British born high school dropout Simon Cowell is one of the most recognized figures on American TV as a judge on American Idol. Cowell is known for his biting criticism and his signature phrase, “I don’t mean to be rude, but …” (you have no talent). It’s also the title of his 2004 memoir.
One time Cowell singled out season six auditioner Kenneth Briggs by saying he looked like a “bush baby.” Asked if he realized how hurtful his comments are at times, Cowell responded, “I want to meet the parents sometimes and say, ‘Are you aware that your son or daughter has zero talent, and you’re wasting their time when they could be doing something they’re good at?’”
We are all born with innate abilities. There is no doubt, however, that some people have more natural talent than others. Some people are athletically coordinated. Some find it very easy to learn other languages. Some have a high IQ and never have to study in school. Some have a knack for numbers. Some are gifted with an excellent memory. Some are born public speakers. None of us can change our genetic make-up (at least, not yet!)
Judging talent isn’t always as objective as one might think. That’s why American Idol and now Dancing With the Stars are so popular. That’s also why “talent shows” are always a hoot. Ever had a church talent show? They can be inspirational, funny, entertaining or downright painful.
We can’t always agree on what constitutes talent. But we do know this. Some people with incredible talent never live up to their potential. And people with far less natural ability can outshine their gifted colleagues.
I am convinced that living whole, healthy, outer-directed lives has nothing to do with how much talent we have. I’ve seen people waste their talent because they don’t have the inner drive to use their gifts to make a difference. On the contrary, I’ve seen people with little innate talent work so diligently and passionately that they become more successful than anyone would have ever dreamed.
If talent alone won’t do it, what are the qualities we can and need to cultivate in order to reach our potential and become who God created us to be? (Please note that I’m not talking specifically about spiritual gifts here – that will be another article.)
- A positive attitude
- Careful thinking and solid preparation
- Ability to motivate and inspire others
- A desire to keep learning
- A focus on excellence
- A gracious and generous heart
- A willingness to work hard and smart
On Friday, May 18, 2007, the Grand Rapids Press quoted Joe Dumars, President of Basketball Operations for the Detroit Pistons, after Detroit beat the Chicago Bulls to win the Eastern Conference semifinals series. Dumars said that he did not draft Tayshaun Prince five years ago because he was the best player available but because he always seemed to make the right decisions late in the game. Said Dumars, “We like having the ball in Prince’s hands down the stretch because he is going to make the right play 99% of the time. You want the ball in the hands of a guy like that.”
Talent is overrated. I don’t know about you, but I love to work with pastors, staff members, lay leaders and churches like Tayshaun Prince.
- I’d much rather be in ministry with steady pastors who make careful, sensitive decisions than flashy pastors who have charisma and ego but no depth.
- I’d much rather hire staff members who are dependable, respected and passionate about their ministries than staff members who have the most raw talent in technology, music, public relations or teaching but are not team players.
- I’d much rather serve alongside lay leaders who see themselves as channels of God’s grace than lay leaders who may be the most highly educated and professional people in the congregation but lack commitment.
- I’d much rather work with churches whose members are welcoming, hospitable, non-judgmental and caring than churches that place programs and ministries above people.
Yesterday was All Saints Sunday in many of our churches. The saints throughout Christian history: were they the most talented Christians, or were they ordinary people who allowed the light to shine through them? The saints honored in your church yesterday – were they the ones who scored highest on the “Christian Knowledge Test,” or were they the ones who gave their lives to Christ and others out of sheer love?
I Sing a Song of the Saints of God (United Methodist Hymnal #712)
They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
In church, by the sea, in the house next door,
They are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too.
I don’t mean to be rude, but …. talent is overrated.