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How to Discover and Develop Your Spiritual Gift

How to Discover and Develop Your Spiritual Gift

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

I’m a new Christian and I’d like to know more about spiritual gifts. Our pastor preached once on spiritual gifts, and then he went on to something else. How can I find out what my gift is and how to use it?


Dear Ryan,

When we meet Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us at least one spiritual gift. In one sense, we are wired to serve (Romans 12:6).

God does not just tell us to serve; He gives us special tools for the task: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant” (1 Corinthians 12:1).

Why does the Holy Spirit dispense gifts?

  • “For the common good...” (1 Corinthians 12:7)
  • To Strengthen the local church fellowship
  • To Extend the church's witness and ministry
  • To provide Christians with the tools needed to accomplish their ministry
  • To paint a relevant picture of Christ when all the gifts are working properly

Spiritual gifts are found in three separate passages in the New Testament.

The lists are not exactly identical, but some overlapping occurs:

Ephesians 4:11

  • Apostles
  • Prophets
  • Evangelists
  • Pastor-Teacher

Romans 12:6-8

  • Prophecy
  • Helps
  • Teaching
  • Encouragement
  • Giving
  • Administration
  • Leadership
  • Celibacy
  • Mercy

1 Corinthians 12:8-10

  • Wisdom
  • Knowledge
  • Faith
  • Healing
  • Miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Distinguishing spirits
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Interpreting tongues

1 Corinthians 7:7

  • Singleness

What is the difference between spiritual gifts and natural talents?

We are born with natural talents. Spiritual gifts are given at conversion.

Natural talents are often the vehicle through which spiritual gifts can be used.

A Christian vocalist may have a natural talent to sing beautifully. A vocalist with the spiritual gift of evangelism may use musical talents along with the spiritual gift of evangelism to guide people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Does every believer have a gift?

Yes: “All these are the work of one and the same spirit, and he gives them to each man, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11).

Can a believer have more than one gift? Yes.

As we mature and our ministry responsibilities increase, God will give us the tools we need for the tasks ahead: “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in the gifts that build up the church” (Romans 14:12).

The number of possible combinations is astounding. By using the algebraic formula, “2n-1” where “n” is the number of gifts, 18 spiritual gifts can produce 262,144 combinations.

I don’t have the gift of service, am I still supposed to serve?

Of course!

While there are many combinations, there is only one Lord and one Body.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them and all men. . . The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ...” (Romans 12:4-12).

I’m going to share a short description of each gift. Hopefully, this will help you understand which spiritual gift, or gifts, that the Holy Spirit has given to you.

A short description of each gift:

An Apostle is one who is sent to establish a foothold for Christianity in unevangelized areas by establishing churches. Today, we often call these Christians, “church planters.” Our church ministry partner in Mexico, Roberto Morales, is an apostle. He has planted over 80 churches in Mexico and Peru.

A Prophet applies a message from God to a particular situation in relevant terms. The Prophet answers the question, “Does God have a Word for me today?”

An Evangelist is spiritually anointed to persuade people through a variety of relevant methods to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. They are quite successful at it.

A Pastor-Teacher oversees the care and spiritual feeding of a church congregation. His/her teaching clarifies and preserves the truths of God. Many pastor-teachers find preaching the Word more exciting than shepherding the flock. Remember, when Jesus commissioned Peter for ministry instructed him to, “Feed my sheep; take care of my little lambs.” Jesus was saying, “I’m a shepherd, you be a shepherd, too.”

The gift of Helps is a God-given gift for meeting the practical needs of people. When Don Young died, my friend Marilyn Tolson was cleaning up the kitchen when I arrived. "Do you have the gift of helps?” I asked. She gave me a puzzled look: "I don't know; but, if there is something you need help with, let me know.”

The gift of Encouragement has a double use: to comfort or encourage, or to admonish and rebuke when necessary. An encourager is someone with a fantastic ability to motivate others: “Cheer up! Our God is omnipotent!” You know people who are like that; they're always in the right place at the right time.

Several years ago I set a goal to do three encouraging things every day. At a restaurant, for example, when I see two parents with well-behaved children I like to walk to their table and say, “you must be wonderful parents, you have such delightful children.” They grin from ear to ear.

One of our staff once came to my office and said, “I need to give you a biblical rebuke about something you’ve done.” He was right.

The gift of Giving is the ability to make money and/or resources and to give them freely away with joy and delight. Two characteristics of a person who has the gift of giving are: he/she has resources; he/she delights in sharing those resources.

Every Christian is to give generously whether they have the spiritual gift or not.

The gift of Administration is the spiritual capacity to organize and manage the church. The Greek word for administration is kuberneseis, meaning helmsman or governor.  The administrator is the person who is qualified to steer the ship. He/she is not the Captain.

The gift of Leadership is the spiritual capacity to energize people by creating a vision for the future and then by inspiring them to make the vision a reality. Children can be so delightful. A group of children was asked to define Leaders:

“Leaders are out front.”

“Their rear end is better seen than their front side.”

