Gifts and talents

Tim Keller » God Church Holy Spirit Calling

Every human being has talents and aptitudes to do work that serves the human community, but Christians have both natural talents as people in God’s image and spiritual gifts as new creatures in Christ.

This means Christians not only must determine how their talents equip them for a certain range of work, but also how their gifts equip them for a certain range of ministry in Christ’s name.

All are from God

It is not always easy or necessary to make distinctions between “natural talents” and “spiritual gifts,” since ultimately they are all from the Spirit of God (Ex. 31:1–11; Isa. 45:1–7; and James 1:17). God may adopt a talent and use it spiritually to build up others or the church; then again, he may not. As J. I. Packer points out, sometimes a very mediocre talent or ability can somehow be adapted by God into a spiritual gift, while at other times, a great talent in a Christian never seems to be used as a spiritual gift or ministry.

Avoid two problems

As we exercise our spiritual gifts, we also need to avoid two great problems: “gift cop-out” and “gift projection.” Every single one of the gifts is also a task, or assignment, given to all Christians. Not all are evangelists, but everyone is a witness. Not all are deacons or deaconesses, but all are to serve. “Gift cop-out” is saying, “Since I’m not gifted at that, I don’t have to do it at all!”

“Gift projection” works in two opposite ways: Making yourself feel guilty that you aren’t as gifted or good as someone else is, and making others feel guilty that they aren’t a passionate or as good at what you do as you are. It is all too easy to try to make the whole church over into your image—making it strictly an evangelistic church, or a justice church, or a cultural center, or an intense discipleship community.

Find the jobs in the church that need to be done and then do them.

How spiritual gifts are discovered

Remarkably little appears in the Bible about the process by which someone “discovers” his or her spiritual gifts. Problems abound with almost any prescribed, definitive set of “steps” toward this end. The traditional approach leads people to test themselves in ways similar to secular aptitude tests. The problem with this approach is that it assumes you know yourself quite well, but many of us do not. Also, the jobs in a church often don’t line up perfectly with one or two gifts. Someone may be a good preacher or counselor, but several different gifts could equip a person for those roles. The same goes for most of the jobs in the church.

We can discern God’s calling when three factors come together for us: Affinity (What human needs do I “vibrate” to? What interests me? What are my passions?); Ability (What am I good at? What do people say I am effective in?); and Opportunity (What doors for service are open? What needs to be done?). When all three factors come together, you can see God has equipped and called you to do something or to move in a certain direction.

This process can be applied to finding a job and making major life decisions, but how do we apply it to service in the church? I propose that in the church you start with the third aspect—Opportunity. In other words, find the jobs in the church that need to be done and then do them. Just serve. Don’t ask too much about whether it fulfills you.


First, the only way you will ever really come to know the kind of ministry that you are best at is if you do a lot of different things; then you will know what God blesses. Don’t look first at your proven abilities—at your day job or natural talents—to determine what you do in the church, because as mentioned earlier, God may not use that. Likewise, don’t look first at your deepest affinities—the things that excite and interest you. If you gravitate too quickly to those areas, you may miss latent gifts that you aren’t aware you have. Just serve—plug the gaps in the church and help out. Go through the door of opportunity in the church, doing what needs to be done, and then as time goes on you can check your affinities and abilities and begin to specialize. If you are in a church with many opportunities, you may be able to specialize earlier on in the process.


Want more? This post is excerpted from Dr. Keller’s article “Discerning and Exercising Spiritual Gifts”

Download the full article here



This content appears with permission from Redeemer City to City where you'll find more resources from Dr. Tim Keller. Copyright © 2001 by Timothy Keller, © 2009 by Redeemer City to CityWe encourage you to use and share this material freely—but you may not charge money for it, change the wording, or remove the copyright information.

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