Gifted and Talented

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What does that phrase make you think of?  It’s frequently used to describe stand out students at school. The Gifted and talented are to be separated out for special attention at one end of the educational spectrum in order to maximise Grade 9s, A*s and Oxbridge places.  Of course at the other end of the spectrum are those doomed to the bottom sets.

The result is I fear that we associate the word “gifted” with those who are part of some elite, enjoying privilege but also in some way omnicompetent and omni-talented.  And I want to suggest that here lies part of the problem that has crept in to our church culture too. How often in frecent weeks and months have we heard that a particular abuse was “gifted.” They were a gifted  preacher, teacher, evangelist, leader and that is then used as an excuse for why their abuse was not identified and dealt with sooner.

Paul David Tripp writes:

“We have witnessed too many uniquely and powerfully gifted leaders begin to view themselves, because of their gifts, as entitled to a level of power, position and lifestyle that others are not. It needs to be said that when a wonderful gift is given, the only one entitled is the divine giver. He is entitled to our honor, gratitude, and worship and our commitment to steward that gift well.”[1]

Part of the problem is I think that we have a bit of a weak view of the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace in giving gifts. Indeed, a culture that has particularly focused on seeking out society’s depWhat I mean is that in conservative evangelical circles our focus tends to be less on expecting some form of spontaneous gifting where someone out of nowhere shares a prophecy, tongue or picture. Instead, we spot people who seem to have the ability to study, to retain information and then to communicate it in an engaging manner. Now, to be absolutely clear on this, my personal view is that it is right and proper to look out for what tends to be referred to as “innate or natural gifting.”  That’s not the problem. The problem is that in the process, we have lost sight of the point tht whether or not someone suddenly and spontaneously does something or whether we see growing evidence of a gift over time and with nurturing, it is still a gift and therefore a gift from the Holy Spirit. The point of it being a gift is that it is not something earned, paid for or deserved. This means that:

“Being given a gift tells me about me in that I am not self-sufficient but rather needy and dependent.  It tells me I have no ability to do Gods work without God’s gifts. I can’t take credit for my gift precisely because it is a gift. My giftedness doesn’t make me worthy of human deference, affirmation or submission, because my gift doesn’t point to me but towards the one who has given it to me.”[2]

Tripp makes this crucial point in a section of the book where he talks about the limits leaders are placed under. Giftedness is a limit. We are not omni-gifted but rather are constrained to the very specific gifts God has given each one of us. This is at the heart of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 and explains why we need plural leadership and body ministry within the church.

A return to the Bible’s teaching on gifting and a departure from current secular culture on this will remind us that we are completely dependent on the Lord so that he gets all the glory. It will also encourage us to see our dependency on one another too. This will help guard against toxic abusive cultures and against individualism too.

[1] Tripp, Lead, 75.

[2] Tripp, Lead, 75 -76.

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