“Leaders chart a course on star that most never see.”

“A leader is one who causes conflict, but who changes things.”

“You know you're a leader when you look around and people are following you.”

Such astute observations from children!

The gift of Mercy brings the empathetic love of God to hurting people in practical ways.

In the first teachers’ meeting of the new year a new teacher sat down beside one of our church members. They began discussing churches and the new teacher asked Linda where she went to church. “I go to Casas Church,” Linda replied. “I know that church,” said the new teacher. “That’s the church that helps people.” “Helping hurting people” was our church motto. Every church has a target market whether they realize it or not. We figured that there would always be a market for hurting people.

One with the gift of mercy is drawn to suffering people. He/she must do something about it. The hurt requires action.

The gift of Wisdom synthesizes concepts, facts and truths in order to find a God-inspired solution for a particular situation. Some people have the ability to synthesize a complex issue into a simple solution. Dr. Harry Ironside said, “Put the cookies on the lower shelf where everyone can get to them.”

The gift of the Word Of Knowledge is a supernaturally-revealed communication for a particular reason. Peter's knowledge of God's supernatural judgment regarding the embezzling of Ananias and Sapphira is a prime example (Acts 5:1-11).

The gift of Faith is the spiritual ability to see something that God wants done and to live accordingly even before God acts.

Perhaps the gift of faith is synonymous with vision. This person has the same problems as all others, but can see right through the problems to the resources of God.

One of our church building projects was having troubles. I was panicking. Lefty, one of our elders, pulled me aside and said, “I have the spiritual gift of faith. Trust me, everything is going to be okay. There was something about the way he said it. I felt a calm peace. I said to myself, “I think I can live on that faith.” So I did!

The gift of Healing refers to the healing of physical disease in response to the Holy Spirit’s promptings through confession, laying on of hands and prayer. One with this gift will often utilize James 5:13-17 to facilitate the work.

By the way, I believe that this healing gift and the following gift of miracles are not often seen in the United States of America today. On the other hand, we often hear missionaries on the mission field tell supernatural stories about how miracles and healings compel people to come to Christ. However, we must not limit God’s power.

The gift of Miracles is an event of supernatural power, to authenticate the Word and/or the reality of God.

One particular Campus Crusade missionary told of a witch doctor who didn’t want the Jesus film shown in his village. He demanded the villagers to stay away. The witch doctor didn't want the Jesus film. He pleaded and threatened. The missionaries showed it anyway. They invited neighboring villages to come and several thousand turned up. They turned on the generator and the film commenced. Fifteen minutes into the film the witch doctor crept into the darkness, took his machete and with one quick move, cut the electric cord in two. And the movie kept right on playing! The Jesus film never stopped. The witch doctor said, "If that is the kind of God you have, we need him." He became a Christian.

The gift of Distinguishing Between Spirits is the ability to differentiate between holy, human, and demonic powers.

We’ve all wondered sometimes if it is really God speaking to us. The person with this gift has a God anointed ability to give guidance and wisdom in these areas.

Please notice that the gifts of Tongues and Interpreting Tongues the are considered by many to be gifts utilized in the first century only. The gift of Tongues is the ability to speak fluently in a previously unlearned language (dialektos) (Acts 2).

Unsaved men and women might hear the gospel in their own languages. This occurred on Pentecost as described in Acts or in a Holy Spirit-inspired spiritual prayer language (glossolalia) which means tongues (1 Corinthians 12).

Tongues are useful in prayer to express ideas and concepts that are deep in the human spirit. Some Christians believe that glossolalia is described in Romans 8:26-27:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

My wife Julie had a miraculous experience with dialektos. On a mission trip to Brazil, Dianne Walters, one of her mission volunteers, broke her leg in two places. The rest of the tour leadership left my wife, Julie, alone to handle the medical emergency in the huge metropolis of San Paulo. She knew no one and spoke no Portuguese. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Julie was granted the ability to speak Portuguese (dialektos), discuss medical terms and make all sorts of hotel, airline and hospital arrangements while communicating in Portuguese.

The gift of Interpreting Tongues is the spontaneous ability to translate the language of one who is using the gift of tongues (glossalalia). 

How to unwrap your gift/gifts:

1. Study the gifts in the Bible and learn how they operate.

2. Observe the lives of Christians you know to see how gifts operate in them.

3. Analyze what gifts you recognize developing in yourself.

4. Seek confirmation of your gift from others--and from God.

Jake Ellis, a well-respected teacher at my home church affirmed my teaching gift early in my life.  “Roger, you are a wonderful teacher,” he said. The inner witness of the Spirit is not limited to confirming our salvation. He wants us to know what our gifts are and how to use them.

Let your successful ministry experiences be a determining factor in recognizing your gift.

What ministry is God blessing?

When you have prayed for sick people, do you often see answers to those prayers?

Do you see fruit from your teaching?

Are people trusting Christ as a result of your evangelism?

Finally, practice! Practice! Practice!

1 Timothy 4:10: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

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