Spiritual Gifts Inventories: A Psychometric Perspective

By Horvath, Michael | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Spiritual Gifts Inventories: A Psychometric Perspective


Horvath, Michael, Journal of Psychology and Christianity


Interest in spiritual gifts has grown in recent decades, along with the development and use of spiritual gifts inventories (SGI's) to assess them. However, although these tests appear similar to validated psychological assessments, there are few published studies evaluating their reliability or validity. In this article, I review the psychometric evidence regarding SGI's and discuss issues of particular relevance to spiritual gift measurement. Additionally, I discuss alternative means of identifying spiritual gifts and related characteristics.

In many contemporary churches there is an explicit drive to encourage member involvement and success in the life of the church (e.g., ministry or mission activities). In order to do so, some recommend that members discover their spiritual gifts, loosely defined as skills or abilities that Christians use to fulfill the mission of the church. The focus on spiritual gifts is relatively recent in the life of the church (for a history of this issue, see the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, 1994, or Wagner, 1979; 2002), but spiritual gifts have quickly moved into the forefront of discussions of personal spiritual growth. For instance, Warren (2002) includes spiritual gifts as part of the SHAPE acronym that is central to his plan for spiritual growth, and a quick scan of Christian bookstores and websites reveals myriad discussions of the topic.

In order to help individuals discover their spiritual gifts, numerous authors have created tests known as Spiritual Gifts Inventories (SGI's). At first glance, these tests appear similar to psychological assessments such as personality or career interest inventories. Potential users may "overly attribute a scientific aura to instruments that appear psychological in format, scoring, and interpretation" (Cooper & Blakeman, 1994, p. 43)· However, it is likely that many of these tests have not been subject to the same amount of research and development as most mainstream psychological tests. If the accuracy of these inventories has not been established, their proliferation may go as far as to "border on the fraudulent" (Schiabley, 1989, p. 432). Individuals without training in psychology or psychometrics may not be able to differentiate less-developed tests from assessments that have been subjected to scientific validation. They may thus promote the use of poorly-developed SGI's and recommend areas of ministry for which people are not well-suited.

Therefore, the development of SGI's has two direct implications for psychological practice. First, given the similarities between SGI's and other types of psychological assessments (e.g., personality or intelligence tests), psychologists have the knowledge and skills to study and improve SGI's. Numerous textbooks exist regarding the techniques that should be used to create and validate tests (e.g., Guion, 2011), and sets of professional standards exist that outline the proper procedures for ability testing in fields such as employment (e.g., Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1978; Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2003)· Psychologists are thus in a position to develop a scientific literature around SGI's.

Second, psychologists may have an obligation to provide accurate advice regarding the proper use and limitations of SGI's. Given the resemblance of SGI's to other psychological assessments, individuals wishing to incorporate SGI's into their church's practices may consult psychologists regarding the best SGI to use. Or, psychologists may learn about an SGI initiative at their own churches. Although psychologists may be well-versed on the standards for the validation of psychological tests, they may have less knowledge of how these standards relate to SGI's.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to integrate contemporary validation standards with SGI's. Working within the framework of standard validation practices, I explore the connections between the standards and SGI's. …

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