The Other Reason I’m Not a Huge Fan of Spiritual Gifts Testing

by Mike Leake on January 10, 2013 · 8 comments

Yesterday I noted that one reason I’m not a huge fan of spiritual gifts testing is because the church at Rome did not have Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  That’s another way of saying that I do not think the early church did ministry according to perceived spiritual giftedness but instead their overarching paradigm was to be united servants of Jesus and that looked different for different people.

Okay, so maybe spiritual gifts aren’t quite what the early church did.  They also didn’t have electricity, microphones, padded seats or VBS.  You won’t find those things in the Bible but the Lord tells us to use our brains.  And we do have the whole canon of Scripture so we do have a list of all the spiritual gifts.  So using our brains and the whole canon of Scripture we’ve come up with spiritual gifts testing.  No harm in that, right?

Why They Aren’t Simply Innocent

Well maybe not.  But I’m not convinced that spiritual gifts are so innocent.  One of the dangers to spiritual gifts testing is that they can create a culture where entitlement and self-expression becomes the goal of spiritual gifts instead of service.  Or maybe it may be better to say that given the wrong climate spiritual gifts actually further a culture of entitlement and self-expression rather than a culture of humble service.

Consider Bonnie.  She takes her test and finds that she is gifted in music (drums precisely), teaching (mostly adults), and handling snakes.  Yet, the church already has a guy that’s been joyously bangin’ away at the drums for years.  All the adult classes have teachers—but we could use a little help with someone to help the kindergarten class with crafts.  And that whole snake handlin’ thing hasn’t happened in our Baptist church since ol’ Jimmy decided to play a trick on Reverend Jenkins by putting a brood of baby water snakes in the baptistry.

So what does she do?  The Holy Spirit has confirmed that her role is to teach, bang on drums, and rid the church of snakes.  Does she combine her snake handling gifts with her desire to be a drummer and scare the dickens out of the present drummer with an armful of vipers?  Does she sit on the sidelines until a teaching position comes open?  Does she move to a different church that will appreciate her gifts?  Would the Spirit really gift her with things and then place her in a church where she can’t use all these things that she does well?

Yeah, he might.  And you see that’s the big problem with spiritual gifts testing.  Most people don’t feel equipped to help out with preschool kids.  And then they take spiritual gifts tests which mostly uncover your passion and confirm things you are already doing.  So Bonnie never serves the church and the little kids because “God has not gifted her to do it”.  She’ll wait until the Lord opens doors for her giftedness.

The Way Out

Now consider Clyde.  Clyde really isn’t sure what his spiritual gifts are but he loves serving the Lord in whatever capacity he sees a need or wherever you ask him to.  He knows little about planting flowers in the church parking lot, but you give him a shovel and a time and he’ll be out there helping.  He probably wouldn’t pass a spiritual gifts test for teaching but he’s taught little Millie all about John 3:16 and how Jesus loves her.  She wouldn’t have thought so a few months ago when he volunteered but Clyde has been the best assistant this seasoned Kindergarten teacher has ever had.

You don’t get “Clyde’s” in your church by handing out spiritual gifts tests.  “Clyde’s” happen through an ever-increasing love for Jesus and His church that comes through discipleship.  “Clyde’s” happen because somewhere along the way somebody kept serving him and pouring the gospel into his life.  And his infatuation with Jesus shaped a servants heart.

The way out of a culture that views spiritual gifts as entitlement and a means to self-expression is to blow it up and in place cultivate a culture of humble service and faithful discipleship.  Encourage your faithful servants to also be disciplers.  Even if it means showing a teenager how to turn on the baptistry.

Create a culture where people know that what is needed isn’t performance and talent but a servants heart that will give it 100%.  Allow people to totally blow it in certain areas.  “Whew, maybe we’ve discovered that Clyde shouldn’t be the one to make the spaghetti sauce”, as everyone laughs about it knowing that Clyde will probably try his hand at garlic bread next week.

Bonnie, by the way is still loading up snakes and plotting her ascent through the drum line.

So spiritual gifts=the devil, right?  No. Not exactly.  In fact our church even uses them.  They can be helpful…come back tomorrow to find out how.

1 Bob Cleveland January 10, 2013 at 9:43 am

The Bible is clear that gifts are given each believer for the good of the body. The venue for their use is the church. To suggest that someone might be gifted and that it’s not important that those gifts be used is highly questionable.

I’m not in favor of “testing”, either. I’m in favor of education so that the member can recognize those areas in which God has manifested His grace for the common good. That’s a different matter.

2 Mike Leake January 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

Bob,
I agree with you that the Spirit gifts people for ministry in a local church with the intention of that gift being used. What I am saying here is that giftedness is often so specialized that a gifted teacher won’t teach preschoolers b/c she feels called only to adult ministry.

3 Bruce H. January 10, 2013 at 10:47 am

Mike,

I believe our gifts are motivated by grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We may need more people in an “apprentice” position learning how to use their gift properly. That would help prevent the entitlement that some may come away with. Regardless, most who go the wrong way with the gift thing would probably go the wrong way with anything. Proper discipleship is the key.

4 John Wylie January 10, 2013 at 10:56 am

My problem with spiritual gift test is that, in my opinion, it only assesses interests rather than giftedness. What I’m trying to say is that God often uses us in areas outside of our talents and outside of our comfort zone.

5 John Wylie January 10, 2013 at 10:58 am

I mean look at Gideon, was he a natural leader? No but God equipped him to be one. Was Moses a naturally gifted speaker? No but God enabled him to perform the task He called Moses to do.

6 Dave Miller January 10, 2013 at 12:25 pm

In my experience, the problem with these spiritual gift assessments is that they tend to reflect more about the beliefs of the maker of the test than they do about the biblical teachings on the subject.

7 Jim Pemberton January 10, 2013 at 5:29 pm

“So what does she do? The Holy Spirit has confirmed that her role is to teach, bang on drums, and rid the church of snakes. Does she combine her snake handling gifts with her desire to be a drummer and scare the dickens out of the present drummer with an armful of vipers? Does she sit on the sidelines until a teaching position comes open? Does she move to a different church that will appreciate her gifts? Would the Spirit really gift her with things and then place her in a church where she can’t use all these things that she does well?

Yeah, he might.”

Okay, I gotta say that I really resonate with this paragraph. This is one reason I say that sometimes God gives us worthless gifts (I’ll qualify that by saying at least it appears so, or that the gifts aren’t necessarily “spiritual” gifts). Sometimes one tries to plug in doing what one can do and doesn’t get very far. The only thing to do after a while is just to quit trying and just do whatever happens to come one’s way. The message taught that most irritates me in this pattern is the one where we are told that we need to use our gifts to serve. After having expended much energy trying and failing, it’s a sour message.

8 Donald January 11, 2013 at 12:56 am

Back in the day, my wife and I attended a Spiritual Gifts class. This particular material was created by a Mississippi Pastor named Melvin Mordecai. Interestingly, and not surprisingly back then, my giftedness was confirmed more by his list of abuse & misuse than by either the Biblical person given as an example or the list of positive attributes of the gifts. My wife flat-lined during the class and on the test that followed. Unknown to us at the time was that she was a religious & lost church member. This class only touched on the 7 gifts in Romans 12.

My point is that If we are to teach and apply these, we must do more than purchase a $3 test from Lifeway.

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