Thoughts on Spiritual “Gifts”

A friend and I got into an online conversation about spiritual gifts, the “Network” came up, I read through it and checked its chart on myself, and it didn’t change my mind. Before I tell you what I think, one more background point: I came of age as a Christian in the hey-day of spiritual gifts. This stuff came into the church through Ray Stedman and his book called Body Life. I read the book a few times, I listened to Stedman lecture through that book, and got to teach/preach on the spiritual gifts when I was in college. So, I’ve paid attention to this stuff since 1975. The basic approach of the spiritual gift view is to discover which of the eighteen gifts in the NT is the one God assigned to you.

I was once a convert to this way of thinking, but within a few years of watching it develop and reading the NT and listening to church history I came to a different conclusion. I think we’ve grossly overdone it, and I think we’ve hardened the categories, and I think we force people into one of our eighteen cubby holes.

What is your church’s approach to the spiritual gifts? Are they central or peripheral in its teaching? Has there been any theoretical discussion of the gifts?

No one in the history of the church has this approach until the 1960s (in California, southern California of all places! — that’s a joke, folks). If any theologian or pastor approached church life through this spiritual gift approach, I’ve not heard of it. [I could be wrong.] But doesn’t this matter?

Instead of this approach, we will do ourselves some real good if:

1. We see the gifts not as a hard-and-fast list of the eighteen and only eighteen gifts but instead as the sorts of things — but not the only sorts of things — the Spirit does in our midst.

2. There is, in fact, no list of eighteen in the NT. There are, in fact, several lists, none of them identical. They are found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. This lack of uniformity among the apostles (and Paul himself doesn’t have the same lists) has led me to see them not as a complete list but as symptoms or effects of the Spirit in our midst. To be sure, the Spirit will prompt a certain kind of similarity because humans are similar, needs are similar, and churches are similar. All churches need teaching, so God raises teachers. But, still, I want to ask why the apostles, who could have known such things, didn’t all have the same list, but instead gave different lists. Does this perhaps suggest they didn’t see them as hard categories but instead as manifestations of the Spirit?

3. Many folks have been helped immeasurably by these listings of the gifts. Many people have found their “gift” by reading Body Life or by using the Network tool. Asking folks what “gift” they have is a good question. But there’s a better one, so I think: “What is God’s Spirit enabling you to do?”

4. Which leads me to this point: We need to be sensitive to the Spirit, we need to help others be sensitive to the Spirit, and we need to create space for the Spirit’s work among us — however that appears. Instead of forcing what we are enabled to do — let’s say write, or lead worship, or sing, or dance, or listen, or whatever — into one of the eighteen gifts, we need to encourage people to do what God’s Spirit is enabling and empowering them to do.

5. Another point: I’m nervous about someone saying that they “have” a gift, as if they possess the thing the way they posses a book or a car or a home. Instead, the Spirit enables and empowers us so we might better say we’ve been “had” by a gift when God chooses to do something through us.

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  • Me first 🙂

    I agree very much with your sentiments. I think the reason we do it is that it fits into our nice little boxes that much of the contemporary church, modernist mindset is still trapped in. It’s another of the 5-steps-to-a-healthy-marriage, 6-ways-to-discipline-your-kids. We like neat packages where everything fits, but God rarely works that way. In fact he calls the ill-equipped and then empowers them to do what he desires. Rarely the other way around (just look at Moses and the 12 disciples)

    That being said I believe the tools are helpful if only to help people to see the broad brush strokes that God is using to paint their lives with. Personally I have found my gifts have flexed and moved as I have needed different abilities and the Holy Spirit has enabled me to grow in those areas. But the basic areas of strength are much the same.

    Your final point rings particularly true for me – the gifts are given to us but they are for the church. I have always taught that they are the Spirit’s gifts and they belong to the church, we are just stewards of them for a season, until Jesus takes us home.

