Have you heard an argument like this, “We should change the way we worship so this extremely talented person has the opportunity to use their God-given talent in worship”? In our culture, this argument sounds like it has merit, but when examined in light of Scripture, it quickly falls apart. Here are some things we need to understand about the “talent argument” and why we need to stop turning worship into a talent show.
Talent Obsessed Culture
First of all, I believe this argument only seems to carry weight because our culture is incredibly obsessed with talent. Consider some of today’s most popular television shows: Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, The X Factor, and the list could go on.
There are probably many reasons our culture likes these programs, but part of it is because many see themselves as undiscovered talent, just waiting for their own big break. “That could be me someday,” they tell themselves. A Barna study from a few years ago reveled that one-quarter of American teenagers believe they will be “famous or well known” by the time they are 25 years old.
So when we hear the “talent argument,” we need to recognize that it is very much a manifestation of the talent-obsessed culture in which we live.
Poverty of Spirit
You don’t have to read very far in the New Testament to recognize the fact that, “Let me demonstrate how talented I am” does not reflect the attitude of a disciple of Christ. Yes, I realize no one phrases it like that. We have perfected the “humble brag,” haven’t we? We say things like, “God gave me this talent; I just want the opportunity to use it.” But even a seemingly pious statement like that is replete with the idea, “I’m talented and I know it.”
But Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). Once upon a time our hymns reflected this poverty of spirit. Isaac Watts contemplated Christ’s death in 1707, asking, why would Christ, “devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” Watts also wrote, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” Augustus Toplady proclaimed in 1776, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”
A proper understanding of the gospel will teach us poverty of spirit and destroy our preoccupation with our own talent. Jesus didn’t die for us because He was longing to have such talented people on His team. He died for us because we were weak, ungodly, unrighteous, enemies of God (Romans 5:6-11).
Skilled Servants, Not Talented Performers
This issue really comes down to the fact that the church needs to be focused on developing skilled servants, not stroking the egos of talented performers. In every area of Christian life, we ought to be asking, “What jobs need to be done and how can I develop the skills necessary to do those jobs well?”
For instance, scripture shows us we need godly men to preach and teach the Word in the worship assembly. Therefore, we need to be developing skilled servants to do that job well. But when we focus on talents, we start to hear young ladies ask, “I’m just as talented at public speaking as a man; why can’t I preach?” I’m quite sure these young ladies are talented public speakers, but that is not the issue. Preaching isn’t about showcasing talent; it is about doing what the Lord wants us to do and developing the skills necessary to do that job well.
The same is true when it comes to the music of the church. Song leading should not be about choosing talented people to perform for the congregation. The music of the church should never be seen as a performance. It is supposed to be a time of mutual edification and praise, in which we, “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). But because we have failed to understand this, many talented people are seeking to perform musically in worship.
We have – for far too long I’m afraid – seen preachers, song leaders, and others who lead in congregational worship as talented performers instead of skilled servants. Now we are reaping the consequences.
The truth is, there are so many jobs for men and for women in the kingdom of God. In either case, the vast majority of those jobs have nothing to do with the worship assembly. Read Scripture, learn what those jobs are, learn to do them skillfully, and you will bring glory to God.
All of this is not to say that you don’t have talents or that your talents shouldn’t be employed. I’m sure God has given you talent and I’m sure you can find ways to use that talent in His service. But an over-emphasis on talent will inevitably fan the flames of arrogance and pride. And changing the way we worship God, in order to accommodate the showcasing of your talent, would be a distortion of what worship is all about.
Ultimately, worship is about declaring God’s value and worth, not our own. Worship is about exalting Him and humbling ourselves. When we turn worship into a talent show, it ceases to be worship.
I love you and God loves you,