Which comes first, God’s calling or knowing your spiritual gift?

The way most churches approach this today, discovering your spiritual gifts comes first, and then you decide where to serve based on that information. It’s my opinion that that’s 180 degrees off the mark, and this has a profound effect on our churches.

God told Moses to appear before Pharaoh. Moses argued and protested over and over, and finally pleaded, “O Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now, even after you have spoken to me. I’m clumsy with words” (Exodus 4:10). In other words, “God, that’s not my spiritual gift.”

I love God’s response: “Who makes mouths? Who makes people so they can speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and do as I have told you. I will help you speak well, and I will tell you what to say” (vv. 11, 12). In other words, “Go and obey. I’ll provide the gifts to do what I’ve called you to do!”

I’ve read and studied all the “gifts” passages in the New Testament and I see several threads weaved through all of them:

  1. God calls us; spiritual gifts are meaningless outside of his calling on our lives (Ephesians 4:1; Romans 12:1-2).
  2. God gives us spiritual gifts so that we can serve others (1 Peter 4:10; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 12:7).
  3. Spiritual gifts are always discussed within the context of unity, humility, and partnership within Christ’s body (Romans 12:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12-27; Ephesians 4:2-6, 16; 1 Peter 4:8).
  4. The environment where spiritual gifts operate is in Christian community. The context of every spiritual gifts passage is how Christ’s body works together in community.
  5. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up Christ’s body, the church, so that he will receive all the glory (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Peter 4:11).

As far as I know, spiritual gifts tests are a very recent invention. For thousands of years, Christ followers have discovered their gifts in community as God called people to serve. Gifts are discovered, understood, and then used — all in authentic community where we encourage one another, speak the truth in love, spur one another on to love and good deeds, teach and admonish one another, accept one another, carry each others’ burdens, pray for each other, and live in harmony with one another.

Perhaps the church today has needed spiritual gifts tests because we’re missing out on that kind of healthy, life-changing, biblical community. What do you think?

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Michael Mack has been involved in small group ministry as a pastor, writer, trainer, and speaker for more than 25 years. He founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and started Small Group Leadership in 2012. He became the 12th editor of Christian Standard magazine in 2017 and continues to speak in churches about small groups, discipleship, and leadership. He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (just outside Louisville), with his wife Heidi. They have four young adult children. Michael enjoys mountain and road biking with a group of friends. See the "About Michael Mack" page under About Us for more about him.

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  1. Anonymous

    July 30, 2010 at 2:13 am

    Hi Michael – spot on posting; I too believer we get the "cart before the horse" when it comes to role/gifting. Was meditating on your last paragraph though/question…could you elaborate more on it? Are you saying the reason we have gifting today is because of our lack of authentic community?



  2. Michael C. Mack

    July 30, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Joe, Thanks for the comments. What I'm saying in the last paragraph is that if we truly did live in authentic Christian community, we would not need the spiritual gifts TESTS that many churches use. In community we would have the opprtunity to try things out and receive feedback, encouragement, support, and accountability for discovering and using the gifts God gives us. Hope that helps.


  3. Anonymous

    July 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Wow, that was quick; thanks for getting back with me. Total in agreement (not that you needed me to be), the best assessment is one's local community of believers. I think sometimes what we forget most as believers is not only is the gracious gifting by God for the edifcation of the saints in love, but when its all working properly it visualizes Christ the most.



  4. Michael C. Mack

    July 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Well said!


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