only to believers. Some argue the gifts are given immediately upon conversion and others believe they are given at baptism. While the Bible lists only a few gifts (see 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 and 12:1-11), some assessments list far more. The following is a typical list of gifts:

Administration: the gift that enables a believer to formulate, direct, and carry out plans necessary to fulfill a purpose. Biblical References: I Corinthians 12:28, Acts 14:23.

Artistry:  the gift that gives the believer the skill of creating artistic expressions that produce a spiritual response of strength and inspiration. Biblical References: Exodus 31:1-11, Psalm 149:3a.

Discernment:  the gift that motivates a believer to seek God’s will and purpose and apply that understanding to individual and congregational situations. Biblical References: John 16:6-15, Romans 9:1, I Corinthians 2:9-16.

Evangelism:  the gift that moves believers to reach nonbelievers in such a way that they are baptized and become active members of the Christian community. Biblical References: Matthew 28:16-20, Ephesians 4:11- 16, Acts 2:36-40.

Exhortation:  the gift that moves the believer to reach out with Christian love and presence to people in personal conflict of facing a spiritual void. Biblical References: John 14:1, II Timothy 1:16-18, III John 5-8.

Faith:  the gift that gives a believer the eyes to see the Spirit at work and the ability to trust the Spirit’s leading without indication of where it all might lead. Biblical References: Genesis 12:1-4a, Mark 5:25-34, I Thessalonians 1:8-10.

Giving: the gift that enables a believer to recognize God’s blessings and to respond to those blessings by generously and sacrificially giving of one’s resources (time, talent, and treasure). Biblical References: II Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 21:1-4.

Hospitality: the gift that causes a believer to joyfully welcome and receive guests and those in need of food and lodging. Biblical References: Romans 12:13, Romans 16:23a, Luke 10:38.

Intercession:  the gift that enables a believer to pray with the certainty that prayer is heard and when requests are made, answers will come. Biblical References: Matthew 6:6-15, Luke 11:1-10, Ephesians 6:18.

Knowledge: the gift that drives a person to learn, analyze and uncover new insights with regard to the Bible and faith. Biblical References: I Corinthians 12:8; I Corinthians 14:6, Romans 12:2.

Leadership:  the gift that gives a believer the confidence to step forward, give direction and provide motivation to fulfill a dream or complete a task. Biblical References: Romans 12:8, John 21:15-17, II Timothy 4:1-5.

Mercy:  the gift that motivates a believer to feel deeply for those in physical, spiritual, or emotional need and then act to meet that need. Biblical References: Luke 7:12-15, Luke 10:30-37, Matthew 25:34-36. 

Music—Vocal:  the gift that gives a believer the capability and opportunity to present personal witness and inspiration to others through singing. Biblical References: Psalm 96:1-9, Psalm 100:1-2, Psalm 149:1-2.

Music—Instrumental:  the gift that inspires a believer to express personal faith and provide inspiration and comfort through the playing of a musical instrument. Biblical References: Psalm 33:1-5, Psalm 150, I Samuel 16:14-23.

Pastoring (Shepherding):   the gift that gives a believer the confidence, capability and compassion to provide spiritual leadership and direction for individuals or groups of believers. Biblical References: I Timothy 4:12-16, I Timothy 3:1-13, II Timothy 4:1-2.

Service (Helps):  the gift that enables a believer to work gladly behind the scenes in order that God’s work is fulfilled. Biblical References: Luke 23:50-54, Romans 16:1-16, Philippians 2:19-23.

Skilled Craft:   the gift that enables a believer to create, build, maintain or repair items used within the church. Biblical References: Exodus 30:1-6, Exodus 31:3-5, Ezekiel 27:4-11.

Teaching:   the gift that enables a believer to communicate a personal understanding of the Bible and faith in such a way that it becomes clear and understood by others. Biblical References: I Corinthians 12:28, Matthew 5:1-12, Acts 18:24-48.

Wisdom:   the gift that allows the believer to sort through opinions, facts and thoughts in order to determine what solution would be best for the individual believer or the community of believers. Biblical References: I Corinthians 2:6-13, James 3:13-18, II Chronicles 1:7-11.

Writing:   the gift that gives a believer the ability to express truth in a written form; a form that can edify, instruct and strengthen the community of believers. Biblical References: I John 2:1-6, 12-14, I Timothy 3:14-15,
Jude 3.

This list was taken from this assessment. I found it interesting that several of the gifts (Skilled craft, for example) are only proof-texted by the Old Testament which was written before the Spirit was given to believers.

