How do I discover my spiritual gift?

The question about discerning particular spiritual gifts is probably the primary question on many a Christian’s mind. However, I want to propose that it is the wrong question. It is the wrong question because as I have already argued, the lists are representative, not exhaustive. Consequently, any spiritual gifts inventory will be limiting.

Another reason this is the wrong question is because once we believe we have found the answer (”I have the gift of ___________.”), it will limit how, where and when we serve. For example, I may have the gift of teaching (so it has been affirmed by others), but that is not the limits of my service. Can you imagine if we were breaking down after a church-wide meal and other brothers were moving tables and chairs, then they looked at me to assist them, but I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m THE teacher! That’s my spiritual gift; I don’t do tables and chairs.” That would not be Christian; it would not be helpful; and I would not blame the guys throwing a few chairs in my direction.

The Right, Better Question: How can I serve the body?

We tend to get hung up on particular gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul broadens the categories of gifts under the umbrella the manifestation of the Spirit and argues that we manifest the Spirit when we serve one another in faith and in love (1 Corinthians 12:7; 13:1-3). Therefore, let us serve one another in faith and in love. How?

  1. First, find out what help the body needs. What are the biblical needs of any body? There are, of course, word ministry needs (preaching, teaching, etc. – Ephesians 4:11). There are also serving needs: widows, orphans, elderly, parents, children, single mothers, etc. (1 Peter 4:10-11). Ask the leadership of your church to find out what specific needs exist.
  2. Once you see and begin to understand the needs of the body, PRAY! Pray for the particular needs of the body (Ask the leadership how you can join them in praying for the needs of the body). Pray that the Lord of the harvest would raise up laborers. Pray that the leadership of the body would have wisdom in guiding these ministries. Then, ASK the Lord if He is calling you to serve in one of those areas.
  3. Ask yourself, “What do I enjoy doing?” Why do we think that doing the Lord’s will has to be miserable? If the Spirit has gifted us, and if we are growing in grace, then we will enjoy serving the Lord and the body with these particular gifts. However, there may be areas of need that you may not be thrilled about (i.e., nursery) but that are important needs. The Lord may also have equipped you with certain capacities (i.e., accounting) that would serve the body well but which you may be reluctant to use because that is what you do all day, every day. Serve the body! Normally, it will be a delight!
  4. Seek godly counsel – from elders (leaders), mentors, small group leaders, etc. Mature Christians with whom you spend much time will be observing you and caring for you. They will be a valuable asset in either confirming or denying whether or not you have particular gifts in certain areas. Listen to them wisely.
  5. Serve! Don’t just sit there, do something! Each of us is gifted for the common good; therefore, let us use our gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11). We don’t have to wait until we have discovered our gifts to serve. Serve the church! As you are serving, you may even discover that you really enjoy it; the leaders in your church may confirm what they see; and you will have discovered one of the areas where the Spirit has equipped you to build up the body in love.  Imagine that! You discovered your gift(s) while serving. Don’t just sit there, do something! May the Lord deliver us from consumerism!
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  • Russ

    Great post! I am so glad you told us to start by looking at what the church needs and not with looking for something that looks fun. Thanks.

  • Andrew Faris

    The problem here is that given the normal understanding of what a spiritual gift actually is, there is no reason we ought not try to discover them, through tests or whatever other method. If a spiritual gift is something like a spiritual superpower (and I do think that’s a fair summary of the standard gifts theology), shouldn’t I want to know what mine is?

    The better approach is to rethink the nature of a spiritual gift in general. Ken Berding (whom I interviewed here, though pardon the messed-up spacing) has argued in his What Are Spiritual Gifts? (which I’ve reviewed here) that we should actually think of a gift not as the ability to do ministry, but as the ministry itself. And I totally agree with him.

    I would suggest that the biblical case for this is locked down by Berding- it’s honestly one of the most bullet-proof books about Bible interpretation I’ve ever read. Consider, for one thing, that the contemporary understanding of spiritual gifts didn’t even rear its ceaselessly introspective head until the 1970’s or so.

    So back to the original point of the post, even considering the practical issues that you mention, if I have some kind of spiritual ability given by the Holy Spirit, why would I not want to know what it is and serve out of it? That logical connection is one that really is difficult to disprove. Does it really seem right to tell everyone that they have spiritual gifts but that they shouldn’t try to find out what they are? It’s quite a bit like saying to your kids at Christmas: “Here’s a present kids- but don’t unwrap it. Just know you have it and enjoy the other stuff you have already.”

    Funny thing is, if Berding is right, then the advice you give here actually turns out to be the right advice for the wrong reasons.

    Andrew Faris
    Christians in Context

    • Josh Harpole

      Brother Andrew, Though you do have a valid point…that we should seek to find out what The Holy Spirit has gifted us with. I don’t see how serving the body without knowing what your gift IS, is the wrong reason? Maybe I’m miss understanding you ? Sorry if I am. Isn’t the purpose of the gifts for the building up of the body for the glory of Christ the head? If this is the case, than knowing it isn’t actual reason, worship in service is! I have not found a test of spiritual gifts in the scriptures yet, and if knowing them was as important as serving the body (all over in the scriptures)I am sure one of the apostles would have gladly included it…maybe in 1Corinthians.

      Seeking out our spiritual gifts can easily become self worship! Many time distracting us from our very purpose of which the Gift from God was given!

      I would have to agree with Brother Sanchez on this one. Maybe I’ve missed the point here, Sorry if I did!

      In Christ ,Josh

      • Andrew Faris


        I actually agree with everything you’ve said. Yes- worship through serving! Yes- serve the body! Those are clearly biblical.

        My suggestion is that these point us to a different theology of gifts altogether. We think of spiritual gifts as internal spiritual abilities, but I’d say the Bible actually identifies the gift as the ministry itself- not the ability to do the ministry.

        The thing is, if I do have an internal spiritual ability, then why shouldn’t I want to know what it is? Even if the Bible doesn’t tell us how to figure them out, if I have that kind of power, shouldn’t I want to know how to use it?

        So yes, you’ve emphasized here the Biblical concept in one way. Follow that thought back to its textual foundations (a good way to start is by checking out those links I gave) and rethink what a spiritual gift actually is.

        Andrew Faris
        Christians in Context

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  • Herbie

    This is an interesting post! Seems the focus here is on the “what” and not the “who” if you’re searching . . . looking for a gift. Not bad in and of itself but shouldn’t we focus on the giver! I know many of us, includeded, misrepresent the “fruit of the spirit” as actual qualities Christian’s should possess when in fact they are not. Again, focused on something besides the giver. God gives “spiritual gifts”. Isn’t it rational to think He’d put them where HE wanted them and when versus me looking for my gift and then using it where and when I want!

    Show yourself approved through Bible study, Prayer, and unleashed action and God will show Himself in your gift! I’ve never received a Christmas gift without first going to the tree . . . where the GIVER put it!