March 2010

Everyone Needs a Nathan

March 30 2010 by Bill Wilson

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, far too often we 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.

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.
3/30/2010 3:27:00 AM by Bill Wilson | with 0 comments

Pruning lessons

March 24 2010 by Bill Wilson

’Tis the season to be about pruning. As an avid gardener with multiple fruit trees in my yard, I find myself thinking a great deal about pruning this time of year. Gardeners know that each type of fruit tree requires a specific type of pruning. Peach trees, for example, should look like an upside-down umbrella when pruning is finished. Apple trees, however, require a central leader that takes precedence over all competing branches. The result is a pyramid shape that requires annual renewal.

The first year of an apple tree’s life, one must identify the central leader and ruthlessly prune back all challengers. That central leader becomes the main trunk of the tree. It must always be the tallest part of the tree, and each year it is necessary to eliminate rivals that shoot up and challenge the central leader for supremacy.

I visit and talk with many churches who could learn this lesson from the apple tree. There can only be one central leader, and all rivals must be subservient to it. Pruning an apple tree means eliminating perfectly good sprouts that seem intent on challenging the central leader.

Now, before the ministers in the crowd are tempted to think I am talking about everyone giving way to their leadership, I need to clarify. A strong and healthy local church must be crystal clear about its ultimate reason for existing. That is their central leader. The central leader is not a person, but a reason for being. The mission and vision of a local church must be held in higher esteem than any of a thousand good ideas that come calling or winsome personalities with their pet causes. In fact, pruning is sometimes called for so that rival visions and agendas do not challenge the ultimate mission of a congregation.

That mission, the kingdom of God coming here on earth as it is in heaven, was explicitly taught by Jesus and spelled out in the pages of the New Testament. Every congregation would do well to spend time learning and articulating their distinctive understanding of what it means to make His mission Our mission.

A friend recently shared with me this remarkable quote from Craig Van Gelder. “It is not the church of God that has a mission in this world, but the God of mission that has a church in the world…God is on the move and the church is always catching up with Him. We join His mission…”

Have you stopped to ask if you are living out His mission? Far too often we substitute programs for mission. We can even confuse missions with mission. Numerous churches fall for the idea that methods are supreme. They wear themselves out chasing ministry fads. The burning question for a church is not what style of music to sing or architecture to build or what age of a pastor to call. Our ultimate question is whether we will make God’s mission our mission.

When it comes to life in a congregation in the 21st century, the good is often the enemy of the best. Well-intentioned ideas crowd out our organizing center. Jesus was unrelenting about this dilemma: “Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” The Kingdom was the central leader in His life, and his church is invited to follow suit.

Some days when I am pruning a fruit tree and look down to see all the branches that have been discarded in the process, I am tempted to doubt the wisdom of pruning. Can’t I let them all live and thus have more fruit? It is not to be. There can only be one central leader. There can only be one compelling central mission. Everything else must give way for the tree to bear fruit as God intended.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilson is the president of the Center for Congregational Health.)
3/24/2010 10:34:00 AM by Bill Wilson | with 0 comments