Some Assumptions on Gifting

We all enter discussions with assumptions, some examined and others that are more subliminal until they are brought into the light. Writing is one way to get them out into the light.

One of my assumptions is that a gift is an ability which greatly surpasses anything I could develop on my own. But I do not assume that with two different people the less gifted one could not surpass the other if he/she put more work into developing and practicing the gift. Let me share a couple of analogies which might make my thoughts more easily understood by someone else.

Michael Jordan vs. Larry Bird: an analogy from professional basketball. Two of the best NBA players of all time provide an interesting contrast. Both played on NBA teams which one multiple championships. Their careers overlapped. But I don’t want to focus on their playing careers, but their efforts toward coaching. I believe MJ was more gifted than Bird. His physical ability was through the roof. He could certainly out jump Bird. He was quicker, without a doubt. Larry was taller, but that was about the only advantage he had when it came to playing. But Bird had to use his mind and guile to overcome his deficiencies—and he did, over and over.

Bird’s challenges made him more equipped to become successful as a coach, as it turned out. Sometimes (but not always), the most gifted at doing something to a high level are not able to assist less capable people to succeed. Their reliance upon their gifting gave them great success. But every team is comprised of members with varying degrees of ability. A good coach helps each member maximize her abilities and also gets the group to learn to experience a synergy where “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Gifts can certainly give someone a “leg up,” but what one does with spiritual abilities is crucial, too. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which we call 1 Corinthians certainly points us in this direction. The believers in that local church had incredible giftings, but it appears they were not often exercised with love (1 Corinthians chapters 12-14).

Since early this year (2021) I have spent a lot of time learning the fine art of wood turning. One of my friends invested greatly in my success. Jim Livingstone has made recommendations regarding the lathe I might buy and he also gave me several wood turning tools. To purchase those tools would cost me several hundred dollars. I am very appreciative! His counsel and this generous gift has sped up my learning curve. But I still have had to put lots of practice into wood turning. The gift has not replaced training, long hours of practice, and diligent efforts to overcome errors made along the way. But I have never attended any wood turning schools or classes.

I have never really felt gifted. No, I am not discounting the incredible deposits God has made in my life! But none of it comes easily. None. I am not a gifted speaker. I do it fairly well, some of the time, but it is usually fitful for me.

Wood working has been different than just about anything else I have ever tried. I can get totally “lost” in it. I can learn techniques and abilities more quickly than other turners, evidently. But I have 45+ years of relevant experience to draw from in the learning. I took three years in high school, even though they only offered two years. No, I did not fail. I bartered my way into a third year by doing some of the mill work that my teacher had previously done for the first year students. No one had ever done that before, so I wasn’t following someone else’s example. I was following my heart.

Creating path for Woodworking III opened the door for me working at an acoustic guitar factory during the summers before and during Bible College. Those experiences gave me an incredible learning opportunity. Unfortunately I never really had an apprenticeship, though. Yes, I memorized safety rules for six weeks and spent six more in basic drafting (while the woodworking shop was built), but I learned most of what I know on my own.

I’ve watched hundreds of hours of wood turning videos. I’ve spent hundreds more trying to imitate what I saw and then correcting the obvious errors I made. I have no formal training in wood turning.

DMM is not opposed to formal training. It is not opposed to Grad School or even getting a doctorate. I actually know several who hold doctorates and others who are pursuing them. As a general rule, though, Movement folks think the requirement that young people getting an “Engineer level” education prior to getting involved in cross cultural missions is wrong-headed. We probably don’t state this clearly enough, at times. But then there are times when I am equally sure people are “hearing” things we are not saying.

One professor friend made an interesting statement to me a few years ago. I shared that I struggle some with “imposter syndrome,” especially in the missions arena. My misgivings come from two fronts: my lack of formal training and my lack of living cross culturally for any significant time. He said, “John, be thankful there are many things you have not had to unlearn!”