Sunday, January 27, 2008

Spiritual Gift Inventories

David Wayne offers an intriguing critique, suggesting that they are often less about giftedness and more about what people like to do:

I have seen it most commonly in people who fancy themselves to have the gift of prophecy. On more than one occasion I have heard such a person say "well, I guess I just don't have the gift of mercy" after they have emotionally run over someone.

On a deeper level most spiritual gift inventories are just spiritualized versions of temperament tests. Actually, in their place I find temperament tests very helpful and recommend them as good helps for people seeking to identify their strengths, weaknesses and best ways of working with others.

If we could leave spiritual gift inventories on that level - as helpful but not determinative, then I would be fine. The trouble is, spiritual gift inventories are often accompanied with teaching that says that each one of us is given one particular gift by God and we must identify it and use it. Thus, spiritual gift inventories rise to the level of "thus saith the Lord." Others are frustrated that they haven't taken an inventory so they don't know how to serve.

As part of the Annual Clergy Assessment process last year with my PPRC, I took a spiritual gift inventory. It said that I had the gift of prophecy. I guarantee you that I do not. But that result had tallied up because I answered questions to the effect that I enjoy examining Christian ethics.

Such inventories often cheapen the truth of spiritual gifts in order to ensure that congregations have "prophets" and "healers". But a prophet is not a person who studies Christian ethics; it is a person who receives direct spiritual instruction from God. The gift of healing is not about having a good bedside manner. It means someone who can lay on hands and instantly reverse medical ailments.

I find that the benefit of spiritual gift inventories is that they get laypeople talking about what they can and should do to in ministry. The potential pitfall that David Wayne correctly points out is that they can become an overly-strict framework for lay ministry.

UPDATE: Jeff the Baptist's assessment:

I've seen these tests become crutches and stumbling blocks to many. Some things are jobs every believer should be able to do, like evangelism. If I had a nickel for everyone who used the excuse "that's not my spiritual gift" to get out of a jobing they don't want, I'd have a healthy donation to the church building fund. As if Christ said "Go forth and make disciples of all nations... unless you're a Servant, you guys just show up at church workdays."

If you want to use these things in your church, just call them what they are, aptitude or personality tests. Explain to people that they can help them figure out their talents so they can use them to better the Kingdom, but that they aren't some sort of definitive source for spiritual insight and they don't absolve them of spiritual responsibility.


Scotte Hodel said...

I object to the idea of having a personal "spiritual" gift in the first place. The idea that God pidgeonholes each of us into a cubbyhole as if we were a part of some union that won't let prophetic people show mercy is ridiculous.

A part of the problem is that we easily make the question, "What's my spiritual gift," that is to say, "what is my identity in God's kingdom." Our identity is not determined by our occupation nor our gifting; our identity is in Christ. That is, the gifts are subservient to the Lord who lives in us.

Or that was my idean when I wrote this.

~c. said...

I have been using a homemade spiritual gift inventory in my churches to stimulate thought on our mission as a church. The local context here is neighborhood churches that have grown complacent in their understanding of what it means to be a church. I have seen no sign that this inventory has been "determinative". I do hope that it creates in the churches a more cohesive sense of identity.

As for how to define the gifts, I for one do not see prophecy as "a person who receives direct spiritual instruction from God". That sounds more like a mystic to me. My current working definition of prophecy is "understanding God's will for the current time". Also, if you have ever been death-bedside, then the you might have witnessed a particular form of healing that goes beyond physical restoration.

Mitch said...

John - I reflected on this topic in "More on Spiritual Gifts." I, too, am aghast at how far we stretch the New Testament experience of gifts of the Holy Spirit to make them fit our strikingly different experience and situation.

Bottom line: New Testament gifts were “supernatural” (for lack of a better word) empowerments as the language suggests, but many of these specific gifts are either less prevalent or have ceased in their New Testament form today. The church should help people explore how the Holy Spirit might use them for the good of the church without reference to specific lists of New Testament gifts.

There's more in my post.

Mark Winter said...

Having a particular spiritual gift does not exclude you from practicing mercy, service, etc. A charism is simply an extraordinary empowerment from the Holy Spirit to carry out a certain gift. Because God has not had a stroke, I see no reason to believe that certain gifts have ceased to exist. The charismata are biblical (I Cor 12, Rom 12, Eph 4) and we should learn more about them in order to discover our calling and "build up the church."

John said...

I agree with Mitch that the gifts described by Paul and exhibited in Acts were certainly 'supernatural'. It's just not exegetically feasible to suggest that taking high school French is gossalalia. I disagree that these gifts have ceased. They may be less prevelant. Perhaps because, as Paul says, they are given in accordance with faith. But the cessationist view that the gifts were withdrawn at the close of the NT era has no basis in Scripture.

Michael said...

I also scored rather high in the "prophecy" category. What was most unsettling to me is that when I asked several members of the clergy what it meant, I got several different answers and perspectives. That was back in '99 when I entered into the candidacy. To this day I still am clueless.

JD said...


I appreciate your post, comments, and the comments of others on this topic. My wife and I have interesting discussions regarding spiritual gifts, especially those of the tongues variety in the context of personal prayer. I have found myself very limiting of God's wonderous works and the Spirit's abaility to manifest change in a supernatural way in my life by making comments like, "When God is ready to let me have those gifts, He will bestow them." She is more active in her understanding, reminding me that God works through prayer and receipt of spiritual Gifts mentioned in 1 Cor is more about a longing to be closer to Christ's love and letting the Spirit work through you and less about some happenstance that one day, God will bless me with certain gifts to spread His love.

I look forward to reading the other's insights as well. Thanks again for the topic.