Christians’ lack of interest in spiritual gifts in the last couple decades raises this question. It’s an interesting question because, if you’re a Bible-believing Christian, you probably think that the teachings of the Bible are important. But if you look at how much attention gifts get anymore in church teaching and preaching, Christian books sold, or just in discussions among believers, you’ve got to wonder if they deserve our attention.
I mentioned that the lack of interest in gifts describes the last couple decades, say since around 2000. Before that, in the late 20th century, interest in gifts was high: books sold, classes taught, and tests taken. But then it all wound down. Christians who were interested in discerning which people category they’re in moved on to other systems and tools. The most popular one today seems to be the Enneagram.
It’s also interesting that, prior to about the 1970’s, there wasn’t much interest in using the scriptural categories we call spiritual gifts to help understand ourselves and how and where to serve in ministries. From roughly 1900 to 1970 those who were interested in spiritual gifts mainly focused on the supernatural gifts. That interest, among some but not all Christians, has continued up through the present.
But the coming, and then going, of interest in spiritual gifts for discerning how we’re each gifted to serve has acted more like—well, a fad. What caused interest in gifts to rise, and what caused it to decline? And how are Christians to think about spiritual gifts?
The focus on gifts that took hold beginning in the 1970’s was exciting—it was called by some a “second Reformation!” That was because it was a shift from clergy-centered ministry in the church to all Christians being gifted to do ministries in the church. That was wonderful, needed, and important! But then it got more and more systematized. Tests were devised, and then test results were used to assign people to roles in church ministries.
It all began to have a modern, sometimes even corporate, feel. Then gift categories got paired with other categories, like passions or strengths. (Apparently the gift categories weren’t helpful enough.) Secular categories and tests became more popular. And churches and pastors began to feel that there were other areas of Christian living more strategic to focus on. Our interest in gifts came and went, and we didn’t want to argue with each other about the supernatural gifts. So we moved on.
My new book is called Spiritual Gifts Reimagined (SGR). So you might “imagine” that I have an opinion about what went wrong. You’d be right. Spiritual gifts were never intended to become a system for staffing church ministries. They were never intended to be used impersonally in tests that establish what gifts God has given you. And they weren’t to be understood as new abilities tacked onto you when you got saved.
These aren’t bad or worthless ideas; they just fall short of the values to which Scripture is pointing when it talks about spiritual gifts.
I think the idea that every Christian is gifted to serve in ministries is true and important. But after that, when we started seeing gifts through the testing and staffing template, we set aside the biblical lens for understanding spiritual gifts and picked up a modern lens. Seeing gifts through a biblical lens will guide us to reimagine spiritual gifts, and that reimagined perspective will reveal why seeing ourselves as uniquely gifted by God is important, even strategic, for what he is doing in our lives.
As Christians, we usually understand and agree on the importance of spiritual growth. In SGR, I present the Journey View of spiritual gifts, showing you how Scripture integrates spiritual gifting with spiritual growing. If the discovery, development, and use of your spiritual gifts is part of your journey of growing, it’s important to understand how your gifting develops along the journey of your growth.
The popular modern approach to spiritual gifts set us up for interest in gifts to end up as a fad that was here, then gone. Check out SGR to learn the Journey View of spiritual gifts from Scripture, and why it matters in your journey.