Helping youth discern their spiritual gifts and how they might use those gifts to create a better world (i.e. the Kingdom of God) is perhaps one of the most important callings of that rare breed of creatures known as the "youth minister." Young people are pushed all through their adolescence to recognize and hone the skills that they (and their parents) hope will some day make them rich, if not famous. But what about those gifts that aren't obviously marketable? What about the notion of using our gifts to benefit and edify others beyond ourselves? Here's a suggested approach for easing your youth into discovering their spiritual gifts:
Have a talent night. I'm serious! The best learning always starts by connecting with something the learner's brain already knows and with which they are comfortable. Encourage your youth to come ready to share their talents, gifts, abilities, and interests. Yes, this evening could include the typical singers, actors, and musicians. But also encourage your artists to showcase their works, the poets to give a reading, the athletes to display a trophy or two, the comedians to tell a joke, the juggler to put on a show, the math whiz to solve a quadratic formula, the carpenters to display their handiwork, and so on. Youth who don't have a talent to easily put on display can describe their gifts to the group.
Identify Personal Spiritual Gifts. Next, help youth identify some of the more applicable spiritual gifts as found in scripture. Read together Romans 12: 4-8 and 1 Cor 12: 1-11, 27-28 and ask the students what jumps out at them. Prepare a list of spiritual gifts and their descriptions to give to the youth. You might include such obvious gifts as wisdom, healing, prophecy, service, giving, teaching, and mercy. But I would not limit the list to just the obvious ones enumerated in these scriptural passages. Consider also less obvious spiritual gifts such as craftsmanship, music, and writing.
After talking through the list, ask the students to imagine an invisible line going down the center of the room. As you read through the list of spiritual gifts, invite students to stand at one end of the line if they think they are strong in a particular gift or at the other end of they think they are weak in that gift, or somewhere in between. Invite them to explain their choices, if they choose.
Identify Spiritual Gifts in Others. This may be the most powerful part of this study. Go through the gifts again, inviting group members to name those in the group that are particularly strong in each gift. Such an activity helps to illustrate that we often do not perceive our own gifts until they are recognized by others. Be certain that all students are lifted up in this process of discernment. Such a "naming of gifts" can be a real bonding and nurturing experience for a group.
Using Our Gifts. Close with a time of discussion about how God might use any of these particular gifts in ministry. Students I've done this activity with were pleasantly surprised to consider how the gift of making people laugh could be used in "healing" or how the gift of "prophecy" might mean the ability to tell your friends the hard truth even when they don't want to hear it.
A Final Word. There are ton of free spiritual gift inventories floating around out there. I'm highly dubious of their effectiveness as a tool for truly discerning spiritual gifts. Some of those reasons are clearly articulated here. I think the above approach of communal and personal discernment is more valuable than any paper-pencil test one might use.