If you’ve been around churches any length of time, you will hear some form of this question at some point. In some ways, it’s not a terrible question. More often than not, people want to serve where they are best able and so want to know what they have been gifted to do. It often springs from a laudable desire to serve the church.
The problem with the question is it confuses what spiritual gifts actually are. For want of a better way to express it, the traditional understanding of spiritual gifts is something close to talents or special abilities that enable us to serve. But as I argued here – in line with Kenneth Berding – that is never how the Bible seems to use that term. When Paul refers to spiritual gifts he is usually more interested in the roles people fulfil in order to build up the church. In other words, charisma does not usually mean ‘special abilities’ but concerns functions. When Paul speaks about spiritual gifts they refer to ministries undertaken rather than special abilities. For a more fulsome explanation of this, I’d encourage you to read this short article. For an even more fulsome explanation, I’d encourage you to get Ken Berding’s book, What are spiritual gifts?
But on Berding’s (and my) view, your spiritual gifts are not some special, secret talents which need to be discovered. Instead, they are the roles and ministries that you undertake within the church. This is how Paul can speak of the gift of Apostleship or the gift of Evangelism. These are ministry functions – roles that build up the church – not special talents waiting to be discovered. This view also makes sense of the scriptural call to serve out of our weakness. If spiritual gifts are special talents to discover and thus serve in line with them, then there is no room to serve in weakness; we can only ever serve out of what we are quite good at already even if we say it is spirit-empowered (as if anything we do isn’t ultimately spirit-empowered anyway!) But if spiritual gifts refers to our ministry roles, it is easy to see how we might serve out of our weakness in certain areas of church life whilst still recognising those ministries as spiritual gifts.
This view also pushes us to see that the ministries we undertake are not so much us using our talents to ‘do something’ for God. Instead, it is God giving us ministry roles (good works that he has prepared beforehand for us to walk in, if you like) which he uses to build us up. Have you ever wondered, for example, why a sovereign God who could save whomever he likes without reference to us at all asks us to do evangelism? The only reason for God to include us in that – in ways that are far slower, more messy, less efficient, etc – is because it serves us as we do it. It’s not for his benefit; he doesn’t need anything from us! It is for our benefit. Serving that way builds us up. This makes it clear why such ministry roles might be considered spiritual gifts. They are gifts to us, and to the church, because it serves for our upbuilding both personally and corporately.
So, with this in mind, how do we discover our spiritual gifts? Fundamentally, we ‘discover’ them by going to our church leaders and asking them where we can serve. They will gift you with ministries through which you will grow and build up the church. You discover your spiritual gifts by making yourself available to the church and serving where you are able. You discover your spiritual gifts by seeking to serve others and doing whatever is required to build up the church.
When you do this, you may discover you have multiple gifts. You may have the gift of music, evangelism, pastoral support, teaching, administration, service, whatever. But you discover them simply by making yourself available. Some of your gifts may well line up with your existing talents and abilities. Some of them may not. You might find yourself serving in the music group where you feel comfortable and also reaching the lost through an open air where you feel less comfortable. But whether in apparent power or seeming weakness, your spiritual gifts are whatever you are given to do to build up the church. They are the ministry roles you undertake for the purposes of building the kingdom.
So, the quickest way to discover your spiritual gifts – go and speak to your church leaders and ask them, ‘what can you gift me to do?’