The focus of this article is to offer an answer to what is usually the most commonly asked question on this topic: How do I know what my spiritual gift is? This question (and this post itself) makes me quite nervous, because I am actually going to try and attempt to answer a question that is not directly answered by Scripture. While it is true that there is no Scripture that directly tells believers how to find out what their spiritual gift is, and this is a bit of bad news; at the same time, the good news is that God has given His Holy Spirit to believers to lead them into all truth (John 16:13). Since God in His Word has commanded that all believers USE their spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11), then it is reasonable to believe that one of the roles of the Holy Spirit – Himself the giver of spiritual gifts – is to actually lead Christians into the knowledge of what their gift is AND how to walk in it. The seven simple steps outlined below are informed by Scripture and are built around the understanding that the Holy Spirit is active, near, close and personally involved in every believer’s life.
Seven Step Process to Learn Your Spiritual Gift:
Yes, I know seven steps actually seems like a lot of steps, but please bear with me. First of all, I believe all seven steps are biblical, necessary, and should not be skipped. Secondly, from my observation, it seems like it is somewhat rare for Christians to immediately understand and know their spiritual gifting(s). I am not sure why that is, but based on informal surveys, I would estimate that less than 50 percent of active, church-going people who show the fruit of being Christians, actually know what their primary spiritual gift is.
If you are a Christian and don’t know what your primary spiritual gift is, then don’t be alarmed by this – you are not alone! I have been in ministry for well over 20 years, and have served as a senior pastor for almost ten years. Recently, when I surveyed our church congregation and my closest friends about what they thought MY primary spiritual gift was, I got at least nine different answers out of roughly two dozen respondents. Of those two dozen – only TWO mentioned pastoring or shepherding as my primary spiritual gift. That is not particularly disconcerting to me, because even though I have the title of “pastor” on paper, and even though I spend a good amount of time pastoring, I actually don’t believe that pastoring/shepherding is my primary spiritual gift. The fact of the matter is that God can and will use you to edify and build up His Body even if you don’t have a clue what your spiritual gift is. He is sovereign! The final reason to indulge in a seven step process for identifying spiritual gifts is that it spells out an awesome acrostic, DISCOVER, and everybody likes acrostics, right? (Shout out to 80s preachers)
So – without further keystrokes, here is the seven step DISCOVER process to learn what Spiritual Gift you have:
Study the Word
Consider a Spiritual Gifts Test
Observe Needs and Offer to Serve
- Desire Intensely The first step in finding out your spiritual gift is that you obey the Word and intensely desire spiritual gifts for your self and fellow Christians that you are in relationship with. At least THREE times in Scripture, the apostle Paul tells Christians to desire, pursue and/or be eager to have various spiritual gifts – especially the greater ones. The Greek word he uses is the word ζηλοῦτε or ZEALOUTAY, which is the word that we get zeal/zealous from. It means to intensely long for something – even to covet it. It is right and biblical to have a deep desire to know and use your spiritual gift! 1 Cor 12:31, “31 But desire the greater gifts. And I will show you an even better way.” 1 Corinthians 14 1, “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy.” 1 Corinthians 14:39, “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in other languages.”
