How to Identify and Effectively Use Your Spiritual Gifts

It breaks my heart that the spiritual gifts don’t seem to be taught or emphasized much throughout Christendom these days. Their utilization is critical for the Church to function properly in society.

Paul taught, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us… let [us] use [them] in proportion to [our] faith,” Romans 12:6.The spiritual gifts are found in three separate passages in the New Testament (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12–14; and Ephesians 4). The lists are not exactly identical. Some overlapping occurs. According to 1 Corinthians 12:6, God the Father pours in the power, Jesus the Son assigns the ministry, and God the Holy Spirit gives out the gifts as He deems necessary for the proper functioning of the church body.

The gifts may be organized in several ways. We will use the most common grouping.

Establishing Gifts (Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:29): Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor-Teachers. These gifts are used primarily for planting and growing churches.

Supporting Gifts (Romans 12:6-8): Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Encouragement, Giving, Administration/Leadership, and Mercy. These gifts are used primarily to organize and administrate the church so that it may best carry out its responsibilities.

Ministry Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 27-31): Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, Helps, Administration, Leadership, Distinguishing Spirits, Speaking in Tongues, and Interpreting Tongues. These are the tools that the Holy Spirit utilizes for the ongoing ministry of the church.

It goes without saying that congregations are spiritually impotent when the members do not freely and responsibly allow the Holy Spirit to manifest God’s ministry and power through the gifts He has given. Here are a few guidelines on how to identify and unwrap your spiritual gift(s).

14 Common Questions about Identifying and Using Your Spiritual Gifts:

1. What is a spiritual gift?

A spiritual gift is a God-given ability, distributed to individual Christians by the Holy Spirit that allows him/or her to work through their lives to help the church execute its mission on earth.

2. What is the difference between spiritual gifts and natural talents?

Natural talents are physical abilities to do special things. Some natural talents might be musical ability, carpentry, mechanical aptitude, and artistic skills. Spiritual gifts are spiritual abilities to do certain things. Natural talents are often the vehicle through which spiritual gifts can be used. For example, a Christian vocalist may have the spiritual gift of evangelism being expressed through the vehicle of musical talent.

3. Are spiritual gifts the best sign of spirituality?

No! Christ-like maturity is primarily indicated by the manifestation of the Fruit of the Spirit, not by the presence of spiritual gifts (Galatians 5:22-23).

God may choose to shine forth in a spiritually immature baby Christian. However, that does not make the baby spiritual. A spiritual child may say excitedly, “I got the gift of tongues last night and now I’m spiritual!”

But, Jesus said: “For by their fruit you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16).

Satan can imitate and counterfeit spiritual gifts, but he is baffled in trying to imitate the Fruit of the Spirit.

4. Does every believer have a gift?

Yes! Every believer has at least one gift (1 Corinthians 12:6-7, 11). All believers are to evaluate themselves in terms of their God-given gifts (Romans 12:3)

5. How many gifts are there? What are they?

According to 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-29; Romans 12:3-8Ephesians 4:11; and 1 Corinthians 7:7, there are at least 22 spiritual gifts. They are as follows: Apostles; Prophets; Pastor-Teachers; Evangelists; Prophecy; Teaching; Wisdom; Knowledge; Faith; Miraculous Powers; Healing; Distinguishing between Spirits; Speaking in Tongues; Interpretation of Tongues; Helps; Service; Administration; Encouragement; Giving; Leadership; Mercy and Celibacy.

6. When does the believer receive his/her gift?

There is no clear-cut Biblical teaching as to when the believer receives his/her gift. However, it seems that the gift comes with the Giver and is bestowed at conversion (2 Timothy 1:6).

7. Can a believer have any gift he or she wants?

No! (1 Corinthians 12:29-31). The Holy Spirit gives out gifts as he sees fit (1 Corinthians 12:7, 8-9, 11). This is why there is no prescribed way to get a gift. However, if we are faithful with the gift, or gifts, that the Holy Spirit has already given us, he invites us to pray for another (1 Corinthians 12:29-31).