  • Amos Paul

    Yes, I completely agree with your assessment that the ‘giftings’ are likely not hard and fast categories. That kind of talk has always made me uncomfortable. Indeed, I likewise see the NT ‘lists’ as the apostles sort of rapping off a bunch of paradigm models of things that the Spirit does in and through people.

    But I think that’s where I might have some disagreement with the language of this post. I don’t just see the gifts as the Spirit’s work *in* you, but also *through* you. That is, we must be active participants.

    For instance, while I wouldn’t use this particular language myself–someone could say, “I can heal in Jesus’s name.” This statement, from a Christian perspective, doesn’t mean that the *person* can heal people, but that they think they can work with Christ who can heal people through them. It’s like saying, “I can dance the waltz.” Sure, maybe you can dance the waltz… but you’re going to need a partner to do so. Our partner is the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit is the one doing all the real heavy lifting and labor. He equips us as we need while we work with Him in His field.

    But I think that’s where a distinction ought to be made, as well. Some ‘gifts’ in Scripture are more like roles–apostle, teacher, etc.–while others are more like specific tools to utilize. I believe that we make an error when we lump together created roles (the unique talents and abilities God *does* bless us with to hold on to) along with situational ‘giftings’ of the Spirit’s work in and through us. Though categorizing these two areas of ‘giftings’ together can be easy since many people just seem more naturally able to work with Spirit in healing, discerning, or whatever–I think we must resist this temptation. There is certainly some dynamic crossover between the situationally present activity of the Spirit and our naturally gifted personalities and abilities. I believe that this is a tension we can embrace as we learn to embrace God’s gift of the Spirit in us.

    Finally, while I already agreed that I don’t like to categorize either situational or professional giftings into distinct little compartments, I do think there is some worth in figuring out the sorts of general paradigms that the apostles present us with in Scripture and utilizing those models. That is, since we must be *active* when we engage with the Spirit and the world around us, it’s helpful if we can ‘pick up’ on what specific sorts of things the Spirit can do through us and ‘work’ on being open and actively receptive to various things the Spirit can do. While Christian disciplines, in general, all help us to engage with God and the Spirit–it can be very helpful and useful in building the body/doing God’s work to identify specific and practical things we can work with the Spirit on, I think.

  • Paul W

    I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any teaching or heard any discussion on spiritual gifts at the church I have been attending for the past couple of years.

    From my experience the idea of looking for one’s spiritual gift seems quite foreign.

    I too have not typically thought of a spiritual gift as something we possess but rather something that we are. My default on this has been that ‘spiritual gift’ is a way of talking about one of the ways in which we are graced by God ‘to be’ and ‘to do.’ Your suggestion that thinking in terms of what God’s Spirit is enabling us to do seems helpful.

  • Great post. I’d just like to add that it seems clear to me that God also gives spiritual ‘gifts’ of one sort or another to people outside of the church. There have been many individuals who can be looked at as demonstrably ‘prophetic’ for example. While in contrast there are a number of acclaimed ‘prophets’ within the church who show no such prophetic insights. The spirit of God is at work in our midst, and gives timely and unique gifts to all kinds of people, and that doesnt begin and end within the family of faith.

  • Great post, Scot. A few observations for further fodder.

    * Your statement that there is no single list of gifts is important, I think. In 1 Cor. 12:4-5, Paul speaks of differing gifts, differing ministries, and differing workings. So I think some of the “listings” reflect one or more of these 3 categories. For instance, in Ephesians 4, the word “gift” is used, but Paul seems to be talking about *the people* as being gifts to the church. So perhaps a better translation is “gifted ones.” These are ministries in and for the Body.

    * 1 Cor. 12, the beginning part, mentions 9 manifestations of the Spirit. These are all miraculous workings of the Spirit. I’m not sure that all of these are permanent possessions of any individual, but instead, many of them can move upon various members of the Body at given times.

    * At the end of 1 Cor. 12, and also in Rom. 12, we have a listing of gifts that seem to be the equipment for a person’s specific ministry. A person can have several gifts of this order. For instance, a person can be a prophet and a teacher and also be able to exhort.

