There have been a couple of times in the past few years that I have written about spiritual gifts and spiritual gift inventories. These articles continue to be read (thanks, I suppose, to the efforts of search engines) and, since I have given a great deal more thought to this subject, I wanted to update what I have said in the past. When I first began thinking and writing about spiritual gift assessments I was responding to a question that had been posed to me by a friend. He was interested in knowing my opinion on these assessments. I grew up attending very conservative churches and, sadly, the term “spiritual gifts” was largely foreign to me. These gifts were not emphasized in the churches in which I was raised and thus I decided to begin by researching spiritual gifts as one who was largely ignorant. I had taken such assessments a few times through churches I attended as an adult and through various men’s groups and had always found them somewhat helpful. Despite this they never really had a significant impact on my spiritual life.
As I began to research gift inventories or assessments 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,
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 noted what has to be a conflict between gifts of the Spirit (and the fruit of the Spirit) and a movie like Good Will Hunting which, because of much of its content, is hardly compatible with the Spirit! But getting back on topic, it occurred to me that the gift of knowledge is not so thoroughly described in the Bible as in this description. I don’t think anyone could find a passage in the Bible that supports the statement that “the gift of knowledge allows people to automatically convert facts, data, and information into useful and important knowledge.” This may be true, but it seems likely that these descriptions are a good bit more detailed than in the Bible.
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? Author James Sundquist researched this topic as well 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 tend to agree with most of Sundquist’s observations. The Scripture tells Christians to exercise their gifts, but does not place a great deal of emphasis on searching for these gifts, especially through means of inventories or assessments.
I spent several years in the workforce and in that time was often dragged off to seminars to help me discover 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 individuals preferences on four dimensions; Extraverted vs. Introverted, Sensing vs. Intuitive, Thinking vs. Feeling, Judging vs. Perceiving.” Not many know this, but the Myers-Briggs assessment is drawn from the teaching and research of the humanist Carl Jung, a man who despised Christianity. Jung apparently used the services of a spirit guide, Philemon, to help him develop four profiles to describe human nature. Myers-Briggs is based upon those personality types and 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.
But perhaps the greatest cause for concern with these assessments, and the greatest strike against them, 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. This is obvious, is it not? As mentioned earlier, all of these assessments are premised on the idea that gifts are dispensed by the Holy Spirit only after a person is converted. Hence a person who is unconverted should show no evidence of the Spirit’s work in his life. This is simply not the case with these tests. There may be questions related to spiritual matters that an unbeliever cannot legitimately 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 might rightly ask if these tests are truly measuring the work or gifting of the Spirit, or if they are actually only measuring personality and preferences.
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 possesses 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. (Think, for example, of Solomon, crying out to God that he was only a little child and begging for God to give him the gifts he needed to rule successfully.)
A final cause for concern is that these assessments typically provide a finite list of possibilities. They list varying numbers of gifts, ranging from only those explicitly listed in the letters of Paul to a wide variety drawn from both the Old Testament and the New. Yet it seems to me that presenting a finite list of gifts and attempting to cast each person into one of those categories may be to overlook the stunning variety of gifts God gives. I find it instructive that when the Bible lists the gifts of the Spirit it lists different gifts each time. I don’t think God wants us to believe there are only a certain number of gifts, one of which must be ours. I believe the lesson in these verses is that there may be as many gifts as there are Christians. Grudem agrees, saying in his Systematic Theology, “Paul was not attempting to construct exhaustive lists of gifts when he specified the ones he did.” There may be classifications of gifts and some may be more important than others, but there is no reason to think that the list provided in the Bible is complete or exhaustive.
Am I ready to write-off all 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 sometimes 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 can measure spiritual gifts. It seems to me that church leaders should exercise great care in if and how they present these assessments to their congregations. To have people fill out an assessment and encourage them to pursue the gift arrived at as the result of a mathematical formula based on ticking checkboxes, may lead people to pursue gifts God has not given to them while ignoring those gifts He so wants them to exercise. I believe Grudem is wise in this regard. “Paul seems to assume that believers will know what their spiritual gifts are…. But what if many members in a church do not know what spiritual gift or gifts God has given to them? In such a case, the leaders of the church need to ask whether they are providing sufficient opportunities for varieties of gifts to be used.” As for individuals,
They can begin by asking what the needs and opportunities for ministry are in their church. Specifically, they can ask what gifts are most needed for the building up of the church at that point. In addition, each individual believer who does not know what his or her gifts are should do some self-examination. What interests and desires and abilities does he or she have? Can others give advice or encouragement pointing in the direction of specific gifts? Moreover, has there been blessing in the past in ministering in a particular kind of service? In all of this, the person seeking to discover his or her gifts should pray and ask God for wisdom, confident that it will be given according to his promise.
Beyond this, a person may simply attempt different ways of ministering, noting the ones in which God brings blessing.
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 provide desire and opportunity for you to exercise this gift. 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, and probably a more accurate means of assessment, than a spiritual gift inventory.