Recently I found myself dusting off a decades-old resume in order to apply for a job as an interim pastor. The whole experience was a bit unnerving, but I was especially rattled when I came to the “Gifts and Assessments” section. This is the area in which job-seekers not-so-humbly note their top talents or, in evangelical Christian lingo, our top spiritual gifts. I innocently listed: Teaching, Leadership, and Evangelism.
But as I compiled my short list, I had a vague sense of deja-vu: I had seen this list before (and I couldn’t prevent a certain Crosby Stills Nash & Young hit from playing in my brain). Then it hit me—my resume was an echo of those I had read during the two decades I served as Founding and Senior Pastor of a mega-church.
I had received tons of resumes from aspiring pastors over the years, and often was struck by how many listed Leadership as their #1 spiritual gift—although later I discovered that most couldn’t lead their way out of a wet paper bag. In the same way, many listed Teaching as their top gift, though they had practically zero experience.
The resumes reminded me of psychology studies that reveal how people commonly rate themselves as above average. In one study, 94% of university professors rated their own IQ as higher than that of their faculty peers (it’s mathematically impossible, but very possible psychologically—given the egos of academics). Another example is that American drivers consistently rate themselves as better than average.
This is such a common human trait among that it even has a name: Illusory Superiority. In churches maybe we should call this Illusory Giftedness.
Anyway, after I complied my own list, I also had a vague sense that something important was missing. Was my subconscious reminding me that I was overlooking a key talent or a top spiritual gift? Should I list Administration, or Mercy, or what?
Then it hit me: If I were to be really honest on a resume, I would list my #1 talent as Sinning. Really, this is what I do best in life. I try to do the opposite but, like the Apostle Paul (see Romans 7:15), I do the very things I hate. For instance, I am short with my family members, easily offended by others, and the list goes on and on.
What if my resume listed my top talents as Sinning, Pride, and Judgmentalism? Would pastoral search committees be attracted or repulsed by such honesty? After all, as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr often remarked, original sin is the only Christian doctrine that can be empirically verified.
Here’s the blunt truth: the one thing we humans—yes, including you—do really well is sin. We humans are sometimes lauded for our opposable thumbs, upright gait, or our reasoning ability (hence: Homo sapiens, human-thinkers). But what really sets us apart is how well we excel at sinning. We are outstanding mess-ups, wondrous wrong-doers, magnificent malefactors. In a nutshell, you and I are talented sinners. Maybe our scientific name should be Homo peccator, human-sinners.
Again, I take comfort in the words of the Apostle Paul. He described himself, at the beginning of his ministry, as “the least of the apostles,” in the middle as “the least of the saints,” and at the end as “the greatest of sinners.” The closer he approached the gates of glory, the less he felt qualified to enter.
So I think I may edit my resume and insert “Sinner” as my top talent, though it’s a talent I neither sought after nor am proud of. But truly it is what I excel at most in life. So does this disqualify me for the position of senior pastor in a church, or does my self-awareness of this trait show that I’m uniquely qualified for the job? Should my future business card read “Chief Sinner and Senior Pastor”?
What do you think?
March 24, 2017,