A friend recently asked me for my thoughts on spiritual gifts and particulary, on spiritual gift assessments. I had taken these assessments in the past and, though I found them interesting, found they had little impact on my life. I found that they just discovered the obvious (yes, I like to teach and no, I generally do not visit the elderly and widows). I had to admit, to my shame, that I had never taken time to study spiritual gifts and form a belief on what they are, how they are dispensed, and so on. In my defense, I had never even heard the term “spiritual gifts” until a couple of years ago because the Reformed churches I grew up in placed no emphasis on them.
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. Some argue the gifts are given immediately and others believe they are given at baptism. The Bible lists only a few gifts (see 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 and 12:1-11) and some assessments list far more. The following is a typical list:
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 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 this test 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.
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.
He also found that the vast majority of spiritual surveys are drawn from the teachings of Carl Jung who was about as anti-Christian as a person can be. This in itself should be cause for concern. Combined with the lack of Biblical model, this should be sufficient to raise a warning flag.
In the end, though, I think my greatest worry is that these tests can be completed successfully by both believers and unbelievers. 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. Or perhaps we are only given spiritual gifts that compliment our personalities so personality and gifts are one in the same. That would be completely 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!
Am I ready to write-off spiritual gift assessments as a waste of time? No, I think that would 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 my 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.