    * To my mind, gifts are like utensils. They are designed to impart or reveal Christ (the food). Both the utensils and the food are important, but the utensil should never overshadow the substance it was designed to impart. (I was part of a movement that made the utensils everything. Some, on the other hand, believe that God did away with all utensils except for forks.)

    * I counted 22 giftings once. It seems that certain segments of the body of Christ rally around 4 or 5.

    * I am a firm believer in the notion that it’s not the job of any individual to figure out what gift she or he has. That’s the church’s job–especially a local body of believers. The body knows who has what gift. And it’s safer that way. Our calling is to pursue Christ, follow Him, and function. More can be said about functioning (a lost art in many congregations today), but it’s one of those things that takes care of itself when a believer seeks to impart Christ to others.

    One last thought: some men will sell their souls to have a title. I don’t see any gifts in the NT used as titles, but simply as descriptions of a function.

    So it seems to me . . .

  • Robert

    We don’t really talk about spiritual gifts – the subject was given a bad name by the Charismatic Movement – but there’s no problem seeing them at work in our church. When people gain confidence and develop ministries, that’s a gift of the Spirit in my book. I’ve been thinking the same was as you since the mid-80’s, when I came across the sort of legalism you refer to, and thought it couldn’t possibly be right!

  • One problem with taking tests and using checklists in order to assess possible gifting is that people start using words like “my gift”, as in “I have the gift of helps”. The gifts were never meant to be our possessions, but are only gifts when we do what God intended us to do with them – give them away.

  • Great post.
    really appreciate #4
    also thinking of Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God emphasizing how God empowers you for a tasks, and therefore gives you gifts for that task (whether it be long or short term)

    to FRANK: you mentioned the church discerning the gifts for people while people mainly focus on seeking Christ; I appreciate that and all your thoughts above, but I’ve often thought you had a lighter view of organized church leadership, wouldn’t that imply a stronger more intentional leadership in the church?

  • JRS

    I’ve long been fascinated by the subject of spiritual gifts but at the same time frustrated by the lack of substantive writing on the subject. Maybe I’ve missed it.

    What are the best books on spiritual gifts?

  • Thanks for this post, Scot.

    I agree with your assessment of the lists given by Paul as not complete in themselves, but suggestive. Perhaps, as Frank Viola mentions above (#5), they are suggestive in particular directions for certain purposes.

    This means that any spiritual gifts inventory, whether Wagner’s or anyone else’s, is going to be a bit limiting on what God may want to do by only listing those gifts that are mentioned specifically in the epistles.

    That being said, I have found personally and in my pastoral work with others that the concept of spiritual gifts, even if somewhat limiting, is important and needful for giving people an idea that God wants to empower them specifically to minister in His name to others. My early years in the Vineyard movement helped me understand this from the charismatic perspective.

    While I am not a “Saddleback guy,” I do appreciate what they have tried to do with the SHAPE inventory. This takes into account a variety of aspects of how God has uniquely made us and is empowering us: Spiritual gifts, Heart/Passions, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences.

    At the end of the day, we all should be people open to God and his divine strengthening that brings true blessing into the lives of other people and communities.

  • Joe Canner

    I agree that there may be other gifts outside of the ones listed in Scripture. Assuming that there is a fixed list of gifts leads to (or goes at least goes along with) even more rigid thinking, e.g., that a person can have only one gift for their entire life. While it is probably good to focus on one gift and take the time to develop it instead of flitting around, this kind of rigidity limits the Spirit and encourages people to think that once they have found and mastered their gift they don’t have to worry about serving in other ways.

  • Jeff K. Clarke

    Great points, Scott.

    Regarding the variety of gifts mentioned by the various NT authors, maybe context also played a role. Each of the letters you outlined contained different lists because each location perhaps needed certain emphasized over others because of the situation at hand. For instance, 1 Cor mentioned the more spectacular manifestations maybe due to the emphasis on the spectacular within the church at Corinth. Paul used these in particular to drive home a series of points.

