When I was in fourth grade, I was “gifted and talented.” At nine years old, it’s something that most of my peers probably believed about themselves anyway, but in my case, I was actually placed in a class that met once a week for “gifted and talented” kids. Honestly, looking back, I’m not quite sure how I was deemed “gifted and talented” or who made such a seemingly ultimate decision. I don’t recall taking a test or sitting through an interview. Nevertheless, every Monday afternoon I got to skip “normal” class with 4-5 other “gifted and talented” kids and we did “gifted and talented” things like read poetry and build crafts.
Over twenty years later, I don’t remember most Monday activities. However, I’ll never forget the feeling of walking back into the “normal” class with a heightened sense of “gifted and talented”-ness. As I craned my neck around the door, my eyes would glance at our homeroom teacher to make sure it was okay to descend back into regular airspace. And with an elementary school swagger, each week I walked slowly back to my seat with a sense of fake humility because, after all, I didn’t want to interrupt their “normal” lesson. We “gifted and talented” kids had been summoned to do gifted and talented…stuff.
My purpose is not to discourage advanced learning, but instead to point to what happens when privilege collides with immaturity. As a Christian, I now see what was swelling silently in my prideful, nine-year-old heart. But as a pastor, I now know that a false sense of privilege and accomplishment isn’t just for fourth graders. It’s a subtle form of condescension that can plague the church when Christians misunderstand the sovereign grace of the Gospel. When professing believers lean on their church membership or attendance or involvement as the foundation of their Christian identity and their standing with God, they turn the grace of Jesus Christ into a spiritual “gifted and talented” club. After years of holding tightly to their “decision” or their “free will” or their Sunday School record or even their own obedience, churchgoers can slowly transform the Gospel message into something they did with God instead of something that God did for them.
No sinner should ever walk out of the church building like I walked back into my fourth grade homeroom class. In fact, church is where you should find the most humble people on earth. Christians are no more deserving of God’s grace than unbelievers, no more deserving than a nose-picking fourth grader was fit to boast in his gifts and talents. And that’s precisely why Christians go to church: to celebrate the unconditional love of a God who would raise dead sinners, call them out of darkness, birth them into a new family, and cause them to walk in the good works that He prepared for them before the foundation of the world. (Rom 6:5, 2 Cor. 5:17, John 3:8, Acts 13:48, Eph. 2:10) God’s love destroys human pride. And if it doesn’t, we’re “doing church” wrong. The mercy of God should leave us in awe of the fact that He would call unrighteous criminals “righteous” by faith. (Rom. 1:16-17) It should leave us humbled by the fact that our only “gifts and talents” are those He gave us in His mercy. (1 Cor. 12:4-6)
The church isn’t a spiritual “gifted and talented” club. It’s actually the opposite. The church is a group of lowly, repentant sinners who revel in their lack of gifts and talents so that the power and wisdom of Jesus might be seen to the world. And that’s when the real gifts and talents begin.