8. Do spiritual gifts come ready to operate?

No! It often takes time for gifts to mature and develop into their full effectiveness. Spiritual gifts come “in the rough.” Every believer is obligated to mature his/her gift. Each Christian should have an opportunity to use his/her gifts interdependently with others (Romans 12:4-6).

9. If a person doesn’t have the gift of evangelism, is he/she excused from trying to win people to Christ?

Of course not! The absence of gifts does not take precedence over clear-cut biblical demands. For example, we are all commanded to be liberal in our giving. Just because a Believer does not have the gift of giving does not mean that he/she can say, “Never pass me the offering plate again. I don’t need to tithe. I don’t have the gift of giving.” We are all commanded to share the gospel with others whether we have the gift of evangelism are not.

10. Can spiritual gifts be lost?

Yes! Gifts which are not used or developed can apparently be lost (like the appendix in the human body). Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrates the danger of neglecting the gift that the Holy Spirit has bestowed. To do so means censorship and rebuke by the Master Himself (Matthew 25:14-30).

11. Are some gifts more important than others?

Yes! Prophecy is the most important. Speaking in tongues is the least. All the others fall somewhere in between (1 Corinthians 12:31). The relative value of spiritual gifts is to be tested by their usefulness to the church as a whole. Paul’s wrote that due to the interdependent nature of all of the gifts, there should be no spiritual pride associated with any of these gifts. 

12. Can spiritual gifts be misused?

Yes! For example, Paul described the use and misuse of the gift of tongues in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 14). For example, Paul taught that speaking in tongues without someone in attendance with the gift of interpretation will only bring confusion to the church family and ridicule from unbelievers.

Accordingly, when I was pastoring, in order to curtail the misuse of the gift of tongues in our church worship services, we encouraged people to use the gifts of tongues and interpreting tongues only in private settings. To use them in a worship service when most of the folks have no idea what’s going on is to invite great misunderstanding and confusion.

When we were laying down the guidelines for the use of the gift of tongues in our worship services our Christian education pastor said, “I’ve got a great idea. If some woman stands up in the midst of a worship service and begins speaking in tongues, I’ll wait until she’s finished. Then, I will say to the crowd, ‘I have the gift of interpreting tongues and this sweet lady has just donated her house to the building fund.’” (Of course, you know that this was a joke.)

13. Do spiritual gifts tests line up with Scripture?

Kathy Howard talks about a popular way that believers attempt to discover their spiritual gifts in her article, “Why You Need to Beware of Spiritual Gifts Tests.”

A “spiritual gifts test” is a manmade tool meant to help believers discern their spiritual gifts. The believer answers a series of questions designed to discover his or her specific gifts. When kept in the proper perspective, the test can be a helpful tool, but we must remember it is limited. How can a human tool effectively measure the infinite workings of the Spirit of Christ?

At their best, spiritual gifts tests may identify spiritual gifts and natural talents. But at their worst, since they cannot distinguish between them, the tests could actually encourage believers to “serve” according to our natural talents rather than relying on the power and equipping of the Holy Spirit.

So, while I think spiritual gifts tests can be useful, we must remember their limitations and proceed with caution. The following three cautions can help us properly use this tool:

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Every Christian is given at least one gift at conversion. Our initial gift may lie dormant for a while as we mature. These gifts seem to remain with believers throughout their ministry lives. I used to think that I could have only one gift. However, as my ministry increased, my need for gifts increased.

As we manage well our initial gift, and as our ministries expand, we may ask God for other gifts under the direction of the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:31 and 1 Corinthians 14:39).

When necessary, spiritual gifts may operate as a toolbox full of tools. For example, God may utilize a particular gift in our lives on a short-time basis in order to minister to a particular need in the body of Christ.

The existence of a gift is a call to exercise it. Paul advised Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in you,” 1 Timothy 4:14.

Faithful utilization of a gift brings increased effectiveness in its ministry, but failed to develop a gift curtails ministry!

Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work isGot Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answerfrom Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.