Updated: May 3
Somewhere in the 1990’s, businesses borrowed from the entertainment world and began calling their recruiting efforts “talent acquisition.” I don’t mind the term “talent” at all… it’s the word “acquisition” that strikes me as particularly sub-Christian. Acquiring something means you own it. That’s fine if you’re collecting fine wines, or adding to your Gaither album collection, but for a Christian-inspired business or faith-based nonprofit, seeing people as an asset to acquire falls short of the more noble truth suggested in the Scriptures. I believe we need to restore a Kingdom view of talent.
Jesus revealed this view in the well-known “parable of the talents.” You probably already know the story, found in Matthew 25:14-30. In the parable, Jesus describes a property owner who goes on a long journey, leaving his servants in charge of his estate. He gives each of them a sum of money (called a talent) in order to carry out his business. Today, we lose the impact of the original story, where three common servants were handed an incalculable fortune (Gk. “talanton” literally was a weight that, when used to measure gold, would be worth millions today). Jesus’ story drove home one fundamental principle—Jesus the King owns our talents. He has entrusted us with gifts of incalculable worth so that we can advance His interests here on earth.
To apply this first principle in a Kingdom view of talent, each of us needs to look to see what Jesus the King has placed in our hands. What has he given us? “Talent” today means much more than money, but has been broadly interpreted as natural gifts, finances, spiritual gifts, and at the highest level, the calling on our lives. We should regularly ask the King, “What have you given me and how can I use it for your glory?”
When I was in the jewelry business, my boss was a highly credentialed appraiser. People would come from all over to bring their valuable watches, diamond rings or precious gemstones in order to secure a replacement value for insurance purposes. We should be so focused on the business of the King that there would be an immense loss in our families, companies or ministries if we were suddenly gone. We can’t afford to bury our talents! Each of us owes it to the owner of our talent to make a careful appraisal. What is the highest and best use of my money? When the King returns, how have I used the one life that He gave to me? What is He calling me to do today?
The second principle in a Kingdom view of talent involves those around us, who work in our organizations. It’s a principle for bosses, and Jesus paints Himself as a boss in our story. Every boss must remember, we don’t own the talent! Our people belong to Jesus. It’s why “talent acquisition” doesn’t describe what Christian bosses do. We don’t acquire people. Rather, like the servants in the story, we are to view the people in our employ or who volunteer at our church as inconceivably valuable treasures on loan to us from Jesus the King. A Kingdom view of talent will inspire leaders to see themselves as servants who succeed through the thriving of those around us. We call this “servant leadership.” Or as Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term said, “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons?” (Greenleaf, 1970)
The final principle foundational in a Kingdom view of talent is that one day each of us from the greatest to the least will give an accounting to the King for how we used our talents. The old divines called this the “great assize.” The so-called “bema” judgment of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) does not involve our eternal salvation; that was settled when we accepted Jesus as our Savior. No, this judgment involves our works… the way we used our own talent, the way we assisted others in better accomplishing the call on their lives. That means our HR manuals matter! Why? Because “Human Resources” recognizes that each person on our team is infinitely valuable and how we treat them matters. That means that sexual abuse policies and their appropriate enforcement matter, because one day Jesus will check his books, and there will be an exacting external audit from heaven. The risen Christ walks among the lampstands (His church) and says, “I know your deeds!”
If indeed each person that works with us or for us is a “poema” or priceless treasure, as St. Paul says in Eph. 2:10, and if in fact Jesus the King has laid out good works that they are called to accomplish, shouldn’t we as leaders and managers in the Kingdom enterprise do everything in our power to help them thrive? I know for myself I want to be found a “good and faithful servant” who diligently works to maximize the talent He gave me. Jesus promises joy to those who will make the most of His gifts, whether that is our own talent or the “talent” that reports to us.