- Study the Word. Remember that God’s Word is living AND active and that the Bible is a supernatural book. Remember also that one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth. As you study the major Bible passages on the spiritual gifts, I believe and trust that God will unlock insight, understanding and knowledge and lead you to truth through His living Word. Here are four excellent passages on spiritual gifts to start your study. There are certainly other places in Scripture where the gifts are mentioned, but I believe the below passages are the four longest and most detailed teachings on spiritual gifts in the Bible. Prayerfully read and meditate on these passages and ask the Holy Spirit to sovereignly (in His timing) lead you into a deeper understanding of spiritual gifts and your gift in particular:A.1 Corinthians 12-1
B. Romans 12:3-8
C. 1 Peter 4: 7-11
D. Ephesians 4:4-16
- Consider a spiritual gifts test. For a lot of Christians that are interested in finding out their spiritual gift, the first place they start is by taking a spiritual gifts test or a spiritual gifts inventory. Call me crazy, but I do not believe that a test taken and graded by an individual, is the correct place to start when trying to ascertain one’s spiritual gift. First, this is not a great idea because we are biased – we might fill out a test based on what we wish to do or be, or how we wish to be gifted, rather than based on how God has actually gifted us. I have found myself more than once using a word or phrase from some of my heroes of the faith (men like: John Piper, David Platt, Tim Keller, etc.). I am not, however, any of those guys, and I am not gifted in the same way that they are. On a spiritual gifts test, I might give in to gift-envy, and thus fill out the test in a way that would make me match up better with those that I look up to.Another way that bias works against us on spiritual gifts tests is in the negative sense: we might actually underrate ourselves, either because of humility, or because we are going through a trial at the moment, or the Refiner’s fire, or even a bad taco last night. The point is that when we are evaluating ourselves, we often miss things. This is precisely why Jesus warned His followers to not point out splinters in their brother’s eyes when they have trees in their own eyes. Most people are not accurately self-aware, and a spiritual gifts test does not account for this. The best way to discover your spiritual gift is via the leadership of the Spirit through the Word of God in the midst of the Body of Christ – a community of believers that can give you feedback and encourage you in what you areas or roles that you are gifted and fruitful in.
That said – I am myself actually working on an online spiritual gifts test. Other than the programming side of things, it is not terribly difficult to do a spiritual gifts test (see an early beta version of my test in action above). Jokes aside, spiritual gifts tests do have SOME value, but should neither be the starting point nor the ending point in spiritual gifts discovery. Consider taking a test, but know that this step is not necessary, and could even be counterproductive, though such tests are usually helpful. There is not a large selection of free online spiritual gifts tests available, but one that is decent is the Gifted2Serve test at BuildingChurch.net – shout out to the 90s on that web design there. 😉 It is made by a blogger and pastor that was an intern at Lakeview Baptist in Auburn, Alabama and it contains a full list of spiritual gifts (including a few controversial ones).
Note this caution from seasoned Christian counselor and writer Edward Welch: “As a counselor, I have spoken with many people who want to know their spiritual gifts. They come hoping for some sort of diagnostic test that will precisely locate them. My impression is that this perspective represents a breakdown in the church. It reflects a church where we are running around as self-actualizing individuals rather than uniting as a God-glorifying community.“ Ed Welch in “When People are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency and the Fear of Man.”
- Observe Community Needs AND Offer to Serve in an Area of Need Yes. I am cheating a bit here – there are two “O’s” in step number four, and only one “O” in Discover. I refuse to call it the “Discoover” method, as people will laugh at me. Understand, as Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 12:18 (below) that God has ordered the body of Christ precisely the way that He wants it to be ordered. That means that He has sovereignly guided you to your current church fellowship, small group, family, etc. Further understand, as Peter notes in 1 Peter 4:10, that your gift is designed to be used – it is a command – to serve other Christians. Putting these two facts together, leads me to conclude that, wherever you are and whomever you are, God has placed you, with your specific gifting, in a place that needs your service! In other words, you have a gifting that is designed to be used in an area of need in your church, small group, job, or family. Look for it, and ask God to lead you to it. Hopefully you are in the kind of church where the leaders actually know you and want you to not merely fill a need, but to thrive in an area of gifting***. If you are are in such a place, then ask them where they think you might fit. Ask other members of your church fellowship that you are close to. Once again: There is a need in your community that you are designed to meet and serve in – The Holy Spirit will lead you to that need! *** I note here that things like toilet cleaning, trash picking up, nursery service, and lots of other areas of menial service do not necessarily have a spiritual gift directly associated with them, with the possible exception of the gift of service itself. Please don’t ever beg out of lowly tasks by saying that you aren’t gifted to do them. None of us are exactly gifted to clean toilets or change diapers, or pick up trash, but we do serve a master, Jesus, who tells us that they key to greatness is not to BE served, but to SERVE!