    I agree that the lists we have should never be held together too tightly as exhaustive categories. They seems to be representative of the variety within the Spirit’s manifestations, not closed systems.

    A former professor (who also happened to be Pentecostal) once told me that gifts are not things that are deposited within someone, but are ways in which the Spirit has chosen to consistently use you within.

    Thanks for the posting.

  • EricW

    We first encountered this teaching in the 1980s when we attended Broadway Baptist Church (now simply Broadway Church) in Kansas City, MO, and the co-pastor, Paul Smith (they functioned then, and still do, with team leadership), taught a Spiritual Gifts workshop that supposedly would one day be published. I still have the audiotapes for the course, but I haven’t ever re-listened to them. IIRC, it was explained that discovering your Spiritual Gift(s) was akin to finding your Kingdom Job Description.

    Though I haven’t looked at it, the course is apparently online now:

    The church is still functioning and Paul Smith is still a co-pastor, but the church has definitely moved away from its Baptist affiliation to become a totally inclusive fellowship whose beliefs put it outside the bounds of many persons’ Christianity:

  • Wyatt

    Whoa! Gifts are given for the common good. They are not limited to people with seminary degrees. Too many of us don’t acknowledge this especially those with seminary degrees.

    Also someone point out where there are age or gender limits on the gifts. I thought there was a verse somewhere but I could be wrong.


  • David. Leadership *is* — it could be bad or good, healthy or unhealthy, but it simply exists in the DNA of the ekklesia.

    That said, every believer is gifted, every believer has ministry, every believer is a priest, and every believer is called to be a functioning member of the Body. In that sense, every Christian *leads* when they function and express the mind of the only person who is called the “Head of the church,” Jesus Christ. There are just different kinds of leadership.

    In that connection, one of the arguments that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 12 is that Jesus Christ is not a dumb (mute) idol, like the Corinthians were used to worshipping in their past. Instead, Christ has the power of speech through His Spirit. And the instrument through which Jesus speaks is His Body. Paul then goes on to talk about spiritual gifts via *every* member of the Body in the rest of the chapter and on through chapter 14.

    So I very much believe in leadership, I just don’t advocate the two kinds of leadership that Jesus Himself condemned for His people in the context of the community He was establishing: Hierarchical and titular.

    I develop these ideas in detail in my book, “Reimagining Church” –

    Hope that helps.

  • I believe that there are different types of gifts – gifts of Christ (people who are specially called, anointed, trained & groomed for service of different types), manifestations of the Spirit, personality types, and differing talents. We are each a multifaceted combination of these differing types of gifts. Studying these can help us to understand, accept, and love ourselves and others.

    I’ll never forget taking a personality test and realizing that God had wired me from birth to be a sensitive, compassionate, steady, stable type person, not a dominant but a supportive person. Understanding this freed me to stop trying to be something I wasn’t and accept, even value the way God made me. This in turned help me to accept and love others as they are.

    Anyhow, I see such gifting tests as tools to help us better understand and appreciate ourselves and others, and enable us to better work together.

  • EricW

    I think one can rightly expand the list/number of gift(ings) by including OT passages such as Exodus 35:30-36:1. That passage suggests to me that the Holy Spirit can give as a gift (and it should be called such) whatever is necessary for whatever task is at hand.

  • Keith

    My issue with gifts is that they are not measurable. What I mean is a friend of mine says God speaks audibly to her. I think, “Really, he doesn’t do that for me.” Another person says he was faith-healed. I think, “Maybe it was the doctors that took the tumor out.” Can’t God work in our lives with out gifts and miracles? Of course he can, and I think this is his normal operating mode.

    Perhaps I’m the problem here, but I see the charismatic folks as somewhat self-delusional. I accept that God can work in these ways when he chooses to, but I also think many (most) are people just making stuff up.

