Discovering spiritual gifts

Christians are often not aware of the particular gifts bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit. Now a carefully designed test will help them identify these gifts.

Roy C. Naden, Ed.D., is associate professor of religious education at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Finishing the work!" The phrase has a highly motivating ring about it! It's why we're here. It's our commission. It's the whole point of the Advent Movement.

Humanly speaking, however, the idea of Adventism reaching every person in the world hovers somewhere between the improbable and the impossible. Listening to some of my statistician colleagues compare our church's growth with world population growth (under 200,000 baptisms per year versus 76 million births per year) can only lead to the conclusion that the Lord will have to provide a miracle if our fervent dream is to become reality. But that miraculous bestowment is not in the future, but in the present! Not something to be asked for, but something to be thankful for. Not something withheld, but something already freely given. God will finish His work through the employment of the spiritual gifts bestowed, according to His selection, on every member of the church. As the Holy Spirit bestows these gifts, each Christian's life overflows in acts of personal ministry through which the world will be illumined by God's love.

In the past decade or so a number of concerned Christians have given the church a new awareness of the New Testament doctrine of spiritual gifts. The works of McGavran and Wagner1 have been monumental. Pasadena's Fuller Theological Seminary continues to be a center of healthy ferment. The special series offered by Basic Youth Conflict's speaker Bill Gothard2 has had widespread influence. Several Adventist ministers have developed excellent materials. 3 We are in debt to all who have focused the spotlight on the dynamic that sent the gospel to the entire Roman world during the first century.

What methodology should be used to introduce the concept of spiritual gifts in a congregational setting? The following approach has proved to be successful:

1. Each member should become aware of the New Testament's statement on spiritual gifts.

2. Members should be aided in recognizing areas of personal giftedness.

3. The entire congregation should be led to respond to the Spirit's plans for personal service through the use of gifts already received.

The members of a congregation become highly motivated when they read in the Word that the Holy Spirit expect all to work in the same way or even at the same task! This is the explicit teaching of 1 Corinthians 12: can the eye do the work of the ear, or the ear act for the nose? Exposure to the subject of spiritual gifts usually leads to an immediate desire to discover areas of giftedness. Several men have attempted to make the search simple. Houts was probably the first to publish his, and Waggoner's Modified Houts Questionnaire has received widespread distribution. The Church of the Nazarene and Christian Reformed Home Missions have also published instruments. Unfortunately, none of the six or seven tests currently published appears to have been developed empirically. Thus there is no evidence of statistical validity and reliability. 4 This always leaves one with the tantalizing question: Do the items really measure the gifts they purport to measure? For example does a "leadership" item actually measure the gift of leader ship or could it really be measuring the "wisdom" gift?

Frustration over the lack of statistical data on any published test led to the empirical development of what is called the Spiritual Gifts Inventory, or SGI, based on definitions drawn from New Testament precedents. 5 This instrument contains 57 items6 and can be completed in approximately 15 minutes. Thus it is well suited for use in the worship hour without infringing on the time for the message. To use an inventory to identify areas in which there is a high probability of giftedness is an exciting exercise! (The so-called "sign" gifts such as healings, miracles, tongues, are not included in the SGI. Those gifted in such ways hardly need an inventory to confirm the fact!)

A detailed study of the meaning of one's gifts should quickly follow the completion of an inventory such as the SGI, otherwise false expectations or shattered hopes can overtake the believer. For this reason a series of group study guides have been released by the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University.

The first three of these seven guides deal with the New Testament teaching of spiritual gifts, and each booklet contains Bible readings and a series of questions that form the basis of the group discussion. The last four booklets deal with each of the nineteen gifts listed in the SGI. The gifts are studied both from the gift chapters (1 Corinthians 12, 13, 14; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4) and other relevant New Testament passages. Of particular interest is any usage of the original Greek words that illustrate how the gift operates in a Christian's personal service for the Lord. In each of these last four sessions the group discussions focus on the practics of how each gift might best be used under the Spirit's guidance.

Some of the questions discussed in the study guides include: What is the relationship between a spiritual gift and a natural talent? When does a Christian receive his or her spiritual gift? Under what circumstances is the gift given? Is there only one way and one time? What is the function of the gift of prophecy in the local congregation? What is the relationship between the gift of prophecy and the Spirit of Prophecy identified in Revelation 12:17; 19:10? Do the gifts named in the New Testament constitute a comprehensive list or a representative list?

In the factor analysis, we discovered what theologians have long suspected, that gifts tend to cluster. That is, some gifts are closely related to others. In certain cases they may even hold common elements. For example, the gift of exhortation is part of the prophecy factor, so naturally these two often cluster. Similarly teaching and knowledge cluster and pastoring and evangelism cluster. 7

Based on this finding it seems logical for the members of a congregation to meet in small groups of from 8 to 12 people, in which all the members of a group have a gift, or gifts, common to a specific cluster. In this way they would have common giftedness, and therefore common questions and interests.

Through the computer analysis of our data we have been able to establish several major clusters. The details of these major clusters are given in the Spiritual Gifts Manual.

An awareness of the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed, and of the guidance He promises will inevitably lead to both nurture and outreach. We are not waiting for the Holy Spirit. He is waiting for us! If we thoughtfully and prayerfully lead our congregations into study and ministry as described in the New Testament, the long awaited experience of a second Pentecost will quickly become reality.


1 Donald Andersen McGavran, Back to Basics in Church Growth (Wheaton, 111.: Tyndale House, 1981); C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Glendale, Calif.: Regal Books, 1979).

2 William Gothard, Additional Insights on Understanding Spiritual Gifts (Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, 1981).

3 Thomas Ludowici's D.Min. project report included an excellent discussion of the theme and a spiritual gifts test. William Liversidge has conducted scores of seminars across America on this topic; Bruce Johnston has used a well-prepared set of materials in the Northwest, and Dr. B. G. Stutsman, a westcoast layman, has also conducted successful seminars on spiritual gifts.

4 If any of these tests has been developed empirically, the publishers have failed to note this in the published materials. There is no reference in recent years in the better-known religious journals documenting the empirical development of a spiritual-gifts test.

5 I am grateful to my colleague, Dr. Robert Cruise, who directed the factor analysis of the data, and Bill Cash, who supervised the entry of the data of 2,000 subjects into the computer.

6 Originally the inventory contained 133 items, seven per gift. These were gradually reduced to that point where reliability and validity could be maintained with a comparatively low number of questions per factor.

7 There seems to be great significance for the future of evangelism in this finding. Further research is now being conducted on this interrelatedness.

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Roy C. Naden, Ed.D., is associate professor of religious education at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

March 1983

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