I didn’t grow up in Chruch. I went to VBS a couple times as a kid, but didn’t start regularly going to church until I was in the eighth grade. When I did start going, it was first to youth group with a friend of mine, and then Sunday morning service to see a girl that I had met a youth group.
So my intentions weren’t the best, but it kept me coming and I eventually joined a Sunday school class with a few friends of mine. In the first series of the class, our teacher taught on spiritual gifts. My classmates and I would joke about a Christian marketing scheme hocking off spiritual gifts. Become a Christian today and you’ll receive the gift of mercy for free!
During that series, I took a spiritual gift inventory; I still have the results folded in an old Bible of mine. I clearly remember that my top “spiritual gift” was the gift of exhortation (otherwise known as the gift of encouragement).
The only problem with this scenario is that I didn’t become a Christian for another 2 years! So I couldn’t have had any “spiritual gifts” if I wasn’t spiritual at all, could I?
The term spiritual gifts comes from several passages in Scripture, but most famously from 1 Corinthians 12. In this passage, Paul writes how in the Body of Christ there are many different parts with different functions, yet we all work in unity under the headship of Christ. Paul lists these different “spiritual gifts” or functions: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, healing, helping, administrating, and tongues.
This list isn’t exhaustive as there are similar passages that list different gifts. For instance, in Romans 12 Paul includes the gifts of service, exhortation, mercy, and leadership.
There’s always some debate about spiritual gifts too. People question if gifts like healing or tongues or apostleship are still active. I’d give a firm but non-committal “it depends” on that question. But if some gifts are no longer active, couldn’t it be possible that there are new gifts of the modern and post-modern eras that were not active in the early church? And to that I say “certainly!”
But to decipher what those gifts might be, a better understanding of what “spiritual gifts” are is necessary.
When I got exhortation on my first spiritual gifts inventory, the results weren’t nullified or false because I was not a Christian. I was genuinely a fairly encouraging person. The gifts I have predate my conversion. Despite the jokes we made in Sunday School, you don’t get spiritual gifts at conversion–you just have gifts.
Spiritual gifts aren’t new abilities you suddenly acquire at the point of conversion. Rather, they are God-given gifts granted at birth but commissioned at conversion. You already had the gifts but they became beneficial for the Kingdom at conversion.
If that thought is true, then spiritual gift inventories are terribly misguided. Not because the gifts on the inventory are no longer active or useful for the Kingdom, but because they are horribly myopic and lack ingenuity.
Spiritual gift inventories always include gifts like teaching, pastoring, administration, and mercy–traits that that the church has always valued. Churches look for and value those gifts because they know exactly where to place people in ministry that way. But when these surveys only included 8 to 10 different gifts, we are going to start placing square pegs in round holes.
Albert Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In a similar fashion, everyone is gifted, but if you judge a Christian (who is not a gifted teacher) by their ability to teach Sunday school, they’re going to think their useless.
Congregations are pregnant with ministries. There is a plethora of gifts available to pastorates, but they largely get ignored because churches are only looking for people who can work in the nursery (service) and teach Sunday school (teaching/pastoring).
If you have a group of mechanics in your church, start a ministry with them. Use their gifts. Offer free car repairs twice a month to single moms. If you have a few doctors or medical practitioners in your church, start a ministry traveling to migrant camps and offering dental work to immigrants. If you have people who are good with kids, don’t assume the only way they can help is working in the nursery; offer free babysitting twice a month on Saturday nights. If you have a group of runners, have them do a fundraising campaign for a ministry at their next race. If you have many people involved in business, use their ingenuity to form a nonprofit to help underprivileged teens learns business skills so they’ll be equipped for the workforce after high school.
Point being, the ability to work on cars and work with your hands, to take care of teeth or to take care of kids, athletic ability or business ingenuity isn’t any less “spiritual” than the ability to work in the nursery or teach Sunday school. Their gifts are commissioned just the same at conversion.
The problem is that the church starts ministries and then looks for people with specific gifts to fulfill those ministries. Rather, they should look at their congregations and ask “What gifts do we have?” and capitalize on those.
When we do that we’ll have a Christianity and a Church that everyone has a place in. A Christianity where anyone can use their gifts.