In the wake of Nobel laureate James Watson’s public scrutiny over his comment about IQ, I wondered what the big commotion was about. He discovered the double helix of the DNA, and at 90 years of age, he was reporting the findings of IQ studies. In the end, it was Watson’s reference to race and IQ that kindled the public’s ire and judgment on him. Never mind the science or history behind it.
IQ has been used to determine people’s ability and aptitude for adapting. I had an interesting run-in with IQ in junior high. I was in the seventh grade when I went to see my counselor in hopes of taking gifted and talented classes. She told me that I first had to take a test. OK, sure. The results came in, and she gave me the news: I was neither gifted nor talented.
I was at a loss. I wrote a letter to my elementary school teacher back in California (I was in Texas at the time). She wrote back telling me that she went through my records and it was true: I did not qualify for the gifted and talented program there either. Schools in both Texas and California were unanimous in their assessment of me at the age of 11. My father wasn’t around—he had passed away that year. My mother wasn’t fluent in English. So, so much for helicopter parents. I was on my own. Not gifted. Not talented.
My future was caving in on me. My limitations were in plain sight. The news was devastating, but in retrospect, it was the best news that I could have received. Nothing was a given for me. I didn’t have the natural gifting for schooling, but I was still there, and I remember loving my time in school. I stayed after frequently to talk to my teachers—to pick their brains. Thinking back, I didn’t know how selfless my teachers were in giving up time with their families to talk to me. My underachieving IQ score didn’t seal my fate; it only made me hungrier with an appetite to learn.
We live in a world that wants to determine people’s worth through gifting and usefulness. Churches make the mistake of assessing the quality of people by what they can bring to the table—or the offering plate. It’s almost as if there’s an SQ (spiritual quotient) test that can be administered to evaluate people’s value to ministry. There is not. Certainly not for increasing numbers, attracting more talent, or stimulating spiritual growth.
I’m keen on reminding students that I do not measure their worth by how they do in my class. If anything, I don’t remember test scores, though I will remember what they wrote in their papers from time to time. I tell them God has shown me repeatedly that He can use anyone—regardless of their capacity, regardless of who they are or what they’ve faced. Everyone is a wild card.
Why? Because the Apostle Paul saw his inadequacy in himself firsthand. He faced the intimidating congregation in Corinth. He wrote to them telling them that he did not come with lofty words or wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1). He came in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling (2:2). He reminds them of where many of them came from. Not wise. Not powerful. Not from noble birth. But the beauty of what God has done to redeem His people is evident in His power:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, emphasis added).
Over the course of my life, I may have picked up a few fancy degrees that offer a redemptive narrative of some sort. In my mind, I’m still the same kid who was told nothing will come natural to me. No innate gifting. Not special. As my IQ score revealed, I am the embodiment of the foolishness that Paul describes. I have not shamed the wise or the strong (at least to my knowledge), but I’m sure that I can only boast in what Christ has done. He is still redeeming the lost. He is still raising up pastors who heed the call and humbly lead his church.
God is still equipping leaders today. The work continues as He masterfully engineers the character of men and women to reach the lost and minister to the broken. Not with metrics. Not with fancy strategies or fanciful thinking. But with His wisdom, He reaches beyond all understanding and into the hearts that yearn for more in this world.
Join me in this labor to advance His Kingdom. Let us boast in His work. Let us boast that we know Him:
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, emphasis added).
And so we strive. He is still working in our midst.