    As such, what do I do about it. I think the answer is nothing. First of all, I could be wrong. Second, even if I am right, what’s the point of calling someone delusional? I just don’t want to become such a person myself…

  • John W Frye

    My early exposure to spiritual gift inventories/tests tied them to Maslow’s self-actualization (his hierarchy of needs). *I* would be *fulfilled* if I discovered, developed and demonstrated my gift(s). So, while we were told the gifts are “for the common good,” we operated on the premise that the gifts were good for *me.* That’s what soured me on the standardization of the gifts. BTW, this also will be the death of ‘spiritual disciplines’ if the disciplines are tied to personal, self-fulfillment.

    I agree that the N.T. lists are not exhaustive, but suggestive of the way the Spirit works in the body of Christ. The gifts are directly called not abilities or even functions and certainly not *roles*, but “manifestation of the Spirit” (1 Cor 12:7). The verb in 1 Cor 12:11 is present, active, indicative, i.e., “the Spirit keeps on giving them [gifts], just as *he* determines.” I think gifts are situational and perhaps temporal (and, no, I am not suggesting one cannot be determined to be a “teacher,” “leader,” “merciful” etc.). We need, however, to be expectantly hopeful for the Spirit to empower us in the particular moment of ministry. We should never beg off and say, “I can’t do that. That’s not my gift.” Why limit S/something/One) so dynamic and present as the loving Holy Spirit operating in the body of Christ?

  • Scott, have you read “What Are Spiritual Gifts?: Rethinking the Conventional View” by Kenneth Berding? Do you think his book is useful for this discussion?

    I found his arguments regarding “gift” as ministry or person rather than ability to be persuasive, and also how he builds his argument from the textual metaphor of body as well.

  • So the Holy Spirit promotes human flourishing and accelerates/promotes/implants assets to build up his community.

    I’m currently rewriting our church’s spiritual gift’s curriculum and I have to be honest– I’m struggling with reconciling the materials with the strength-based literature outside of the church. I’m more comfortable saying that God give us assets and not parsing whether its a spiritual gift or a natural ability. I’m struggling with the value of these distinctions. Any input from any comment er would be helpful.

  • T

    Amen, Scot. And you, too, John (19). Any tool used by churches to help identify and “fan into flame” the gifts God gives his people needs the context you’ve described: it’s about what the Spirit is enabling and leading you to do for the benefit of others, in a variety of ways. Part of the very point of these gift passages is that there is a great variety of ways the Spirit works through people.

    That said, there’s also a great deal of ignorance even about the listed gifts, which was true even in “Charismatic” Corinth. I can’t tell you how many times people have, for instance, in discussing the gifts, equated the gift of apostle or prophecy with the ability/authorization to write scripture. There are lots of apostles and prophetic gifts at work in the NT. Relatively few wrote anything that is now scripture; but many equate these gifts with writing scripture.

    I think it’s fantastic (and supports your point) that the love chapter is sandwiched between two chapters about gifts. The gifts are merely concrete (and varied) expressions of love, sent and powered by God, through people, for people. That’s it. Some of them are as simple and unassuming as a cup of cold water, others heal cancer. Some are verbal, some are pure action.

  • Bob Smallman

    I couldn’t have stated the issues better. And this from a guy who used to administer a “Spiritual Gifts Inventory” to all our new members. I quit sometime after one of our married members said that Celibacy was his highest-rated gift! 🙂

    John Stott often made the point that the New Testament lays far more emphasis on the Fruit of the Spirit than on the Gifts of the Spirit.

    I get very nervous when a church member comes up to me and tells me what their gift is — with the implication that I will automatically plug them into the appropriate ministry. Plus, (on the other side) I think far too many people dismiss potential ministry opportunities with an all too flippant, “That’s not my gift!”

  • For me, the most helpful verse is found in Acts 2 where Peter says “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Holy Spirit is THE gift. He is the Anointing, He is the Presence of Christ. He is the one who Calls, who Equips and sends us.

