We need the words of both a Jonathan and a Nathan in our lives

It seems that more and more leaders are getting into bigger and bigger problems. Both men and women making serious mistakes of judgment with a huge price tag attached. The Bible as well is loaded with fallen leaders. Bobby Clinton, from Fuller Seminary, has come to the conclusion that only about 30% of leaders finish well. One of the common threads in the lives of fallen leaders is lack of close accountability relationships. Leaders, because of their personality makeup, the nature of the responsibilities they carry and the accompanying pressures and expectations tend to go it alone and not build close relationships. In my experience, it is truer of men than of women.

One biblical character that offers helpful lessons in this area is King David. One of the things that David had going for him was his relationship with Jonathan. I Samuel 18:1 say of their relationship, “Jonathan became one in spirit with David and he loved him as himself.” I Samuel 23:16 reads: “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” The special relationship these two men shared was a constant source of encouragement and guidance for David in a dark and doubtful period of his life.

I believe that every leader needs a Jonathan in his life to encourage him and be a close friend. I talk with a lot of pastors and leaders; and, quite frankly, it is rare to find a leader with a Jonathan.  Leaders desperately need to talk to someone and often find it difficult to do so with their followers or even leadership peers (too much competition and comparing). Leadership can be a very lonely and hazardous calling. Jonathan’s counterpart in the NT would probably be Barnabus, whose name actually means “son of encouragement.” Paul made it, in part, because he had Barnabus.

Having a Jonathan is an excellent start. But not enough. We need one more. If leaders are to survive the fast-paced, high-pressured, intense and demanding times in which they find themselves and not succumb to some morally compromising situation, they need a Nathan to confront them. If finding a Jonathan is hard, locating a Nathan borders on the miraculous. David had Nathan as well as Jonathan. Nathan’s biggest contribution to David’s life is found in II Samuel 11:7.

After he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, Nathan called a spade a spade by putting his bony prophetic finger in David’s face and saying, “you are the man.” When David was down, Jonathan lifted him up and when David was up to his ears in sin, Nathan brought him to confession and contriteness. The result of Nathan’s bold and loving action is recorded for us in Psalm 51

I believe that one of the main reasons we are seeing so many leaders get side-lined in their prime, plateaued, or flat out quitting is the lack of at least one Nathan in their close circle of friends. A person to whom we give permission to ask the questions we had hoped no one would ever have to ask and to be brutally honest in responding.

Some years ago our family moved, leaving behind a Sunday school class that I had taught for three years. In my last time with them I told them that I was thankful for the experience of the class. I heard enough from them to keep me encouraged and enough also to keep me humble.

I had both Jonathans and Nathans in that class. It kept me in balance. I had the privilege of hearing one of Billy Graham’s associates (with him from the beginning) respond to the question about how Dr. Graham keeps perspective and stays humble in light of all his success and notoriety. His response is forever etched in my memory.

“Years ago we made a deal with Billy that if God kept him anointed, we would keep him humble.”

They would fill the role of Nathans to balance the Jonathans of which Graham seems to have had plenty. I have personally found it much harder to recruit Nathans than Jonathans and I desperately need both. There seems to be more people with the gift of mercy and encouragement than people with the gift of exhortation and prophecy. Writer Bruce Bugbee defines prophecy as the “divine enablement to proclaim God’s truth with power and clarity in a timely and culturally sensitive fashion for correction, repentance or edification.” When done on a personal basis, it is the gift of “Nathanism.” I close with a few observations:

  • Too much Jonathan and not enough Nathan can leave you  plateaued and mediocre
  • Too much Nathan and not enough Jonathan can leave you depressed and discouraged
  • The Jonathans will come but you will probably have to hunt for a gut-honest Nathan
  • I seriously doubt if you will reach your true potential over the long haul without at least one of each