Tell people that one of your spiritual gifts is making delicious baked goods and they will give you strange looks.
For a while, I dodged this doctrinal bullet by saying that I had the gift of “early-stage hospitality.” It couldn’t be real hospitality because I didn’t have a fully-stocked kitchen or a house with a guest room. (I’m pretty sure it says somewhere in 1 Corinthians that hospitality requires, at the very least, a Crockpot and a pullout couch.)
When I did an inventory of my spiritual gifts a few years ago with a small group, I classified baking and party planning as sort-of hospitality. Asking difficult questions counted as discernment or wisdom. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with my professor’s declaration that I have “the spiritual gift of manipulation,” but maybe it was really leadership. Or something.
But what about my sister, who can memorize the names of large masses of children nearly instantly? What about the guy who runs the sound board? What about basically any kind of musician or artist?
I mean, we have to find a way to stretch these abilities into one of the categories found in the Official List from the New Testament, right? Because otherwise, they’re just talents, the inferior, “natural” cousins of abilities given by the Holy Spirit to be used for the glory of God.
Except the Official List view doesn’t seem to be consistent with the rest of Christian theology.
Wendell Berry wrote, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” If you’ve ever heard a sermon about how God isn’t just present in church buildings or cathedrals, then you’ve encountered this idea before. Any place can be holy.
Based on 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” we know that worship is not just singing songs or praying. If we are doing our work to the best of our ability, we are bringing glory to God. Any action can be worship.
Although there are certain figures we speak of with the title “saint” because of their contribution to historic Christianity, all believers are considered saints. There aren’t “normal” Christians and then another tier of super-spiritual men and women who have different requirements from God. Any person can be a saint.
Christianity teaches that there isn’t an exclusive list of spiritual places or actions or people. Doesn’t it follow that there shouldn’t be an exclusive list of spiritual gifts?
Maybe you’re reading this and saying, “Um, okay. I guess. But…why does it matter?”
The reason I think this matters isn’t because it’s a major theological issue that will make me storm off in a Protestant fit of sectarianism and start a new denomination. I just want to avoid the damage that the Official List View can cause.
Because I’ve seen teenagers look at the youth pastor with skepticism when he says that everyone has a spiritual gift, because none of the ones mentioned seem to describe them at all.
I’ve heard a few college students express disappointment that their unique talents were lumped together with a hundred others into the category of “Service” by a spiritual gifts test.
And I’ve noticed adults who act as though certain people are gifted by God to do great things, while others just have “ordinary” talents.
There is no such thing as an ordinary talent. There is no such thing as an ordinary person. And we tell our kids that from the moment they can toddle into the church…but sometimes we don’t act like we believe it.
If we believe that the glory of God can be found in any place, if we believe that even the most mundane actions can be worship and that the weakest among us can serve God, then I think we need to believe that our talents—all of them—are spiritual gifts when surrendered to God. It becomes less about picking apart a contrived checklist and more about God’s ability to create us with unique and beautiful abilities to use for his glory.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bake some cookies.
If your spiritual gift was a kind of chocolate, which would be and why? (This is actually somewhat serious…100 imaginary bonus points to anyone who can come up with an answer.)