Monday, January 17, 2011

Does Attitude Really Trump Talent?

“Attitude always trumps talent.” A guest pastor stood before the congregation last week and preached what I’ve come to call a stock sermon. I think it might have been #23 from the top 100.

The pastor told story after story about talented people who’ve moved in and out of his ministry, but who were in desperate need of an attitude adjustment. If you’ve been around churches for any time at all, you know the stories—the guitarist who plays on the worship team in the morning and the bar at night, the actor who had that questionable bit part in the low-budget film, or the singer who dared to audition for American Idol.

I’ve watched so many talented volunteers and part-time staffers fired from ministries because they just didn’t have the “right heart”. They’ve been accused of being “worldly minded”. I myself was fired from my job as the Director of Drama Ministries at a church because I performed at a small dinner theatre.

Why is it that the pastor who judges the heart of the artist is never taken to task for his or her critical and judgmental spirit?

I’ve watched several churches walk through the pastoral search process. In most cases, it can take a year or more to find the pastor who meets all the requirements of a church congregation or exploration team. Nowhere on the list, I’m guessing, are the words, “attitude trumps talent”.

Parishioners want their pastor/teacher to be highly educated, experienced, AND talented. Imagine a search committee coming to a church board meeting and saying, “We found the guy. He’s not very talented or educated, but man, has he got an awesome attitude!” It wouldn’t happen!

My personal experience tells me that when a pastor says, “attitude always trumps talent” what he often means is, “that guy was talented, but I just don’t like him”.

Pastors can be a bit arrogant and insistent about doing things their way. Artists can also be audacious and proud. Both groups are faced with the reality of having to put their work and heart on display to be scrutinized and analyzed by a sometimes-critical audience.

When a pastor is confident he says, “I’m following God’s leading”. When an artist challenges a minister he or she is called, “insubordinate”. Perhaps God wants to use the singer, actor, or musician to lead alongside the pastor in a fresh new way.

A servant is one who has an attitude that puts others first, AND the talent to do the job well. The 5-star restaurant wouldn’t hire a chef who loved to cook, but never went to culinary academy. A public school couldn’t hire a teacher who loved kids, but didn’t go to college.

Listen, talent matters, education is important, and attitude has value. Jesus chose 12 men with a bit of talent and a lot of good attitude. He then lived with the men for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for three years in order to insure the men had the very best education. Only then did He release any of them into their own ministry.

Jesus created the best volunteer/employee model for us: bring equal parts talent and attitude and give it a good education.

If you’ve got a heart for service and you feel God is leading, get of the pew and get educated. If you’re a pastor looking for a really great volunteer, look for someone who’s already doing the job you need done. Chances are they’d love to share their time and talent—they just need to be asked.

If you lead a church and you’re dealing with someone with a bad attitude—pray for and with the person. You’d be surprised how quickly attitudes improve when the person feels respected, loved, and appreciated. Now get off the pew!

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