The Great Need of Christians For Spiritual Fathers

Compared to Teachers, They are Rare

Finding a spiritual father has been a life-long goal of mine. One is not easy to find. They hide in solitude and silence. They are simple and unconcerned about publicity. They are among us yet we’re blind to their presence. I’ll not give up my search. However, I may need to adjust my expectations.  

My own biological father, Joel Kettenring, helped me know God by his example and by his preaching. He possessed a  great heart for God and a wholehearted dedication to serving Him. He probably had a lot more to offer me spiritually than I was looking for at the time. Yet, I was deeply influenced by his obvious desire to know God more deeply.

Perhaps his example stirred in me a desire for a “spiritual father” – a man whose ongoing experience of God is deeply transforming his life; a man being humbled as he struggles to die to self and live in Christ.  

Thankfully, I’ve had many fatherly men in my life. They were influential at a particular time moving me along in my journey to the Father. Pastor Joe and Pastor Bill, Drs. Wayne, Klaus, Dallas, and Tom were instrumental in showing me a meaning of Father whether as a shepherd, teacher, or unofficial mentor. I am eternally grateful that they showed me what a true father is and what he is not. 

I’ve learned two realities on this father-journey: 

  1. Only God the Father can be the father my heart longs for.
  2. The journey is about becoming a spiritual father as much as finding a spiritual father (even though I know I need one to become one). 

Apostle Paul 

The Apostle knew the crucial significance of a spiritual father in the life of the Christian. We need instructors and teachers. But our greater need is for fathers who live authentic Christian lives worth imitating. They are much more rare, harder to find, easy to miss. 

St. Paul writes (I Corinthians 4.15-16) – For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you have not many fathers…Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (in other letters he writes something similar – 1 Cor. 11.1 Imitate me as I imitate Christ, Phil 3.17, 1 These 1.6, 2 Theses 3.9)) 

True spiritual fathers have the credibility to say, “Imitate me” since they have the genuine life in Christ to back it up. 

Teachers 

Today we have a myriad (Gr. murious) of instructors (NKJV –  “ten thousand;” innumerable). Everywhere you turn, there are instructors. In church you have pastors, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, elders or deacons. In schools there are professors, researchers, and teachers. There are countless books by instructors. Thousands of websites by writers. Hundreds of conferences loaded with speakers. Friends with advice. Well-meaning relatives who preach their opinions. People communicating through movies, books, brochures, CDs, radio podcasts, satellite radio, seminars, webinars, ebooks, and bumper stickers. Instructors are a dime a dozen. 

We have more than enough “paidogogos” (Gr.) – meaning: trainers, instructors, teachers, guides, guardians, tutors.  

These instructors pass on information. They appeal to the intellect. They want you to think better, make informed judgments, stimulate your brain, refine your reasoning, become smarter, grasp arguments, comprehend ideas, and sharpen your reasoning. They seek to persuade with logic and emotion. 

They don’t necessarily need to follow their own teaching. The idea is: as long as the information is good, they are good. 

Fathers 

Fathers may want all this for you, too. But they understand the real necessity to live what they teach so much so that they hesitate to teach truth unless they are living it. They know God relationally and experientially. They are more about experiencing life in Christ than trying to analyze and explain it. 

This kind of “spiritual” father can truly have authority and exercise responsibility because he/she lives God’s life – dying to self; repenting of wrongdoing; battling sin, flesh, the world, and satan; humbly submitting to a higher authority, and actually participating in God’s will. 

Above all, these spiritual fathers model life in Christ. They are real-life examples of living death, purposeful struggle, moment-by-moment communion with God, bold humility, loving kindness, joyful peace, faithful long-suffering, true wisdom, and beautiful goodness. They manifest the qualities of gentleness, humility, patience, compassion, discernment, and love. 

They are rare indeed. 

They are not interested in simply passing on information. They want to BE the information they pass on. 

Their goal? Again, we turn to the Apostle Paul: My little children, of whom I travail in birth until Christ be formed in you  (Galatians 4.19).

A true spiritual father wants nothing more than to see Jesus Christ in his children. Therefore, he wants nothing more than to see Jesus Christ in his/her own life. 

Today

Let’s be honest. We have plenty of Christian leaders who want something different than this. They’re devoted to building or maintaining their own little kingdoms (church, school, organization, online platform) and finding people to follow them into it. They’re dedicated to persuading people to a certain theological way of thinking. They’re committed to helping others become better people, changing the world to become a better place, or raising family members to be good. And they do this by instruction. 

Rare is the leader who, out of their own Christlikeness, influences others in becoming like Jesus as they follow their example.  

What we have are scores of teachers who, on occasion, act like fathers. What we need are fathers who, on occasion, act like teachers. 

Let’s make this really practical for a second. A big mistake often made by fathers to their children is to focus on instructing them rather than being a father to them. I write from personal experience. Ugh! It’s much easier to tell our children what to do, or demand it of them, than guide them gently, lovingly, and patiently. Our heavenly Father relates to us as a Father who lovingly guides by example and patience. We need to do the same. If you’ve blown it in the past with your children, there’s no better time to become more fatherly than now. Ask their forgiveness for being so demanding and begin building a Christ-like relationship with them as you become more like Christ. 

I’m confident there are true spiritual fathers out there. They’re hidden in their humility and total devotion to Jesus and His ways. They are not popular or even well known. 

I’m also confident I’m not close to being one. I’m far too worldly, self-absorbed, judgmental, and unloving to qualify. To find one, I look through a window not into a mirror. 

I”d love for us all to find a spiritual father here on earth. Perhaps, while we’re searching, we can seek to imitate Jesus Christ and the Apostles. 

Are you up to the challenge? Few are. I hope you are an exception. 

Share your thoughts about spiritual fatherhood below. 

Dr. K 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “The Great Need of Christians For Spiritual Fathers

  1. “What we have are scores of teachers who, on occasion, act like fathers. What we need are fathers who, on occasion, act like teachers.”

    Amen.

    • That’s my favorite line from this post. Do great minds actually think alike? If it’s you and me, that could be real dangerous!!! Blessings to you, brother. Keith

  2. It has been a desire, a goal, for the both of us to live as Christ-like as possible.
    As we look to others, our contemporaries, and elders in the faith, we often seek to see Christ in them, because we want to “see” evidence of God working in others lives, so that we will have confirmation that He can, and will work in ours…
    Brother, He IS at work! Praise the Lord Jesus! He is a wonderful, glorious, merciful, and graceful Lord. Thank you Lord… thank you brother.

    • Blessings to you and Sally. Let’s seek to become what we seek in others while keeping our eyes on Jesus. Blessings to you, brother!! Keith

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