    The “gifts” are tools. Holy Spirit is the gift and he comes with a full toolbox. Whatever gift we need to do His work, he can give us. Paul manifested most of the highlighted gifts of the Spirit. He needed most. You can seek the gifts commensurate with where you serve and what you need.

  • Fred

    What does the gift of teaching equip us to do that a Masters in Religious Education doesn’t? If a person has the gift of teaching but no formal training, can he/she still teach the Word? If an MRE teaches but doesn’t believe they have the gift of teaching, what happens? Does teaching happen? Maybe less so?

    This is interesting. I sat under a S.S. teacher who claimed to have the gift of teaching but never presented any biblical content. He had good presence in front of the group but never answered a question himself (“Oh good question, what do you think about that?). Classes were, for the most part, poolings of ignorance.

    And what about the gift of prophecy? Are those who warn us about flaws in the church necessarily prophets? What does someone with the gift of prophecy sound like? In a time when we tend to flock to those whose writing or speaking style we like, we may become confused(?).

    Can someone have “floating” gifts (i.e. teaching one day and something else the next)?

  • Amos Paul


    If you want to be that particular–sure, someone can be gifted as a teacher. But that gift can also remain undeveloped and useless. Pretending to teach and just blithering on about nothing in front of people is not teaching. It’s hiding behind your supposed possession of a gift. Just like the servant who was given one talent… and buried it in the ground. Useless.

    But of course ‘prophecy’ is a different beast entirely. You can see my comment @2 to see how I prefer to distinguish between gifts as natural roles for people and gifts as situational tools. Paul, mind you, encouraged everyone to earnestly desire the gift of prophecy. Though what you think that means is entirely dependent upon your belief structure.

    As for myself, I see prophecy as basically being communication from God through your person, and it can take on a variety of forms. For instance, I might get an idea, see a picture, or feel something that seems important while praying for somebody. That *might* be the kernel of some knowledge from God. I can ask the person if it means anything to them, or try pray in Spirit for an understanding about that idea to see if I might also be blessed with some discernment concerning that knowledge.

    Testing the spirits, though, means I must be careful in my experience identifying what may and may not be from God, and I must be careful in how I present it to the person, and it’s up to the person to decide whether or not that message resonates as from God to them or not.

    Although Scripture also talks about people prophesying with their instruments, or people prophecying by commiting some God given actions–as mundane as they might seem–that had some declarative, spiritual import. Prophecy is a big topic. But it demands the question–do you think God talks back through us or not? If so, I call that prophecy.

  • MatthewS

    Timely post for me. I really like this approach. Allowing for people to benefit from the categories they have heard about without needing to agitate for or against the hardened categories themselves.

    It seems to me (I’m open to correction) that in the case of Eph 4:11 the “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” are themselves gifts to the church. I wonder if it might be encouraging to some folks to see themselves as gifts to the body. Rather than wondering how much of their abilities are “gift” and how much are natural ability and training, to see their unique perspective and abilities and contributions as a whole package that is a gift to the Church and to their local church.

    I’m not a big fan of much of what we hear about the hardened categories. But the more I attempt to help get people plugged in, the more I see a why the categories are appealing to people. “What is God’s Spirit enabling you to do?” is a great question but it’s very open-ended. Some people seem to need more hand-holding. It leaves me in a little bit of a quandary, wishing for more practical help but not wishing to revisit some of the gift silliness I have endured in the past.

  • Amos Paul


    That is exactly my view of Ephesians 4:11 as well, actually. Though I also agree that it is an incredible gift to each of us to be designed some special way by God to be fit to certain purposes. I think both concepts are in the verse.

  • Joe Canner

    Fred #25: Not sure exactly what you’re getting at in your first paragraph, but I would say that there is some overlap between gift of teaching and formal training, but some distinctions as well. In my experience, the gift of teaching involves having good rapport with the audience and the ability to use illustrations and simple language to explain complex spiritual concepts. Training (formal or informal) gives you the tools you need to use that gift: understanding of original language, knowledge of available resources, exegetical techniques, etc.

