Who is your Nathan? Every minister needs a Nathan. No exceptions.
You know Nathan, the bold truth-teller who finally broke through King David’s rationalizations and justifications. Nathan served the kingdom by speaking God’s truth to David’s deceptions. Only Nathan was able to show David the stark reality of his sin and the horrible consequences of his actions. Without Nathan, one is left to wonder if David would have ever repented and asked God for the restoration of the joy of his salvation.
The kind of truth Nathan supplied David is in short supply for far too many ministers. Many ministers live in the midst of people who either are fearful of speaking the truth to them or are so abrasive with the truth that clergy easily ignore or minimize them.
As a consequence, we too often watch as ministers veer far off the path God intends for them and end up in a place they never intended to go. Some of our brightest and best have been lost for lack of a Nathan to awaken them to their folly.
As a pastor, I was blessed to have a small cadre of Nathans who were able to speak honestly and forthrightly to me. I did not always appreciate them. In fact, there were times that I doubted their sincerity and their friendship. Once or twice, I questioned their salvation. Over time, however, I came to treasure them as they helped me understand that my self-awareness was sadly lacking and that I needed another pair of eyes to scan the landscape of my life.
Both men and women filled that role for me. Usually they have been older, but more than once they were about my age or younger. As I have thought through how I came to have a Nathan relationship at each place of ministry, a pattern has emerged.
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First, I had to get over a strong need to please everyone and a willingness to allow others to determine my self-worth. In effect, I needed to toughen myself up spiritually and force myself to hear the hard words of truth that were not always pleasant. Circumstances helped me with my delusions of perfection and prepared me for the needed truth-tellers to enter my life.
Second, I began to seek out those who possessed the personal spiritual traits of courage, conviction and wisdom. It’s not a big group, and there are many imposters. However, God led me to men and women in every setting who could speak the truth to me in love.
Third, I invited my Nathans to assume a role that they did not necessarily want to occupy. There will always be volunteers for the job of critiquing the minister. I was looking for those who would only do such a thing out of love, not spite.
Finally, I needed to be able to show that their honesty did not result in retribution, hurt feelings or resentment. When I was able to respond to sometimes unpleasant things without becoming unpleasant, then a new level of maturity and openness in our relationship unfolded.
One of the most sacred roles for a minister is to be invited into the inner life of a parishioner and allowed to speak God’s truth to sin, shortcomings or failings. It is a place fraught with peril and filled with opportunity. Likewise, when clergy allow others to do the same for them, God can use such a voice to bring clarity, humility, healing and energy.
I pray that you have a Nathan. If not, find one, and allow the Spirit to use him or her to help shape you more nearly into the image God has in mind for your life.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.