Hope International Ministries

Spiritual Fathers

By Pastor James Loke

The Old Testament closes with a prophecy about the need for fathers at the end of the age. This could be taken to include spiritual fathers as well

Mal 4:5-6
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.
6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

A natural parallel would be a father raising up his daughter to be the bride of someone. On the wedding day, the father proudly presents his daughter whom he has raised and developed her potential to a bridegroom. This reminds us of God the Father preparing the bride of Christ.

Paul was responsible for introducing the idea of spiritual father in 

1 Cor 4: 14-20
14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.
15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you.
19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.
20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Looking at this passage, we can deduce a few things. Spiritual fathers: father-sons-1

  • 1. Have a real heart for their spiritual children (v 14-16)
    Paul here bares his heart as a heart of care and concern. He deals with the issues tactfully with great love. In other places, Paul talks about praying for his spiritual children and nurturing them
  •  2. desire growth in their spiritual children (v 16-17)
    One key area is to develop and help spiritual children realize their full potential in Christ. Paul always makes great effort to ensure that this is actualized. He uses various means to make sure that this does happen, and always teaches and imparts to his best. He wants those under his care to reflect the glory of Christ.
  •  3. exercise accountability with their spiritual children (v 18-19)
    Paul is transparent with his spiritual children and he wants them to be likewise with him. He takes great pains to make sure that they are growing and if they fall out of line he is direct in no uncertain terms with them yet with that loving spirit which fosters communication

The following table summarizes some pitfalls that can occur in practice as Christians seek to be spiritual fathers.

Dominating Fathers 

  • Function as if they are the source of guidance for people’s lives.
  • Emphasize the functioning of leaders
  • Set leaders apart and give them special privileges.
  • Seek to control people’s actions and establish an unhealthy dependence on leaders.
  • Emphasize the importance of the leaders ministering to others.
  • Introduce rules and laws to control people and coerce them to conform to a mold set by leaders.

Fathers in the Lord 

  • Believe that God is the source of guidance and desire to help other Christians learn to hear His voice.
    Jn 5:19, Jn 14:26, Jn 16:13
  • Emphasize the responsibilities of leaders.
    1 Pet 5:1-3
  • Emphasize the members of the body of Christ serving one another, with the Lord as the focus.
    1 Pet 4:10-11
  • Encourage people to be dependent on God.
    Phil 4:13
  • Emphasize the importance of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.
    Eph 4:11-12Provide an atmosphere of trust and grace to encourage spiritual growth.
    2 Pet 3:18

Adapted from The Father Heart of God by Floyd McClung, page 91