The main guide for this research can be found at A Guide to Spiritual Gifts

Monday, May 7, 2007

Spiritual Gifts and Personality

Is there a relationship between our personality traits, or even personality types, and spiritual gifts? Some discussion, and some research has taken place, but this has mostly occurred underneath the radar for most Christians. The debate really hasn’t taken shape for this question as it has for some other aspects of spiritual gifts such as the nature of prophecy or the role of the miraculous gifts. Most people, unless they have specifically searched for the topic, would not have run across anything but a brief distinction made between “spiritual gifts” and “natural talents.” Enough has been written, though, to compare and contrast some basic positions. I have posted elsewhere about the early research on the subject, and have written extensively about it in a research paper, but in the paper I was defending a position. This will be a chance to take a more (but not completely) objective approach and to clarify some further thinking.

When the publishing of spiritual gifts books reached full steam in the 1970’s, it was standard practice to clarify what spiritual gifts are not. They are not spiritual fruit, not positions, not spiritual disciplines, and not natural talents. Spiritual gifts are for the spiritual realm, and natural talents for the natural realm. But sometimes a writer would look closer at how personality and gifts might be related, and dissertation writers have been the boldest in their speculations. Choi, for example, wrote in 1993 that

If one can identify the specific aspects of individual personality that are correlated with a specific cluster of spiritual gifts, one can establish a personality profile for each of the spiritual gifts clusters. Then it would be possible to explore potential giftedness by exploring personality.[1]

Authors and teachers who take both spiritual gifts and personality into account generally fall into four basic categories.

1. They are often but not always related.
2. Both are important, but not related.
3. We confuse personality and gifts.
4. There is a one-to-one correlation of “personality types” and “spiritual gifts.”

1. Our personality or temperament, is often, but not always related to our gifting.

The following quotes offer a sampling of a very common perception of the overlap between spiritual gifts and personality or natural talent.

• The Spirit may decide to amplify a natural talent and give it a twist that makes it applicable to the advancement of the Kingdom. He may, on the other hand, decide to assign a person a gift that has little or nothing to do with natural talents or abilities.[2] (Zackrison, 1996)

• When God gives a gift He usually doesn’t give us something that is totally unrelated to our personality. The Christian will dedicate his natural talents to the Lord; God may turn some of them into spiritual gifts. At other times He will give us something that will push us beyond what we might expect.[3] (Hohensee and Odell, 1992)

• Temperament preferences often compliment or precede God’s special gifting, although He makes the decisions about that.[4] (Ward, 1988)

• Frequently, though not always, the gifts bestowed accord with natural talents and endowments, but they always transcend them. Spiritual gifts pertain to the spiritual birth of Christians, not their natural birth. They are supernatural, but make use of and increase the natural abilities possessed.[5] (Sanders, 1970)

• Natural talents may be transformed by the Holy Spirit and empowered as spiritual gifts. There does not seem to be a definite pattern when a person’s natural talents are affirmed as spiritual gifts, but that can be the case for some...many times there is no correlation between natural talents and spiritual gifts.[6] (Bugbee, 1995)
One noticeable theme in these quotes is that each author bases his/her view on observation. They sense that there is not a complete disconnect between our basic nature and our design for service in the Body of Christ. Another theme, though, is that each author backs away from saying that gifts are always connected to pre-salvation elements of our nature. Sometimes examples are given, but these aren’t very persuasive.

When these authors cite specific examples of abilities that do not become spiritual gifts they typically refer to the gift of teaching[7], noting that many who do an excellent job as a teacher in the secular world will not have the gift of teaching. The reason teaching is used as an example is because no other gift works well in this illustration. Imagine someone saying they were an exceptionally merciful or encouraging person before salvation, but that this ability just did not transfer to their Christian life, and we immediately recognize that something is wrong. Those abilities should only increase from knowing the Lord.

Conversely, observe someone who is an excellent teacher in science or philosophy, areas equivalent in difficulty to bible doctrine, where the complex must be made understandable, and their teaching ability will almost certainly transfer to their Christian life. The only reason teaching works so well as an example of disconnect is that there are so many different kinds of teaching that we can compare apples and oranges. Teaching children vs. adults takes different skills, as does teaching practical vs. theoretical subjects.

This reasoning, however, can work in two directions. Most authors prefer the distinction discussed above, that an ability equivalent to a spiritual gift may not transfer into a spiritual gift, but it can also be argued that a new ability identified as a spiritual gift had no corollary in the person’s previous natural talents or personality. This would be true if the gifts of tongues, healing, or miracles could be demonstrated, but it would be more difficult to make the case with the other gifts. How do we really know if a gift of mercy, encouragement, faith, or leadership could be detected in someone’s personality before salvation. Someone might claim that he/she has a new ability, while their friends saw the signs of that ability years before. The case for either point of view is highly subjective.

2. Any gift can be combined with any personality style. Both are important but not related.

a.) SHAPE Profile

The SHAPE profile is the most widely known system that incorporates both spiritual gifts and personality types because of its use in Rick Warren’s Saddleback Community Church, and its inclusion in his book, The Purpose Driven Life. SHAPE is an acrostic where each letter stands for one aspect of an individual’s ministry profile. I have seen different personality systems used with the SHAPE profile, so I am not sure which one is the original.

