Does Every Christian Need A Spiritual Father?
Today’s post is an excerpt from the booklet Are You My Spiritual Father? It’s adapted from a section of I Am Persuaded: Christian Leadership As Taught By Jesus. I’m already getting feedback about how much it’s encouraging people. This teaching goes against the “conventional wisdom” of many churches and leaders we are familiar with. Yet it’s scriptural. It also fits closely with the message of some of the best church-planting teachers in the world—such as Brian Hogan, who coaches people in planting churches for YWAM. No matter how offensive the notion of trusting God and letting go may be, these people have fruit to show for it.
Every Christian Has A Perfect Spiritual Father—God!
Some who emphasize fathering refer to Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Paul and Timothy. There are certainly things that we can learn from these relationships, yet often insightful questions are not asked: “Who was Moses’ spiritual father, Elijah’s spiritual father, or Paul’s spiritual father?” The assumption that every believer needs to have a “spiritual father” leads us into several serious problems.
First, when it’s believed that every Christian must find a human “spiritual father,” the immediate implication is that they are fatherless if they do not have one! This totally misses the abundance of Scripture pointing conclusively to God as our all-sufficient father. There’s much contemporary teaching about “spiritual fathers” that assumes those who don’t have a “spiritual father” are lacking, and that those who don’t feel they want or need a “spiritual father” have an “orphan spirit,” or a spirit of slavery. This kind of teaching misses these fundamental gospel truths Paul gives us in Romans:
Romans 8:14-17 (KJV) For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
Some would reply, “Well, in speaking of the need for spiritual fathers, we didn’t mean to say that God is not our father. But we need other fathers too.” Is that what Jesus taught? As a natural father, if another person believes that my child absolutely needs his “fathering,” he implies that I’m not doing a very good job! Sometimes an overemphasis on “fathering” stems from leaders being fearful that God won’t do what he said he would do. Yet, God has said he would be a father to each of us—this is foundational to our faith and should give us great assurance.
I’ve heard several experienced church planters say that one of the most important things they needed to learn was how to let go of people and thereby commend believers to God and to the word of his grace. Paul gives us this precise example in his words to the Ephesians in Acts 20:32. In other words, God led these church planters into an understanding of where their role ended and where they were to entrust the believers to him. It’s essential for leaders to trust the Holy Spirit to lead the disciples into all truth. No one but the Holy Spirit can do this! Elders need to know that although they play a part in God’s fathering of young disciples, they can never completely fill the role of being a disciple’s “spiritual father.” This is God’s role!
Do You Really Have An Orphan Spirit, Or Have You Been Lied To?
If we teach that every Christian needs to find a spiritual father, not only do we go beyond what Scripture says, but we also mistakenly emphasize a need for something that the believer has already received according to the gospel. It’s like constantly telling young Christians they need forgiveness! If they believe that, they are missing what the gospel says about turning to God and receiving his once and for all forgiveness, and so will continue to walk in condemnation!
Likewise, if disciples are constantly being told they need a “spiritual father” and they believe it, they are missing the gospel and will continue to feel like orphans. They will believe that they need something they already have in Christ. Young believers do not need to be adopted; rather, they need to learn the gospel truth that they have already been adopted and have received the Spirit of adoption.
God is saying to the believer, “You are my son! I have given you the Spirit of adoption. You have an inheritance. I am your wonderful Father.” In conflict with this, men are teaching that same person that he lacks all of these things. When the Christian listens to that erroneous teaching and either doubts or has never learned what he received at salvation, he will have a nagging sense of lack until he recognizes the error and believes the gospel. Recognizing that he already received son-ship, inheritance, and the Spirit of adoption when he was born again will give him assurance to hear and obey God.
When believers feel that they need to find some elder to adopt them and become their spiritual parent, this interferes with their relationship with the Lord. It interferes with the young Christian knowing how to relate properly to the Lord and look to God as his or her father.
I’ve heard of many cases where the idea that believers need to find a spiritual father to adopt them has greatly frustrated those who couldn’t find someone with the time or energy to sow into their lives as Paul did in Timothy’s life. Even when they did find someone, they often ended up looking to that person in an unhealthy way. The faith of some began to rest more on their relationship with that person than on the Lord.