A. 1 Peter 4:10, “10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:”
B. 1 Corinthians 12:18, “18 But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted.” If God has placed you in a certain church fellowship, in a certain job, in a certain neighborhood, then you can KNOW that He has placed YOU – with your special gifting – in a place where you can USE that gift.
- Verify Giftedness with Family and Friends. This is another place where being in a Christian family/community becomes important. After testing the waters, so to speak, and serving in an area or two in your fellowship or small group, then ask follow-up questions of your spouse, your friends, and trusted church leaders. Here are some questions to consider asking: “Where do you think I am gifted?” “What are the needs of the church that are currently going unmet?” “Is there a different place where I could serve fruitfully, or am I being fruitful here?”Also, be on the look out for others who are serving with noticeable impact and giftedness, and intentionally encourage them WITHOUT their asking in areas of obvious gifting. Don’t assume they know what their gift is! Very often people will discover areas that God has gifted them not on their own, but through the encouraging and insightful words of others. Also consider having your spouse take a spiritual gifts test FOR you, and then compare notes – they might see things that you are missing. Finally, consider asking mature Christians and spiritual leaders that know you well what areas they might believe that you are gifted to serve in. If you yourself are asked such a question, never give a terse or discouraging answer, but also never tell an untruth. In other words, seek neither to blow people off, nor inaccurately declare their giftedness in an area that you don’t have confidence that they are gifted in. Speak the truth in Love.
- Evaluate Fruitfulness This step is very similar to step number five, and can even be done together with number five. If you are gifted in a particular area, then there should be obvious fruit that comes from your endeavors in that area. Failure to be fruitful in a particular calling or area of service, especially in the short term, does not necessarily mean that you aren’t gifted in that area. Adonirum Judson labored for almost six years as a missionary in Burma before he saw his first convert, and Judson was a tremendously gifted missionary and evangelist. God often leads His people through the testing grounds of failure and pruning so that they will be more fruitful (John 15). That said, serving for a significant amount of time in an area without noticeable joy or fruit/impact might be a signal that you are not serving in an area of giftedness Often it is important to involve others in this evaluation. Avoid sunshine pumpers who will encourage you in every single endeavor of your life – even those you aren’t great at. These people may love you well, but they aren’t the ones to get a genuine evaluation from. Avoid critics even more vigorously – the kind of people who tell you that those jeans do actually make your bottom look huge. Stark truth, spoken without love and encouragement, is unhelpful. The ability to criticize well is perhaps the most common ability in our culture. We do NOT need more critics, or fault finders or more masters of snark. We need more LOVING truth tellers. People that can communicate truth WITHOUT wounding and WITHOUT misdirecting somebody. Seek those kind of people out, and ask them to help evaluate your fruitfulness in areas of service. Those who genuinely speak the truth in love to you will be invaluable assets in your life – helping you to thrive in areas of giftedness and avoid areas of barren frustration.
- Repeat These seven steps should be an ongoing process. Since God’s Word tells us to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, I believe it is possible that spiritual gifts might not be delivered to believers in full on the day of salvation, but possibly distributed by the Spirit over time and according to need. Thus, as we mature, and as our needs change (and as we intensely desire…), I suspect that the Spirit will lead us to unperceived areas of fruitfulness. Therefore keep desiring intensely, keep studying God’s Word, keep considering spiritual gifts tests and offering to serve in areas of need. Keep verifying giftedness and evaluating fruitfulness. Do all of this in the knowledge that you are led by a Holy Spirit that, “causes all things to work together for good for those who know God and are called according to His purposes.”
In closing, allow me to quote from Acts 15, and point us to the encouragement and strengthening that came when Judas and Silas exercised their giftings in the Antioch congregation. These men knew their areas of spiritual giftedness and walked in them, which brought great edification and strength to their fellowship. May we be like Judas and Silas in that area – different giftings, perhaps, but the same results: encouragement and strengthening!
Acts 15: 30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them.