Ministry Gifts Inventory?

Introduction. Ministry gift inventory tests are often a double-edged sword. On the one side, they can help a person zero in and understand personal and gifted strengths valuable to service within the local church. The other side of the sword however, is that by their very nature, they are limiting and impersonal, often providing an either/or list from which to identify gifts. “Ministry Gifts Inventory” by Michael Miller is just such a double-edged sword. In what follows, I will discuss this particular test and then identify my results from taking two tests separated by three months.  I will also discuss what I believe is a stronger method of understanding of individual spiritual gifts.

The Test. The test offered in “Ministry Gifts Inventory” (Lifeway Church Resources) is a self-test based on self-selected answers to 72 questions. Each answer is a range from, “I am seldom or never this way” to “I am this way most or all of the time.” The answers correspond to a point system from 0 to 4. The 72 questions attempt to identify twelve different spiritual gifted areas for ministry. On page 6, the Overview makes it clear that this test is not intended to completely cover spiritual gifts and gifted offices as discussed in the Bible. Miller writes, “The inventory is not designed to be an exhaustive analysis of spiritual gifts. Its purpose is to highlight areas of strength based on what you feel motivates you spiritually and to enable you to pinpoint areas of ministry for which you are gifted.” The gifts and gifted offices in First Corinthians 12 include prophet/prophecy, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discernment (or distinguishing of spirits), teacher, miracles, healings, helps, administration, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Ephesians 4:11 adds evangelist and pastor/teacher to the list. Romans 12 adds serving, encouraging, leadership, and mercy. Some hold that 1 Corinthians 7:7 argues that marriage and celibacy are gifts. Others argue that exorcism is a spiritual gift based on Matthew 12:28; Luke 10:17, 20; Acts 8:7; and Acts 16:18.  And some say that 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 incorporates voluntary poverty and martyrdom as spiritual gifts.

Given that there does not seem to be one exhaustive list in the Bible, the gift list appear somewhat fluid; however, all of the listed gifts seem to be sovereignly gifted to the recipient for corporate use in the Church and for the Church, suggesting the same for any other perceived gift not listed. Miller’s test identifies the gifts only as administration, evangelism, exhortation, giving, helps, hospitality, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, shepherding, and teaching. The test ranks them, suggesting the higher scored areas are the test-taker’s spiritual gifts.

My Results. In the first or second week of June 2010 (I failed to document the exact date of the test), I made copies of Miller’s “Ministry Gifts Inventory” and then took the test. On July 29th, I took the test again without first reviewing my previous results. (From this point forward, I will call these Test 1 and Test 2, respectively.) My average score per gift area on Test 1 was 14.4. On Test 2 it was only 12.5. (Each area as a maximum score of 18.) My top two gifts on both tests were first teaching (with a score of 18) followed by shepherding (scoring at 17). My bottom gift on both tests was giving. The various other gifts jostled in position slightly, but there was never more than a single position shift. The next top gifts (although shifted in position) were leadership, administration, and prophecy.

A Better Test. The problem with Miller’s self-test is that it is self-selection. What often occurs with a self-selection test is that a person answers as they see themselves rather than how reality sees them. For example, I may really want to be a teacher or really believe I am a good teacher, but in reality, I could be terrible. How many times do people feel they have the gift of preaching but they do not communicate well? How many times have I heard someone say they have a gift of decrement or wisdom only to find that they often miss obvious information that would greatly help them make good choices? This is because of self-selection or self-identification. In addition, there are times when people completely overlook something they are absolutely gifted with because they assume everybody has the same gift or skill level.

A better way to understand spiritual gifts takes more time and effort, but the results are often much more accurate. The process starts with prayer, asking God to identify the areas he has uniquely gifted the inquirer for the benefit of Church or God’s purposes. Then the person should list all those things he or she enjoys doing, at church or not. And he or she should make a list of things he or she is good at, likely better than most people, even if he or she does not enjoy doing these tasks. Before analysis should happen however, the person should ask his or her closest Christian friends and family to honestly identify those areas where the person is talented and seems spiritually gifted. They should also indicate areas where they see strong potential.  The inquirer should request that they include prayer in this process. After a few people have answered, the lists can be compared. Generally, similarities will surface, presenting a person’s actual spiritual gifting. The key is close friendships with people who know the inquirer well and honesty answer these questions.

It is important that these lists not be limited to the “standard” list we too often associate with spiritual gifts. It could be that a person’s talent falls within the list, but many times, they do not. We do not see “artist” on the “standard” list, but how much blessing comes to the church through design and art today? Music is the same way. Baking and food preparation? Dance? Writing? Security? Computer programing?  Database management?  Video and sound editing?  Construction?  Investing?  God may have gifted a person to design and build affordable housing so that he or she could go on an overseas mission to bless people in need. Or a person may be gifted in security to protect an overseas operation. These are all gifts given by God.And there are many, many more.

Conclusion. For some, understanding spiritual gifts is difficult. I often feel that I do not fully grasp or understand my spiritual gifts. For others it is extremely obvious. One place to start is through a simple gift inventory test, as limiting as it may be. The next place to understand and grow spiritual gifts is in community. I have found Miller’s test insightful, but I will also continue to lean on my community in order to identify and grow my spiritual gifts.

* I have no material connection to this book. This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.