You Don’t Have Many (Spiritual) Fathers

This title comes from I Corinthians 4:15: “You may have ten thousand mentors in Christ, but you don’t have many fathers.” The Apostle Paul is exhorting the Believers in Corinth as the one who led them to the Lord. He had discipled them. He had invested in them. Yet they were not following his leadership.

This is a common problem.

I’d like to utilize this passage to address the issue of spiritual fatherhood/motherhood, and speak about why so few spiritual parents are engaged in discipling younger believers.

Paul is frustrated. He is not seeing his kids exemplify the desired behavior. His “students” are failing. He hopes to restore the brokenness in the teaching/mentoring relationship.

Here are a few reasons why so few seasoned believers serve as spiritual mothers and fathers:

  • Few seasoned leaders have the patience to deal with less mature folks. It seems the older we get, the more we forget what it is like to be young. 
  • Not enough leaders are willing to invest the time, energy and resources needed to serve as a spiritual parent.  It’s much like couples who don’t want children so they won’t be tied down.
  • Some older leaders are intimidated by younger leaders. They feel insecure and are afraid they will lose something by raising up others. We must do better.
  • A few older leaders had no role model when they were developing. They never had the advantage of a spiritual parent, so they don’t know how to become one.  
  • Too many experienced leaders get caught up in methodologies and refuse to adjust or compromise their preferences. Their insistence on rigid adherence to traditions limits their effectiveness in leading less experienced leaders.
  • Some spiritual fathers forget that their spiritual children are children. They expect the relationship to be mutually beneficial. They think their son or daughter should affirm them. They may even “serve” with ulterior motives: to make themselves feel needed and appreciated. 
  • Some potential spiritual parents have discovered that there are few who are willing to be parented. Some spiritual children believe they already know it all. They refuse to sit, listen, learn. Or they only want a spiritual parent that will tell them what they want to hear; no correction, no rebuke, no discipline. And some are only looking for “cool” spiritual parents: the ones who look right, dress right, talk right and are popular.   
  • Some spiritual parents are put off by spiritual children who can’t wait for their parents to get out of the way so they can become the leaders. 

Here is what I’m learning about being a spiritual father: It’s very much like being a biological father. Especially when the “kids” are young, I do the work. I pay the bills. I initiate the communication. I overlook the immaturity. I provide the safety and instruction and covering. And I must be prepared for the slow maturing process to take shape. I may be ignored, forgotten, disrespected and even abandoned. But I am called to father these folks.  

As the children mature, my role transforms; I am less of a trainer and more of a cheerleader.  I’m proud as they excel right past me. I stand back and watch them flourish. I am still a father, but my responsibility changes to a supporter rather than a provider. And spiritual parents seldom are recognized for their children’s success. We must be more than OK with that. 

I am called by God to be a spiritual father. Sometimes that is a joy, at other times, a challenge. But if I refuse to serve as a spiritual father, I bear the responsibility of some precious individuals who will struggle. 

Thankfully, my spiritual sons and daughters are gradually maturing and becoming what God intended. 

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