Monday, 16 November 2015

Motivational Gifts and the Writer

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 speaks of three different kinds of spiritual gifts: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” (NIV) Of these, the first are normally taken to be the manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit outlined later in the same chapter; the second are seen as the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4, bestowed on the Church by the ascended Christ; and the third as the seven gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8, often called the motivational gifts.

The motivational gifts are given by the Father to each person at conception, to enable him to fulfill the destiny to which God has called him. They are part of our spiritual DNA, an underlying influence on all we do. An understanding of these gifts can help us greatly in understanding our own writing habits, and in understanding our characters.

Before I move into talking about how these gifts influence our writing, I need to make two caveats: (1) The term, motivational gifts, does not appear in the Bible, but is a handy tag that has been applied to this particular set of gifts. Nor does the Bible go into great detail about their operation: that has been determined by various Christian groups who have studied these gifts in individuals over the last forty years or so. Their conclusions are helpful, but unlike Scripture they are not infallible.
(2) Although there are only seven motivational gifts, nobody has just one. There are endless possible combinations. Use them as a guide, not as a box into which you would try to fit yourself, your friends or your characters.

So, lets look briefly at these gifts as they affect us as writers. The internet has a slew of motivational gifts tests, some helpful and others less so, but the easiest way to determine your motivational gift set is to ask yourself, What motivates you? What excites you?

The first gift listed in Romans is prophesying. I must stress that this is not the same as the ministry of prophet as in Ephesians 4, or the manifestation gift of prophecy as in 1Corinthians 12. The thing that excites a motivational-gift prophet is spiritual reality. They are the most other-worldly of all the gifts. They are also the most likely to be poetic. As a writer, the person with this gift may tend to over-spiritualize, particularly if she is writing fiction, and if her poetic bent is not tamed it may lead to flowery prose. The prophet is also the quintessential introvert: he would really rather hide in the back of his cave. A prophet/writer must learn to break through this and actually go out to face the world.

Next is the server. What motivates the server is getting the job done. Think Martha. Interestingly, researchers have found that most servers are not good at organizing others: they tend to think that nobody else can do the task as well as them, so “please just get out of my way and let me do it.” Because of this trait, server/writers may not be very good at accepting feedback or criticism. Most servers are not particularly emotional (although they can be deeply hurt by lack of appreciation), and if they project that in their writing their characters may be flat.

Teachers are excited about information. They are bower-birds with facts, and have trouble controlling the desire to share their loot with everyone. Easily recognizable, teachers teach. All the time. Everywhere. To anyone who will listen. Often when there is no-one listening. (Confession: teaching is not my primary motivational gift, but it is certainly there in the mix. I often catch myself “teaching” an invisible class about whatever I happen to be doing as I go about my work.) Teacher/writers need to resist the temptation to see their story as yet another didactic opportunity. They find it hard to embrace the dictum of “show, don't tell” because there are just so many wonderful things that they want to tell their readers. Let it go!

Encouragers are motivated by bringing out the best in people. Whether the life-of-the-party extrovert or the person who likes to bring a simple word to lift you, the encourager is totally people-oriented. They are natural story tellers; absolutely everything is grist for the story-telling mill and they can be prone to elasticity in their recounting of events. (Think “the-one-that-got-away” fishing yarns.) Encourager/writers need to be careful that the stories they are telling are only ones they have permission to tell, and to beware of exaggeration. Because they are always thinking “right now” encouragers may be a little slack about the finer details, so need to be extra careful with editing.

For givers, the motivation is to see projects and people properly resourced. Whilst this is often financial, and givers may be astute business people, their generosity also extends to the non-material. As writers, they are likely to be torn between this desire to give of themselves - to pour their heart and soul into their work - and the fact that they are essentially extremely private people. It may take a while to find a balance that is comfortable for the individual.

The motivation for leaders is organizational: to see groups, teams or companies working together effectively. They are big-picture people, and may be content to leave the details to others. If working on a collaborative project, the motivational gift leader will inevitably end up as “the boss.” At the same time, a mature leader will strive to see others develop their potential, even stepping aside sometimes to allow someone else to tackle a task she would normally do herself. As writers, they are lousy editors, and need to be sure that they have someone to undertake that task.

Finally, the mercy person's motivation is empathy. More than any other gift, mercy people feel for others and are also extremely sensitive themselves. Think of Joseph in the book of Genesis, and the number of times he goes off to a quiet corner to weep. This sensitivity can be a great thing to bring to writing, but the mercy person needs to make sure that he is not overdoing it. Sensitive characters, good; maudlin characters, bad.

The difference between the various motivational gifts can best be illustrated by this scene: It is the church supper, and Sally is bringing a jug of milk for the teas when she stumbles and spills it. The motivational gift prophet asks, "What is God trying to show us through this incident?" The server runs to get  the mop and bucket, and shoos everyone out of the way so she can clean up the mess. The teacher says, "If you carry it this way next time, you'll be less likely to spill it." The encourager says, "Don't worry, it's just a jug of milk. I remember when I was a kid I spilled a whole bucket of milk ... a really big bucket. Mum was really upset because it was the only milk we had and we couldn't afford to buy any more, so she sent me to bed without dinner. Then Uncle Tom came along ..." The leader says, "Come on, everyone, let's get this fixed up," and starts assigning tasks. The giver goes out and buys a new bottle of milk. The mercy goes to Sally, puts a hand on her shoulder, and quietly asks, "Are you ok?"

Having an awareness of your own motivational gift mix can be a great asset to your writing, but don't stop there. Think also about your characters, and what their motivational gifts might be. Does their behavior line up with their gifts? If it does, your characters will be far more believable.

Lynn Fowler is a Christian minister and writer, and author of Real, Radical and Revolutionary - Building Kingdom Relationships with God, with Each Other and with the World; My Little Chats With God - Bible Meditations for Daily Life; and Sonshine and Shadows - A Lifetime of Poems. She has also compiled a book of her father's poems, Bush Ballads and City Songs.

Lynn can be found at and


  1. Excellent post, Lynn! While I'm sure I've seen that last illustration before, this is the first time I've seen the motivational gifts applied to writing, along with the strengths and weaknesses they bring. And applying it to myself, and to my characters . . . hmm. That will be a good challenge!

  2. Thanks, Lynn--lots of food for thought there in your post. And I too like that practical illustration at the end that brings those gifts together.

  3. Wow! What a great post Lynn. Lots to chew on. Loved your humorous para on how the differently gifted people chip in. A well told tale! :) And yes - our characters would have one of more of those traits. Thank you for making us see things a bit differently and to teach us to use 1 Cor 12 in practical ways in our writing! Great blog!

  4. Hi Lynn, Thank you for this food for thought, which helps us understand each other, not to mention ourselves. I've had an idea that I possibly fit most into the encourager category of the spiritual gifting so, and when it comes to writing, the things you said they need to watch out for are the ones which have affected me at times :)

  5. Thanks girls. The milk story is not mine, though I have tizzied it up a bit from the one I heard when I was first learning about motivational gifts 35 years ago. I have no idea where it originated, so am not able to give attribution.

  6. Lynn, fascinating post. I can see what you mean when you talk about most people/characters having a combination of motivational gifts. Thanks for sharing :)

  7. Great post Lynn and that milk example really brings the point home. I hadn't thought of relating those gifts to characters as well. Great food for thought.

  8. Loved reading this. Some great ideas there. Thanks for that Lynn

  9. Loved this, Lynn. A lot of thought has gone into it and you've put it together very cleverly. Am copying to put it in my 'useful information' file.