I gotta agree with Ben and Mark here. Ben Arment interviewed Mark Dever recently and here's a summary of one part of the conversation:
Mark Dever said a lot of things that stuck in my ribs last week over lunch. One of them is how much he detests spiritual gift inventories. He said their whole focus is on what "I want to do" rather than serving in the true spirit of selflessness... helping where we're most needed. Now, I'm all for empowering people to thrive where they're gifted... but I'm inclined to agree with him.
If I may (and why not, it's my blog so of course I may) I'd like to express my agreement with Ben and Mark. And I'll add some reasons to their reasons to show why they are right.
What they said is true. I have seen it most commonly in people who fancy themselves to have the gift of prophecy. On more than one occasion I have heard such a person say "well, I guess I just don't have the gift of mercy" after they have emotionally run over someone.
On a deeper level most spiritual gift inventories are just spiritualized versions of temperament tests. Actually, in their place I find temperament tests very helpful and recommend them as good helps for people seeking to identify their strengths, weaknesses and best ways of working with others.
If we could leave spiritual gift inventories on that level - as helpful but not determinative, then I would be fine. The trouble is, spiritual gift inventories are often accompanied with teaching that says that each one of us is given one particular gift by God and we must identify it and use it. Thus, spiritual gift inventories rise to the level of "thus saith the Lord." Others are frustrated that they haven't taken an inventory so they don't know how to serve.
And to drive the point a little deeper, the Bible is pretty fuzzy on identifying spiritual gifts. It is absolutely clear that we have spiritual gifts, but it is unclear on exactly how those gifts are defined and how to identify them. But I know this is heresy and is easily dismissed coming from little ol' me. So feel free to ignore my views, but I double dog dare you to listen to Leon Morris on this one. Yep, just think of me as the little pipsqueak whose big brother Leon is going to come take care of business. Keep reading to see what I mean.
Here's a section from Leon Morris's New Testament Theology on spiritual gifts (pp 78-79). The third paragraph speaks directly to the point I am raising here but I wanted to give you the first two for context.
Paul also speaks of certain "gifts" of the Spirit (charismata). Whereas the virtues we noticed in the preceding paragraph were expected to be present in all believers, the gifts were not. Every believer must have righteousness and peace, but not every believer will have, say, the gift of healing. It is the one Spirit who is at work, but there are "diversities of gifts" (I Cor. 12:4; cf in vv. 8-10). Paul likens the church to a body with many different members (I Cor. 12:12ff), and, though this refers to natural endowments, it also has its application to the spiritual gifts. And when he comes to his series o fquestions beginning "Are all apostles?" (I Cor. 12:29-30), the only possible answer in each case is "No!"
It is clear from the general tone of Paul's references to the gifts that the Corinthians valued them highly and that the exercise of these gifts gave a magnificent spontaneity to church life in Corinth. But Paul warns this church against being "puffed up" (I Cor 4:6 et al.); there may even have been some element of competition among the believers (My charisma is better than yours!). This may be the point of inserting the wonderful chapter on love (I Cor. 13) into the middle of the treatment of the gifts; it is apparently a way of pointing the Corinthians to a far better way than that of competing for spectacular evidences of the working of the Spirit. Paul does not minimize the gifts, indeed he tells the Corinthians to be "zealous" for them (I Cor. 14:1), and he prides himself on speaking in tongues more than all of them (I Cor. 14:18). But above all, the gifts must be used to edify (I Cor. 14:12, 26); they are given in order that believers be built up in their spiritual lives and thus are not to be used for personal gratification.
One curious feature of the gifts is that, despite the confident claims of many, it is difficult to discover precisely what they were. Take the list in I Corinthians 12:28. Although it is clear that the apostles were "sent"people , there is vigorous debate as to whether the term means a "missionary" generally or whether it sould be confined to the Twelve (with a few additions like Paul). It is impossible to be certain. Is a "prophet" someone like the great figures of the Old Testament? Or does he resemble rather the preacher in a modern church? We do not know. With "teachers" we feel that we are on safer ground, but are w? We know of people with a natural aptitude for teaching ("a born teacher"), and we know of people who are teachers because they ahve learnd to teach through a course of training. But what is a charisma for teaching? "Powers" (dynameis) apparently were miracles, but what what miracles were in in distinction from healing is not easy to see. And as for healing the expression is "gifts of healings" (both nouns are plural). does this mean that one person had a variety of healing gifts? Or that one could heal one kind of ailments and another another? Of antilempseis w can only say that it is connected in some way with helping, but what form of help required a special charisma? We do not know. There is a similar difficulty with kybernesieis, a word connected with steering (a kybernetes was a steersman on a ship). That is plain enough, but precisely what "steering" was done in the early church is a matter on which we have not information. As for "tongues," some see this as meaning an utterance in one of the world's recognized languages - a language that the speaker had not learned, while others hold that it means speaking unintelligible sounds. In view of the difficulties, it is a trifle mystifying that some interpret the gifts so confidently. It is not too much to say that not one of the gifts can be identified with complete confidence.
I want to reiterate a point. Neither Morris nor I are questioning whether the gifts are operative in the church, we are questioning how they operate. Also it is worth mentioning that there are those who see the gift lists in Scripture as representative, not exhaustive. In other words, there are other spiritual gifts operative in the body. This comports well with the story of Bezalel and Oholiab who are equipped by the Spirit of God in all kinds of crafts.
I would also point out that often God's greatest works are done through people operating in areas where they are not gifted. Think of Moses who is unable to speak being called to speak to Pharaoh. Think of frightened, hiding Gideon the mighty warrior. Think of ignorant and untrained fishermen doing the work of apostles.
As far as I am concerned there are three simple ways to understand how you are gifted. First of all, do you want to do something and enjoy doing it? This is not determinative especially in light of what I just wrote, but it is something to think of. We should always be willing to serve where called on - Ben Arment gives a great example in his post - he is called to preach, but when not preaching he serves in the nursery. But generally there is nothing wrong with serving in an area you want to serve in and enjoy doing - in I Timothy 3:1, desire is the first requisite for serving as an elder. Secondly, are you good at it. I would love to sing, but I am not good at it. Not that we need professionals in any given area, but the example of Bezalel and Oholiab in Exodus 31ff show that God desires to use those who are excellent in their trades. Thirdly, does the body of Christ recognize your giftedness and desire to see you serve in an area?
And lastly I'm a big fan of trial and error. There is nothing that says you have to be locked into one area of service for life. Go through the three steps above and sometimes you will find your niche and can stay there for a long time, or a lifetime. But, if you try something and don't enjoy it, aren't good at it and don't receive the affirmation of the body, or some combination of those three - then move on with no sense of guilt.
So that's my take on the matter. What's yours?