by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
I (Jamin) remember the first time I took a spiritual gift test as an adult. I was new in pastoral ministry, eager to grow, and ready to maximize my potential. I remember finishing the test and feeling satisfied with the results. I won! At least that’s how it felt. Pastor, teacher, leader—I had all the powerful and important gifts. It was confirmation of my grandiose vision for life in ministry. I quickly learned not everyone feels this way after they take a spiritual gift test. For some it is confusing, and for others it feels deflating. They think, I feel called to do other things, but I guess I can’t, or even, I don’t have any gifts that really matter. These are the kinds of things I have heard over the years from folks in the church. Spiritual gift tests are not always encouraging. You don’t always feel like you won.
Maybe more than anywhere else in the church, spiritual gifts are entry points into the way from below. The way we understand it, spiritual gifts are unapologetically about power to control—where we assert our power in the service of the kingdom. These easily become devices for our self-actualization. We mistakenly believe these gifts are special abilities, almost like superpowers. This creates two problems. First, it establishes a hierarchy of value, where we come to see certain people as particularly important because of their gifts. We come to think about these “special abilities” in worldly terms, so naturally, we begin making worldly value judgments. The result is that we create a hierarchy of power within the church based on one’s particular gift. Second, it tends toward self-reliance. If we tap into our superpower and cultivate it, we can do powerful things. Since we think these are our abilities, we come to believe we own them and therefore don’t really need God. He may have given us the gifts, but now they are ours to actualize or to let atrophy. The results are up to us and our savvy.
In contrast, Paul’s description of the spiritual gifts focuses on two key things: first, on the God who gives them, and second, on how the gifts we perceive to be weaker and less significant are actually more honorable in the kingdom. The first point is important, but here the second point is particularly helpful. A flourishing Christian existence is embracing what we are called to. Paul states explicitly, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one
another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:24–26). The question we must ask ourselves is whether our church culture allows for this. Are our churches honoring the members of the family of God who are often ignored and overlooked? Or rather, have we succumbed to a worldly view of power and value that raises some figures to the top and ignores others? When flourishing is seen as “getting things done” or “achieving,” we tend to reject the people Jesus sought out—the outcasts, those with disabilities, and the weak. When our goals become secularized, we turn to the young and exciting and we lose the wisdom and discernment that come only through age and faithfulness. Spiritual gifts are an interesting test case in how the church views power, because they are how we put our power into practice.