Malachi 4:6 And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
The other day I felt the Lord impress me about the issue of spiritual fathering in a way I have not considered before. My thoughts on this issue have developed quite a bit over the last 15 years. I have often prayed for the Lord to raise up spiritual fathers who would minister to and lead the next generation of believers. I primarily saw the responsibility lying with the spiritual fathers to turn to the spiritual sons and daughters engaging them in a relationship of encouragement, accountability, and discipleship. I never considered the responsibility the sons and daughters may have.
It seems obvious to me now that the spiritual father only carries half of the responsibility. The other half lies with the sons & daughters. Rereading Malachi 4:6 makes it clear…”He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children AND THE HEARTS OF THE CHILDREN TO THE HEARTS OF THEIR FATHERS. There must be a turning of the hearts of the sons and daughters for the spiritual fathering relationship to exist.
We definitely have a spiritual fathering problem, however half of the reason is because we have a “spiritual following” problem. Sons and daughters don’t know how to relate to spiritual fathers. This lack of “spiritual following” inhibits the ability of fathers to impart truth and minister to sons & daughters.
Many times people have been wounded by fathers and thus maintain an aloof attitude toward leadership. Because of past challenges they make would-be spiritual fathers “earn” the right to be considered a father in their life. Ordinarily, unless the spiritual father spends many hours with them, hanging out, giving them lots of one on one attention, etc, they do not respect the leader as a father. This attitude hampers the relationship and impact spiritual fathers can have in their lives.
The Apostle Paul was undoubtedly the spiritual father of the church at Corinth. Though Paul only lived in Corinth 18 months, he could rightly identify himself as their spiritual father, having planted the church, cared for them and ministered to their specific needs. It’s doubtful though, that Paul had a daily intimate relationship with every believer in the church. He had a deep love for the people and an obvious sense of responsibility for their spiritual health. However, if Paul had been required to meet the needs of every believer in a personal, relational way in order to be considered their spiritual father, he would never have met the requirement. Clearly a spiritual father cannot be required to spend lots of one on one time with every person in a congregation to be considered a spiritual father.
For spiritual fathers to be accepted by sons and daughters, they can’t be required to earn the title through hours of personal time and attention. No spiritual father is able to do that. Simply because a leader is not able to spend personal time with every believer in his care, he is not disqualified from being a spiritual father.
At this point, some may have the attitude that they don’t want a spiritual father unless he is intimately involved in their life. Don’t allow yourself to have this attitude. You will benefit greatly by being thankful for the leadership that God has placed in your life and seeing the positive role a spiritual father plays for a community, even if you don’t have a deep personal relationship with Him.
Most people are actually interested in what I call “Spiritual Parents.” These are people who ‘adopt’ them into their family and help guide their life daily. Though this can be a special relationship the Lord orchestrates, there is not a biblical model for this on a large scale.
Consider it, Jesus had hundreds of followers, 120 who made it to the upper room, 12 disciples and 3 who were “inner circle.” Of the 12, He lost one. Jesus, the best spiritual father ever, only had the capacity, as a man, to invest deeply in 12 in His earthly ministry.
The apostle Paul only identified Titus and Timothy as his “True Sons.” I don’t deny that the Lord, at times, places a spiritual orphan in an individual family, but it’s the exception and not the norm. More often than not the Lord adds us to a broader spiritual family, a local community of believers, and there are spiritual fathers who give leadership and governance to the overall community. It’s still a spiritual family and there are still spiritual fathers, it’s just not the “one on one” model that many desire.
The spiritual father over a community has a God-given responsibility and genuine affection for the entire congregation. It is important that the community of believers receive him as a father, regardless of whether or not he spends personal time with every individual. If he is God’s choice for the community, conducts himself in righteousness, demonstrates real care, love, service and gives himself for the benefit of others, receive him as a spiritual father. You may or may not get to know him very well personally. However, if you will receive his ministry in your life with an open heart, God will use it in a powerful way to declare His own nature. The role of the spiritual father is really to model and impart to the community the heart of the Eternal Father toward them.
I propose that if we become better spiritual followers more leaders will step into their calling as spiritual fathers and we will in turn benefit. If you find yourself embittered toward past father figures because they weren’t involved with you as deeply as you desired, could it be that you had an improper expectation of their involvement in your life? Could it be that you were supposed to receive the encouragement, instruction, and care the leader did offer as a blessing, rather than being disappointed and embittered toward him because he didn’t offer you enough one on one attention?
Let’s allow the Lord to speak to our hearts in this area and let’s be grateful for the impact spiritual fathers have had in our lives. Let’s forgive and release fathers we had an improper expectation toward. If we will honor and bless the fathers the Lord has given us, we will find ourselves experiencing the Eternal Father’s blessing in our lives.