Spiritual gifts
Heart passions

b.) PLACE Ministries

Place ministries is an acrostic for

Personality discovery
Learning spiritual gifts
Abilities awareness
Connecting passion with ministry
Experience of life

The personality system used by PLACE is the DISC. The letters are also an acrostic for


The PLACE ministries website can be found at where for fees you can access the online assessments, and churches can keep a searchable database of their member’s scores on a variety of inventories.

c.) Network System

While Rick Warren uses the SHAPE profile, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church uses the Network system which offers an individual “servant profile” based on three elements of our design.
Spiritual Gifts : What you do best
Personal Style : How you best serve
Ministry Passion : Where you best serve
The cofounder and major proponent and teacher of this system is Bruce Bugbee. The personal style used in the Network profile is based on two dimensions of personality. First, how are you energized? We are either task oriented or people oriented. Second, how are you organized? We are either structured or unstructured. This produces four combinations,
1. Task Unstructured
2. Task Structured
3. People Unstructured
4. People Structured
Those familiar with the MBTI will notice the parallels to the thinking-feeling and judging-perceving dimensions. One difference I noticed in the Network Participants Guide, coauthored by Bruce Bugbee and Don Cousins is that the descriptions of the people oriented types mix in some extraverted traits instead of just feeling traits, making the people oriented types more E_FP or E_FJ types depending on the other dimension.

In the Guide we are reminded that “you can have any Spiritual Gift, with any Personal Style, with any Ministry Passion![8]" The Guide also states that your Personal Style is your “personality” or “temperament.” This quote from the 2005 Guide would appear to be a bit of a shift from Bugbee’s 1995 quote in part 1 above. “Natural talents may be transformed by the Holy Spirit and empowered as spiritual gifts.”

d.) Mels Carbonell

Mels Carbonell is a pastor and scholar who uses the same DISC system as PLACE ministries. He is the only teacher or author I have found who combines personality and spiritual gifts and then produces descriptions based on the combinations. For example, with the gift of evangelism there are four descriptions: Evangelism combined with type D, type I, type S, and type C personalities. The descriptions are very insightful and can be found in his book What Makes You Tick, What Ticks You Off: Understanding how your natural personality and supernatural spiritual gifts relate to each other, ministry, and conflict! His website is here.

The relevant aspect of each of these systems for this conversation is that spiritual gifts and personality are evaluated separately. Any gift can combine with any personality style.

3. We confuse personality and gifts.

There is a growing realization that spiritual gift inventories are not looking beyond personality traits in their attempt to identify the gifts. Stone reports, “It is believed that these inventories are contaminated by personality traits which account for the large amounts of error variance. This error may be hiding the distinct gifts.[9]

Tim Challies expresses the concern that the spiritual gift inventories can be successfully completed by unbelievers. The questions are generic and he believes “bear an uncanny resemblance to the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator[10].” He proposes that we “ask, then, if these tests are truly measuring spiritual gifts or if they are simply examining personality.” Challies does not miss the implication of this, though he dismisses it quickly. “Is it possible that perhaps we are only given spiritual gifts that compliment our personalities so personality and gifts are one and the same? That would be unsatisfying, because I believe God can work through gifts that may contradict our personalities.”

4. There is a one-to-one correlation of spiritual gifts to personality types.

This is not a well-known or popular opinion, but it is defended by me here.


The last two positions have a common recognition—that there is something amiss in the typical positions. The tremendous amount of correlation (gifts to personality) deserves an explanation. I noticed the parallels between the spiritual gift and the personality type descriptions. Challies points out the parallels between gift assessments and the MBTI. I believe he sees the dilemma with perfect clarity. Either spiritual gifts and personality are the same thing, or our current assessments measure personality instead of gifts. At this point, Challies chooses one option and I choose the other. I don’t know of anyone else on the web (or anywhere else) defending my position (a one-to-one correlation of gifts to personality), but my research is now available to be considered along with the other positions.

When I consider the number of bloggers and other thinkers who are questioning the standard opinions on these matters, albeit offering very different answers, I have to believe that this conversation is just getting started.


[1] Soo Dong Choi, “The Correlation of personality factors with spiritual
gifts clusters” PhD Diss., Andrews University, 1993. UMI, Ann Arbor, MI, 21.

[2] James W. Zackrison, Practical Spiritual Gifts. (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing, 1996), 12-13.

[3] Donald Hohensee and Alan Odell, Your Spiritual Gifts. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), 66.

[4] Ruth M. Ward, Blending Temperaments: Improving Relationships—Yours and Ours. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 233.

[5] Sanders, J. Oswald. The Holy Spirit and His Gifts. Revised and enlarged, Contemporary Evangelical Perspectives. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 112.

[6] Bugbee, Bruce. What You Do Best in the Body of Christ: Discover Your Spiritual Gifts, Personal Style, and God-Given Passion. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 62-63.

[7] Donald Hohensee and Allen Odell, Your Spiritual Gifts (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1992), 67; John E. Packo, Find and Use Your Spiritual Gifts (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1980), 13; William McRae, Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 21.

[8] Bruce Bugbee and Don Cousins, Network Participants Guide, Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 135.

[9] John Kenneth Stone, “Relationship between personality and spiritual gifts” (Ph.D. diss., Andrews University, 1991), 2. More specifically, “Post hoc findings suggest that personality factors accounted for about 50% of the error variance”, iv.

[10] Tim Challies, “Spiritual Gift Assessments and The Bible” Blog, 25 January 2005, (24 October 2005).

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