It is bizarre that the most capable among us are occasionally the same people who feel inadequate and unaccepted. Many insecure leaders possess a wealth of talent, ability, and gifting, but they are still unsure. This is because our abilities can also be our most significant weaknesses. A person who is at ease when talking within a social circle risks becoming a person who doesn’t know when to shut up. An organized person can administrate a project—to death. Musical people often forget that there is more to ministry than singing or playing an instrument.
The more gifted you are, the more likely you are to be dangerous to follow. Gifted people are more likely to neglect spiritual disciplines, struggle with being personally dependant on God, and limit their vision to those things for which they do not need supernatural assistance. In other words, they have a harder time finding their security in God when they can easily find ways to be sure in self.
I am not suggesting that giftedness is wrong, nor am I suggesting that you suppress your gifts. In fact, Scripture tells us to hone them and fan them into flame. But we are also told to keep them in proper perspective. You have probably noticed many gifted people who live only in their areas of skill, to the detriment of the other tasks that need their attention. Those who only live in this safe arena never learn of the security that can only be found in Christ.
Danger #1 – Identity
Based loosely on Robert Ludlum’s novel, The Bourne Identity is a film about a man whose wounded body is discovered by fishermen who nurse him back to health. He can’t remember anything and begins to try to rebuild his memory based on clues. In one scene, Bourne sits in a restaurant struggling to reboot his memory. He has no idea who he is, but he is keenly aware of his innate abilities—he instinctively knows the sight lines in the restaurant, the license plate numbers of every vehicle in the parking lot, and the weight of each restaurant patron. He even knows the most likely place to find a weapon. But none of that information tells him who he is or what he does. Similarly, you cannot look only to the areas in which you are gifted when you are seeking a definition of yourself or a discernment of your ministry role in the Kingdom. Giftedness only provides the clues.
Likewise, you cannot allow a lack of giftedness in a particular area to be the sole reason to exclude yourself from a ministry task. A sovereign God prepares you and makes you ready for the work. As with Moses, who’s skillset never matched the task, God’s promise (“I will be with you”) holds in it the implicit promise of supernatural equipping.
In my case, according to the personality assessment and gift inventories, I have operated outside of my giftedness many times. This only serves to prove the sovereignty of God and the constant supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Danger #2 – Approval
Giftedness can be mistaken as God’s approval of how we are living our lives. Success and prosperity do not always indicate endorsement, nor do struggle and suffering necessarily point to God’s disapproval. There are many gifted people who enjoy tremendous success while their lives are void of integrity.
There are very few formulas in Scripture. We like “if… then” formulas, but they simply don’t work. Job walked blamelessly before the Lord and yet endured tremendous hardship. Jacob was blessed, even though deception was his common practice. We want to say that “if” we are experiencing success, “then” God is pleased with our performance. This is simply not always the case. Success does not necessarily mean that God’s will has been done. Os Guinness further suggests:
One of the most common, subtle, and manipulative distortions of all is in religious empire building. God only knows how many churches, missionary societies, charities, colleges, crusades, reforms, and acts of philanthropic generosity have trumpeted the call of God and advanced their leaders’ egos. In a generation’s time this law will probably be seen as the single greatest problem of the mega-church movement. More than any part of the church of Christ should, today’s big churches and parachurch organizations rise and fall by the strength of a single person.
Some ministries have had a lot of success when analyzed with a worldly view, but in the light of eternity they may not have been the desire of God. Thankfully, God has been gracious. In my life, even in the times when I have been “out of God’s will,” He has used me to minister, but that still did not validate my waywardness. In His kingdom, obedience is always preferred to sacrifice. Doing some right things never trumps doing the right thing.
Danger #3 – Over-definition
Ministry leaders are often typecast into specific roles, and the Kingdom never gets the full advantage of their more subtle gifts. Giftedness can over-define who you are. This is especially true for those who have public and obvious gifts and skills. Many times, leaders are overlooked because of their primary gifts. If this happens several times, leaders can soon forget to develop other gifts—the ones that are dormant inside them. Time and again have heard people excuse themselves from personal evangelism or other Kingdom tasks because it’s “not their thing.” Scripture is clear on what tasks are our “things.” Unfortunately, sometimes we use our giftedness to excuse ourselves from God’s commands.
Danger #4 – Hardship
Giftedness does not assist us during times of struggle and hardship. Eliphaz, one of Job’s first advisors, was quick to point Job to his gifts and accomplishments, but those words offered no comfort. In days of trial, true connection with Christ is the only remaining anchor. In dark times, leaders who have not cultivated closeness with Christ will find that their resources are not sufficient for conquering present struggles. Gifting can never eliminate the insecurity felt in hardship.
Danger #5 – Self-reliance
Worst of all, giftedness can lower our dependence on God. Poor leaders rest on one or two of their primary abilities. Great leaders, however, live just slightly on the other side of their ability. They blaze trails to where their skills alone could not bring them. They see the natural but also consider the supernatural. They live in such a manner that if God doesn’t show up, they will fail.
I have had the blessing of being with many gifted people. I have envied (or have been jealous of) their abilities. But when I’ve been with gifted people who truly have a relationship with Christ, I find myself not only considering their gifts, but challenged by their connection with the Almighty. Each of us has gifts according to the grace given us, but greater than gifts is the presence of Christ in our lives. Gifts are dangerous, unless we have learned to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend.
Paul summarizes it well in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)