I took a couple of the surveys that are available online and found them quite similar to ones I have taken in the past. The general format is between 30 to 50 multiple choice questions, most of which can be answered on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 meaning the description does not fit me at all and 4 meaning it is exactly like me). For example, I took a test at this site which tells me my primary spiritual gift is knowledge which it describes as follows:

The gift of knowledge allows people to automatically convert facts, data, and information into useful and important knowledge. People possessing this gift can learn in a variety of ways, retain what they learn, and understand how learning can be applied in meaningful and productive ways. Those gifted with knowledge have a voracious and insatiable desire to learn more, and they seek multiple avenues for deepening their understanding of God’s world, God’s will, and God’s people.

[For an example of this gift in popular media] See the good, the bad, and the ugly side of knowledge in Matt Damon’s character in the film Good Will Hunting.

Though I digress, I would like to point out an obvious conflict between gifts of the spirit and a movie like Good Will Hunting which, being full of swearing and sex, is hardly compatible with the Spirit.

In the end I returned to Scripture and studied the gifts outlined in the applicable passages of Scripture. Having examined the gifts of the Spirit, both those in the Bible and those in various assessments, I decided to search for references in the Scripture of people assessing themselves to discover their gifts. A question I had to ask myself is this: Is there any Biblical model for searching for spiritual gifts? James Sundquist researched this and discovered the following:

I can’t find one single Scripture that says finding our gift was EVER a problem for the Church.

I can’t find one single Scripture that instructs us how to find our gift.

I can’t find any historical account that finding our gift was a problem for the Church.

I can’t find any historical account that finding our gift was a problem for Church Fathers.

Anything we do in Christ is not through our strengths, but is perfected in weakness.

I can’t find one single Scripture which uses a subjective balance of weighing our strengths and weaknesses to determine our Gift(s) of the Holy Spirit.

I can’t find one single Scripture that uses personality or personality theory to determine our course in Christ or in the Church.

I can’t find one single Scripture that instructs us to come up with a numerical value or rating system for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I spent several years in the workforce and in that time was often encouraged to attend seminars on discovering my personality type. One observation I made from some spiritual gift assessments (most notably the Saddleback SHAPE assessment) is that they bear an uncanny resemblance to the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator tests so common in schools and the workforce. The Myers-Briggs indicator is used for “Professionals like you [who] depend on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator when clients need to make important business, career, or personal decisions. Last year alone, two million people gained valuable insight about themselves and the people they interact with daily by taking the MBTI instrument. The MBTI describes an individual’s preferences on four dimensions; Extraverted vs Introverted, Sensing vs Intuitive, Thinking vs Feeling, Judging vs Perceiving.” The Myers-Briggs assessment is drawn from the teaching and research of the anti-Christian humanist Carl Jung. His spirit guide Philemon led him to develop four profiles to describe human nature, and Myers-Briggs uses those personality types. Many of these spiritual gift assessments draw directly from this teaching. This in itself should be cause for concern. Combined with the lack of Biblical model, this should be sufficient to raise a warning flag.

Perhaps the greatest cause for concern with these assessments is that they can be successfully completed by both believers and non-believers. If a spiritual gift assessment is truly assessing gifts given by the Holy Spirit, someone who is not a Christian should necessarily achieve a score of 0. However, this is simply not the case. There may be questions related to spiritual matters that an unbeliever can not answer, but many of the questions are generic in nature. For example “I enjoy pitching in on service projects in the church” could be as easily answered by an unbeliever as a believer. The same holds true for “People seem to respect me and follow my lead.” We need to ask, then, if these tests are truly measuring spiritual gifts or if they are simply examining personality.

Let’s pause for a moment. If spiritual gifts are given only to believers and these assessments can convince an unbeliever that he or she posesses spiritual gifts, then the assessments must be deeply flawed. It seems clear that these tests are, in reality, measuring personality, and even then, they may be measuring personality by a humanistic standard. Is it possible that perhaps we are only given spiritual gifts that compliment our personalities so personality and gifts are one in the same? That would be unsatisfying, because I believe God can work through gifts that may contradict our personalities. Think of Moses and how God used him despite his obvious shyness and lack of eloquence. Had God only used Moses’ existing talents and personality He would not have had much to work with! The Bible is filled with examples of people who were used by God despite their natural talent or gifting.

Am I ready to write-off spiritual gift assessments as a waste of time? No, I think that might be a kneejerk reaction. I see little basis, though, to believe that these truly measure the gifts of the Spirit. I am sure these tests can be valuable in assessing talents and personality traits and can cause people to look more thoroughly at where they should use their talents to honor God. But unless gifts and personality are one and the same, I do not understand how these tests measure spiritual gifts.

I would suggest that if you want to learn what your spiritual gifts are, the best place to begin would be with reading the Bible and praying. Allow God to speak to you through His Word, showing you where He has gifted you. Ask Him to give you a passion for your gift and to open doors that you can use it. And having done that, ask your Christian friends and family, your pastor and elders, what they think your gifting is. I believe this may be a far more valuable means of assessment than a spiritual gift inventory.