    As you noted, someone with the gift but without some study and training is just blowing smoke. Conversely, training is not going to turn Al Gore into Rob Bell. Accordingly, both are useful. Deficiencies in one can be made up by the other, but only to an extent.

  • ryan

    great thoughts and discussion. I often wonder if we also discover the gifts we esteem rather than recognize the gifts we have?

  • AHH

    We do the Network material (I help teach it), but we try to give a lot of caveats (some of which, to be fair, are in the Network course itself) to avoid the sort of pigeonholing and “my” attitude that Scot mentions. Some examples of things we try to mention:

    1) The most important idea, more so than any inventories, is for people to grasp the concept of the interdependent Body of Christ, where all (not just a few with job titles) are gifted for ministry by the Holy Spirit. This helps (we hope) get the church away from consumer mentality.

    2) Biblical lists and list used in course are not tidy compartments, but examples of ways in which God can gift people, Biblically based categories to be a starting point as we learn how God might be gifting us. In some sense, there are as many different spiritual gifts as there are Christians. Any person’s giftedness may be some combination of various categories.

    3) Just because I don’t have a certain spiritual gift doesn’t mean God may not call me to serve in that area at some times.
    3a) God wants us to offer our whole lives for service. Not just our spiritual gifts but also our natural abilities, experiences, all we are. It may not be clear whether something is a natural talent or a spiritual gift, but knowing which doesn’t really matter as God can use both.

    4) The gifts are for building up the Body, not for ourselves, not even good personal things like our own closeness to God.

  • Your point of “having a gift” vs. being “had” by gifts of the Spirit is spot on! The weakness in spiritual gift inventories and assessments is that they focus on the personal strengths/interests/talents of the individual. So if someone was a strong leader before they came to Christ, they are all too easily indentified as having a leadership gift in the Church. That talent is a gift from God, but not a spiritual gift in the sense of what Paul is teaching. I believe spiritual gifts are extra-ordinary empowerments beyond our natural born talents. That is not to say that natural talents can’t be used as a spiritual gift. Here’s what I mean: I have a natural gift as a counselor/teacher/listener/encourager. It has been evident in my life when walking with Christ and when I’ve been living far from Him. I am a good counselor/coach and trained psychologist with good tools. But there are times when I am using this talent and training and I sense a special empowerment or “gifting” when God uses me in someone’s life far beyond my natural talent. I am aware and humbled by it. I am struck with “where is this coming from”?? and the answer is always “from the Spirit of the Living God”.
    I believe spiritual gifts show up on a regular basis as a pattern of behavior, and that they can occur in rare exceptional circumstances. I am not generally gifted with helps or hospitality, but I have experienced moments when God was using me to serve others in ways I ordinarily would not be equipped.
    I believe you know a spiritual gift when people are moved closer to God as a result of the work.
    Thank you for a thought-provoking post! We’ll be using it for discussion in a class at our church – where the friend you mention is a teacher!!.

  • Yes, I do believe we overdo the ‘conventional’ way of thinking with regards to spiritual gifts. We see them as these hidden abilities to unearth, dig deep (or take a test) to find out which one(s) we have been given.

    I like the approach of seeing them as just as they are – ministries and services to build up the body. One friend was once asked which gift was most important, to which he replied, ‘Whichever one is needed at that moment.’

    I think Kenneth Berding’s book does well to challenge this ‘conventional’ approach, though at times I feel he might swing the pendulum a bit too far. The link shares my review of the book.

  • Thanks Scot – I’ve been struggling with the Constitutional view of the gifts vs. the Situational view. This blog has been the first thing that I have been able to find on this question that has been helpful from a biblical/theological perspective. I’m also planning to look at Craig Keener’s Gift & Giver as well as the Counterpoint Series – Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? I would appreciate any other suggestions anyone might have which would provide a Biblical Theology for the Situational view of the gifts. Thanks!

  • Kit Carlson

    Sir, Thanks for posting. Prepping sermon on gifts for Marines and their family members tomorrow. This brought some clarity.