Personality tests are entertaining. It’s fun to take them in groups and laugh about the extreme parts of our personalities. I don’t necessarily think that these tests have an authoritative word on personalities and their implications, but they can be helpful in understanding general aspects of a person.
Personality tests, though, are pretty individualistic. I take them to find out how I function; how I process information; how I relate to others. Sure, knowing others’ personalities may help me understand them better, but I didn’t take the test to find out about others’ personalities. I took it to find out about my own.
The culture in which we live celebrates individualism. That’s probably why we have personality tests in the first place. But what happens when believers apply this same attitude to our spiritual gifts? If we let the culture, rather than the Bible, inform our understanding of spiritual gifts, then what we get is just a baptized personality test.
Popular Understanding of Spiritual Gifts
Individualism is inherently me-centered, which is problematic when it comes to how we live out the Christian life. When we apply this mindset to spiritual gifts, we can misunderstand both our gifts and how to use them. This perspective may lead us to:
- Equate our spiritual gifts with our talents. We determine what we’re “good at” and then we act accordingly. Instead of considering how we might best serve based on the church’s needs, we only serve in the areas we think we’re gifted. If there are no opportunities to serve in these areas, we don’t do anything.
- Let our personalities determine our gifts. Those who are shy refuse to speak in front of people, even though they may be a gifted teacher. The exuberant one is miraculously gifted at all of the “public” gifts, leaving the behind-the-scenes work to others.
- Let our preferences determine where we serve. We don’t like manual labor, so we don’t help set up for the worship service. We see working in childcare as a chore, so we leave it to the few who are willing to do it, not realizing that a lack of help adds more responsibilities to the existing volunteers.
Biblical Understanding of Spiritual Gifts
An individualistic mindset seeks ways to elevate ourselves and our gifts. It may get jealous or competitive with fellow church members. But the Bible tells us that though the Holy Spirit gifts us individually, these gifts are not to identify us as individuals. We are gifted for one purpose: building up the church.
Our distinct gifts remind us of what we have in common with each other and why we need each other. Believers are united in the Holy Spirit, who empowers and determines who gets what gift. No believer possesses all the gifts, so one believer cannot carry out all the functions of the church by himself. That’s why Paul uses the body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12. Like the human body, diversely gifted people work together for the good of the whole church.
How, then, do we serve?
The Bible’s view of spiritual gifts, then, informs how we serve our church in these four ways:
We are part of a body of believers who can help each other understand our giftings.
Ask others to help you figure out your gifts. Spiritual gift inventories are another means of determining your gifts, but, like personality tests, are limited and should be considered secondary to the Bible and in conjunction with the church’s counsel.
How you serve depends on your church.
Smaller churches often have more needs but less of a variety of opportunities. Larger churches may have a larger variety of opportunities but likely has more than enough people to fill needs. The best way to find areas to serve is to simply ask a leader where the church needs servants, and then determine how you can best meet a need.
Don’t use a perceived lack of gifting as an excuse not to serve.
There are some things all believers are called to do—like evangelism—even if we’re not exceptionally gifted at it. Ask a more gifted believer to help you in these tasks. And trust the Spirit to work within you to accomplish His purposes.
Help others figure out how they are gifted and encourage them to use their gifts.
If you are in a position to do so, offer them ways in which they can serve. Make an effort to thank those who serve.
Believers are individually gifted in different ways. However, being individually gifted and treating spiritual gifts with an individualistic mindset are very different. More important than our specific gifts is the fact that we, as members of the church, are gifted by the same Holy Spirit. We are empowered to use our gifts by the same Lord, for the good of the whole church.