The Most Powerful Form of Discipleship
SPIRITUAL FATHERING & MOTHERING
In my last blog I spoke of discipleship and what it looks like to produce a really mature follower of Jesus. There were three things I addressed in that blog that are very present in spiritual fathering and mothering. 1) Parenting is about providing a model of life that others can imitate. 2) Being present IS discipleship. 3) Finally, and this is so important – not merely telling a young disciple what to do, but teaching them to think. For spiritual fathering and mothering as discipleship to occur there are several things that have to happen.
First, there must be a deep relational connection to the person that you are pouring into. It has to work both ways for it to work. It isn’t enough that the spiritual “parent” is willing to pour into a young Jesus follower, the follower must be willing to receive. The great tragedy is that there is an “orphan” spirit in the church today. It’s very individualistic and autocratic. Sadly, ministry has become a place of self and personal significance and self-fulfillment more than it is about security as a child of God and extending his glory and not our own. We come into spiritual parenting generally by brokenness or a deep desire of intimacy with God. We see that intimacy in someone else filled with a credible walk with God in life.
Second, the goal of a spiritual parent isn’t a new way to build your own kingdom, it’s the biblical way of deploying people in God’s Kingdom and releasing them. You see in biological families the challenge some parents have is letting go of their children. They want them to fulfill their own unfulfilled desires and dreams. This is never healthy. Conversations with grown children and directives for toddlers and adolescents are very different. This discipleship that I write about is that which is done with grown children. I have several spiritual fathers – I go to get their advice, counsel, and prayer. I don’t always go to get their approval. I’m sad because many of my spiritual fathers are in their 70’s and 80’s now and they won’t be around forever. Each one of them give me something different. We cannot expect our spiritual fathers to be everything for us – they can only be what they are and what God has given them. It involves listening and understanding the follower of Jesus – not making them in your image. They have a divine destiny – your goal is not to make them into your image but help them grow in the image of Jesus.
Third, every child needs a father and a mother. A single parent child needs aunts, uncles, grandparents, and close family friends to help fill in those gaps when both parents are not present. Many would balk at this but I believe it’s psychologically core to why the Catholic Church views Mary as it does. We all need a father, and we all need a mother. I believe the father/mother characteristics are present not in merely male and female designations but in the Trinity. When you read about the Holy Spirit, and the God of all comfort, the Spirit living in us, and so many other metaphors – as well as Jesus and how he loves you cannot escape it. Paul writes clearly neither male nor female. Sometimes I need to hear my mom’s voice. If all we ever hear is the masculine side of God, we will wind up lop-sided.
Fourth, spiritual parenting involves spiritual sons and daughters being with you in your context so they can watch you. All of us have things we do effectively without thinking, these actions are second nature to us – but not to others. I read a lot of books, but I’m not an academic. I have to put my hands on something and do it to understand it. So much of my learning has been reverse engineering. I would start doing something, it would work enough that I knew I was on to something – then I read like crazy. Having your spiritual children present in all kinds of circumstances teaches them all kinds of things.
Fifth, spiritual fathering and mothering means giving young followers some responsibility and watching them. Help them do it – allow for them to mess up. Nothing, and I mean nothing – gives me joy like watching my spiritual children teach, lead, execute things that they’ve seen in me. Recently, I was at various meetings where several of the young men I disciple were speaking – I heard so much at what I’ve taught them it simply freaked me out. I realized that what I taught them had gone deep inside of them and had became a part of them as it had me. I listened to one talk about church planting, another at a secular event on the public square, another at a multi-faith event – I was simply blown away. I hadn’t realized how much I had shared they had taken hold of. It was perhaps the happiest day of my ministry. I don’t worry what happens when I’m gone. They’ll take it all to a new level before I’m gone and I’m truly blessed!
Finally, spiritual parenting involves affirming and correcting without stifling. People are desperate for affirmation. They don’t always get it from their fathers and mothers. A little affirmation publicly – but all correction privately. When something is done or said publicly it sometimes demands a public response. I’ve learned to say, “I love you but I disagree here, and this is why . . .” I have been corrected publicly and that isn’t always fun. But sometimes, it’s good for all of us as long as it’s done in a positive manner.
There is one very serious note of caution on spiritual fathering . . . but I’ll save that for another blog!
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.