Discerning Between Natural and Supernatural Leadership

Voice lessons would never have made me into Bruno Mars. He has a natural gift for singing. (Flickr/Themeplus)

The problem with talking about gifts and giftedness is that the entire conversation is different depending on with whom you speak.

Some consider only natural gifts, as in Kevin Durant is a gifted basketball player. He certainly is. Just as certainly, he has also worked hard to hone his skills. I am absolutely certain there was a raw gift there way before his first practice, before his first step or even his first breath. Beyond that, 6 feet 9 inches and 215 pounds has a certain enviable gift quality about it as well. There are gifted performers, speakers, athletes and artists whose best efforts to perfect their skills would have been futile without their natural gifts. I sense intuitively that had I worked even harder than Durant I just might not, at 5 feet 8 and one-half inches have ever been an All-Star in the NBA. Of course, that's just a wild guess, and now we will never know for sure. Voice lessons would never have made me into Bruno Mars, and unable to color inside the lines since kindergarten, I'm guessing I may never give Renoir a run for it.

Stars like Durant and Mars were genetically, or we might say "naturally," gifted. These gifts are what we call talents. Somewhere, someone saw that diamond in the rough gift and invested in tennis shoes or guitar lessons or whatever it took to bring those gifts to fruition.

Others however, speak of gifts in the biblical sense, meaning the gifts of the Spirit, the supernatural enduements, impartations that go beyond natural talent. Again, as with natural talents, the gifts of the Spirit can be developed and strengthened. Moving in the gifts, practicing that is, combined with maturity can make the gifts that are there by the grace of God, come to ever greater fruitfulness.

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I believe there is a third rail. I have come to believe there is a combination of gifts, or if you will, a mingling of levels. No better example of this exists than the gift of discerning of spirits. Discernment, in the supernatural sense, is the ability to discriminate between what is of God and what is Satanic or carnal. In churches where gifts such as prophecy operate, discernment is indispensable. Not every "word of prophecy" is of God. Objective standards can and must be used to judge. For example, such "words" cannot violate Scripture. The same biblical test must be used in discerning a teaching: Is this biblical?

The thornier problem enters the arena when entirely objective standards are insufficient. Scripture alone may show whether to receive the sermon; discernment is crucial when it comes to receiving the preacher. What about his sincerity? Is his humility genuine or a manipulative facade? What do I sense when he speaks or when I meet him face to face? Is he arrogant, dismissive and condescending, or is he kind and gracious?

Discernment as a gift of the Spirit is invaluable. I would also say that far from being at war with each other, that this miraculous gift beautifully commingles with our more existential self. Observation and experience are hardly the enemy of the biblical gift of discernment. They are its allies. The gift of discernment may stir within us, whispering that we ought to pay attention, that something may not be quite right here. Now alerted we watch more carefully, observe the persons involved and/or listen more carefully. At last we recognize what the truth is. In one of those splendid "a-ha" moments so necessary to avoid catastrophes, we pull back before we open ourselves to danger.

Now this begs the question: Was our discernment natural or supernatural?  The answer is yes! Furthermore, that does not invalidate either the natural or the supernatural. We need both, and as we learn and grow and mature, we get better at both.

This powerful recipe is among the most important of leadership tools. Every leader should ask God for the gift of discernment. I cannot imagine a more important gift for decision-making, hiring, partnerships, negotiations and a vast multiplicity of leadership challenges. Stirring that gift into the experience, knowledge and sharpened judgment of a veteran leader pollutes neither and makes both more useful.

Dr. Mark Rutland is president of both Global Servants (globalservants.org) and the National Institute of Christian Leadership (thenicl.com). A renowned communicator and New York Times best-selling author, he has more than 30 years of experience in organizational leadership, having served as a senior pastor and a university president.

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