Bible Answer

How do I learn my spiritual gift?

I want to know my spiritual gift from God. I found a test online that claims to help me discover my spiritual gift. Do these tests work? How can I be sure which gift(s) I have?

The Bible teaches that all Christians are gifted by the Spirit to serve the body of Christ. Our gifting is given to us so we may meet the spiritual needs of others in the church. Many Christians live in ignorance of their own spiritual gifting, while others discover their gift late in life and express frustration their gifting wasn't clear from the beginning.

As a result, some ministries have devised spiritual gift assessment tests to pinpoint a Christian's spiritual gift, but we feel these tests are unhelpful and even misleading. They try to measure something that can't be measured until after the believer has pursued a process of discovery and development through service to the body. 

To fully explain what we mean, let's consider a comparison between spiritual gifts and natural talents or abilities.

Every child is born with certain natural abilities, but during the early years of a child's life, these abilities are latent (i.e., undiscovered). One child may be born with a gift for athletics while another has a talent for music, but though these talents are present from birth, each child must work to discover and develop his/her talent before it will be evident and useful.

For example, the athletically-gifted child must try various sports before discovering his/her natural talent. Though Michael Jordan was born a gifted athlete, he still required years of practicing and training before he became the best basketball player of his time.

Likewise, the musical child must be exposed to various musical instruments and genres before knowing his/her passion and strength. Though YoYo Ma was born with a rare musical talent, still he had to invest many years to master the cello before he achieved recognition as a gifted musician. 

In other words, natural talents don't just "appear;" they must be discovered, developed and mastered through hard work. Hard work won't substitute for gifting, but neither can a talent become useful without preparation. It’s the combination of natural gifting and years of hard work that produces greatness.

So it is with spiritual gifting as well. At the moment we come to faith, the Lord gifts us in supernatural ways, but we begin our Christian walk as "babes in Christ." In our spiritually immature state, our gift remains latent and must be discovered and developed. Even though the source of our gifting is supernatural (i.e., the Spirit working in us), nevertheless we must apply ourselves in union with the Spirit to develop our spiritual gift before it can become something useful.

Now consider, how helpful would it be to test 3-year old children to determine their natural talent or gifting? Could any test be devised to detect a toddler's future as a basketball star or musical prodigy? Perhaps a test might offer some hopeful signs, but in most cases, the toddler's immaturity would prevent the test from revealing any useful insight. 

Even though the child possessed a talent, the talent couldn't be measured until it was first discovered and developed to the point that it was clearly evident. For the same reason, we believe tests for spiritual gifts usually (if not always) fail for similar reasons. It's a Catch 22: what hasn't yet become evident can't be measured, and what has already become evident does not need to be discovered.

Secondly, we believe these tests are inaccurate because their methodology is flawed. A spiritual gift test typically relies on a series of questions probing a person's interest and aptitude for various church functions or service skills (i.e., public speaking ability, counseling skills, empathy, service mindedness, etc.). As a person responds to each question, the test detects patterns and narrows the list of possible spiritual gifts.

This methodology presumes that a spiritual gift will be reflected in the person's interests and abilities, but God's calling on our life won't necessarily correlate to our natural desires or strengths. For example, Moses was called to speak to Pharaoh to free Israel, but Moses was not naturally talented in public speaking:

Ex. 4:10  Then Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 

Had Moses taken a spiritual gifting test, he surely wouldn't have registered high on exhortation, yet this was exactly the way God appointed for Moses to serve in Israel. Likewise, our spiritual gifting may not match our natural desires, talents or interests. The Lord often selects men and women who are not inclined to certain tasks, so that when they serve, the people recognize the gifting was from God. As Paul explains:

1Cor. 1:26  For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 
1Cor. 1:27 but God has chosen the foolish things of  the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of  the world to shame the things which are strong, 
1Cor. 1:28  and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may  nullify the things that are, 
1Cor. 1:29  so that no man may boast before God. 

In summary, our spiritual gift is given to us at salvation, but our gift won't be obvious until after we've spent time endeavoring to discover it through trial and error, and it will only develop and mature through experience in service to the body. Before that point, our gift lies latent and unlikely to register on any test or skill inventory. Furthermore, any such assessment relies on measuring natural talents, which may not correlate to our spiritual gifting.

Instead of relying on these tests to discover your spiritual gift, we recommend Christians identify their gift by a process of discovery and development through serving in the body of Christ. Just as Michael Jordan played multiple sports throughout his youth before he discovered his strength in basketball, Christians should volunteer in a variety of capacities, and along the way they will discover their gifting. Over time, as we mature in our understanding of what the Spirit is doing through us, we will strengthen our gift.

Remember, we don't seek to find our gift so that then we may serve. We serve, so that we can discover our gifting.