Ravi Zacharias is considered by many to be one of the greatest Christian apologists of our time. The founder of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Zacharias has authored numerous best-selling books, hosts radio programs, and teaches apologetics and evangelism at Oxford University. Even those who vehemently disagree with Zacharias are quick to acknowledge his superb intellectual abilities, and the excellence with which he pursues his unique calling as a “classical evangelist in the arena of the intellectually resistant.”
So what has it been like to grow up with Ravi as a father – and to work with him now in ministry? And while he may be best known as a brilliant philosopher with an unparalleled vocabulary, does he have a fun and casual side?
Nathan Zacharias, 31, is the youngest of the Zacharias’ three children. He currently works as Senior Writer and Video Producer in the Media Department at RZIM, creating written and visual content for marketing, fundraising, and broadcast. In addition to his work behind the scenes, Nathan is becoming an increasingly visible face of his father’s ministry, spearheading initiatives such as the “ASK” interactive youth apologetics curriculum.
“I didn’t think I would be involved in the ministry, and my goal right up until the last semester of college was to go into business,” said Nathan, who graduated from Taylor University in 2003 and is currently studying digital video production at NYU. “In terms of my job, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want people to know that I have my job because I’m good at what I do, not because I’m related to the founder.” Things have also been challenging at times when it comes to relationships with others. “I am very proud of my dad and it is an honor to be his son, but I want people to see me for who I am as an individual,” Nathan said, acknowledging that it has been tough to step out of his father’s shadow. “There have been instances in life where it was clear that certain people saw me for my last name and not my first.”
Nathan emphasizes that RZIM has been “extremely kind” to him and that the organization has allowed him to improve and develop in areas of needed growth. “I’m at a place personally now where I feel like I’m able to bring my own strengths and own personality to my role at RZIM, and I am very thankful for that,” he added. Even as RZIM has seen phenomenal growth around the world, it remains a family ministry as Nathan’s sister Sarah Zacharias Davis serves as executive director of RZIM, his sister Naomi as a Vice President and Director of Wellspring International (a RZIM outreach), and his wife Sarah Parker Zacharias as a Marketing and Development Associate at Wellspring.
While most people know Ravi as an incredibly deep thinker and profound speaker, those closest to him are quick to reference his compassion, humility, and constant desire to reach out to those in need. “My dad is the most generous person I’ve ever known,” said Nathan. “Whether it is someone who works at the office or someone who sells food from a cart in Thailand, my dad takes a personal interest in everyone he meets. He cares deeply about the needs of others, whether they be emotional, material, or spiritual.”
Nathan, whose down-to-earth personality is expressed in his unique sense of humor and good-natured banter, says his father has a lighthearted side as well. “My dad is a lot of fun,” he said. “I think people would be surprised to learn that while he can quote Chariots of Fire with the best, one of my dad’s all-time favorite movie quotes comes from The Three Amigos. (My dad loves the scene where the three friends are talking about what they will do with their share of the money. Lucky says, ‘A car. A big, shiny, silver car. I’ll drive all over Hollywood… show Flugleman a thing or two.’ Dusty says, ‘New York. Maybe Paris. A lot of champagne. Parties. Be a big shot for a while.’ Then Ned says, ‘I’m gonna start a foundation to help homeless children.’ After a pause, Dusty says, ‘That occurred to me to do that at one point too,’ and Lucky says, ‘I meant I would do that first, and then I would get a big, shiny car.’) He laughs every time!”
When recounting playful memories from growing up, Nathan jokingly describes his dad’s competitive nature. “He is an amazing ping-pong player. We used to have a table and I’d challenge him to matches. You might expect me to tell you all the times he let me win, but that didn’t happen,” he says. “I have quite the winless streak going.”
As we approach Father’s Day, I asked Nathan five questions about his relationship with his father:
RM: What is the most important lesson you have learned from your dad?
NZ: You don’t draw your strength from those with whom you serve; you draw it from the One you serve. There is a reason people who grow up in ministry joke about the scars that come from it… ministry can be a very painful profession, as some of the greatest wounds come at the hands of those who claim to love Christ. I’ve seen my dad endure a lot of hits in his time, and he would be the first to tell you that they have hurt. But he has never lashed out and never wavered in his commitment to Christ. His example impacts me every day.
RM: What do you find most rewarding about working with your dad at RZIM?
NZ: I wholeheartedly believe in the vision of my dad’s ministry, and the way in which he does it. It is a privilege to be able to help fulfill that vision.
RM: What do you find most challenging about working at RZIM?
NZ: The most challenging aspect is that I am someone who likes to compartmentalize when it comes to work… I love what I do, but I also love to flip the switch from “work hours” to “down time.” However, when it is something as personal as the ministry your parents started, there is no switch… it is woven into our lives 24/7.
RM: Any memorable reactions from encounters when people have realized you are Ravi Zacharias’s son?
NZ: Two encounters come to mind, both from the same event. Dad tells the story about how when I was little I was confused as to how a person developed their skin tone. With my mom being white, my dad Indian, and my sisters and I somewhere in between, I thought it was a progression over time. So one day I asked my dad when we all turned black. One event I was working the book table and there was a crowd around the resources. One person came up and then looked at me and said jokingly, “Hey Nathan, when do we turn black?” Needless to say, those who had not heard that story were quite confused and slightly offended. I had to tell the story to clarify. That same evening a woman came up and asked if I planned on becoming a speaker like my dad. I politely said no, but the expression on her face was the same one I gave when I found out that there was no Santa Claus.
RM: What encouragement or advice can you offer fathers and sons as we approach Father’s Day?
NZ: Dads, make sure to let your sons know they have the freedom to ask anything, even if the question concerns you. They need someone to talk to, and let them know you are willing to be that someone no matter what.
Sons, don’t be afraid to ask your dad questions about life, love, faith, anything. He’s got a lifetime of experience from which to help you, and he knows way more than you think he does!
Check out the rest of our Father’s Day series on the Faith & Family Channel:
From Resistance to Respect: A Conversation With Jonathan Youssef