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Five promises of a spiritual father

On a maudlin note, did I ever tell you guys how much I love you? I can do that in my living room behind a computer – it’s not too embarrassing. Read thru some of the blog comments from the last two days and you’ll see how the body of Christ lifts the spirit. I don’t know if I underscored the poin…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

On a maudlin note, did I ever tell you guys how much I love you? I can do that in my living room behind a computer – it’s not too embarrassing. Read thru some of the blog comments from the last two days and you’ll see how the body of Christ lifts the spirit. I don’t know if I underscored the point enough in yesterday’s blog.

When I said it was the word of the Lord that keeps me going, most often that shows up in the form of encouragement from my brothers and sisters in Christ. If you want to give someone a word from God today, tell them something about themselves that you know makes God smile. That’s as sure-fire a way to bring the kingdom to their lives as I know.

Yesterday, my son made me proud in Swaziland. He helped carry baby Moses’ dying mom to the funeral. And then he delivered the eulogy. Today he wrote this blog about it. I couldn’t be more proud of a son.

This fathering thing is emotionally wrenching. This morning I’m thinking about the concept of “spiritual fathering.” I’ll never forget teaching discipleship to a group of young people in Philadelphia about four years ago. Just before starting, God spoke to me and said, “This is a fatherless generation.” I guess I’m kind of obtuse. My parents raised me to be strong and self-sufficient. I had a warm home. My dad provided for us. So the idea of not having a father in one’s life hadn’t really penetrated my reality. As I looked at the young people and felt God’s heart for them, it blew me away.

Later, I felt God giving me a choice between being a father or being a manager. I’m a good manager. Most things I manage do well. That role is a place of safety. I just naturally think about what needs to happen next organizationally. God was saying, “Leave that place of comfort.” And after considering, I chose the role of being a father.

I’ve been trying to extract myself from management ever since. You have to leave before you can cleave.

Everywhere I go, it seems people are looking for spiritual fathers. Paul said we don’t have many – they’re in short supply. Karen and I are just about done rearing our kiddos – we think they’re pretty awesome, but they’re making their own decisions at this stage. So now we’re focusing our attention on becoming a spiritual mom and dad to many of their peers. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying. We’re making it our aim to help fulfill the heart cry of many to anchor themselves. There’s no manual for this – we’re making it up as we go along. But we’re putting ourselves out there, and as we do so, we find that our availability smacks into a great father-hunger in a generation of young people.

If discipling is waking up to one’s identity and role in the Kingdom of God, then a spiritual father is the one who often does the rousing. “WAKE UP!” We yell, yanking them out of comfort zones. Mothers tend to want to keep their children around the house or in the neighborhood, whereas fathers push them out into the big, bad world. Gary Black is doing that with Seth, Jr. in Swaziland – showing him Covenant and Kingdom. It’s one of the most precious gifts anyone has ever given me – I think I’d take a bullet for Gary.

If that’s the point of spiritual fathering, then there are certain promises a spiritual father makes. The five I list below hold for spiritual moms as well. I list them here for guys since we seem to struggle more to find our roles in this regard.

  1. You can trust me.
  2. I’ll believe the best about you.
  3. I’ll be there for you.
  4. I’ll share my life with you.
  5. I’ll tell you the truth.

All are a function of the criteria for being a spiritual coach (which I discuss in some detail here). The difference in being a spiritual father is that you make a commitment to be in the disciple’s life for the long-term, whereas being a spiritual coach is a more short-term proposition.

Because people often don’t live up to their promises, a person’s status as a spiritual father or mother can only really be confirmed in the rearview mirror of life as the promises are fulfilled over the long-term. To say “I’ll be your spiritual father” and then fail in one or more of these promises is to underscore the lies the disciple may have absorbed about all the father figures they’ve ever had. Instead of lifting that young person up, it wedges them deeper in the isolation of their orphan spirit.

Stated more plainly, if as a father you make the promise, “I’ll be there for you” and then you leave the disciple dangling at one of life’s crossroads, then the pain of all the old father wounds begin to throb.

What’s true in building trust in business or marriage is true in spiritual fathering – better to under-promise and over-deliver. Better to set expectations low and exceed them. Young people have been lied to so regularly that they have grown cynical. Better to avoid all the drama of dashed hopes by only voicing those promises that you know you can deliver on.

Here are the two promises I’d begin with:“I’ll believe the best about you” and “I’ll tell you the truth.” You may have to change your thinking. You’re not allowed to criticize and you’re not allowed to hedge. But keep those promises, and over time, trust will come – you’ll be on your way to becoming a spiritual father to someone you love.

Comments (18)

  • Oh the beauty of it! I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg. I told Gary I’d follow him to CO today. I guess there’s my next step.

  • thank you for the reminder that ministry is more than prepping lessons or making sure every detail is covered. It is all about 1 Cor. 11:1, it is about showing my guys that they too can be leaders. They too can experience the freedom to rise above their background and follow Christ boldly.

    Thank you for your honesty and transparency here. It helps give me the courage to do the same in my circle of influence.

  • Okay, I like this, but is it any different with being a spiritual mother? Does gender play a role in how we go about mentoring in this way?

  • I don’t think there is a difference with gender. I have a spiritual mother, and she fulfills every single one of those roles and promises.
    I also think you can know the status of spiritual father/mother sooner than in the rearview mirror of life. Just living everyday with you should fulfill most of these promises, and if anything traumatic happens that persons status will be “tested” as well. From recent experience my spiritual mother has proved herself 10 times over, and I thank God everyday for a friend/mentor like her. She is truly a blessing in my life, and if you can find a person like that you are truly blessed.

  • Tara bruce *(WR July 2008)

    Reading this I am reminded that I have a couple really incredible Spiritual sisters, but not a spiritual mother. I am going to begin to pray for a spiritual mother.

  • So true. One of the issues I see and also struggle with isn’t lack of a physically present father, but a father that is distant – always working, not there when he comes home because the work follows. I’ve seen and experiences the issues when parents sacrifice their kids on the altar of money, prestige, status. Excellent list to help out with my own parenting. And if Jr. needs a place to crash in CO, send him my way!

  • Do girls need spiritual mothers and boys need spiritual fathers? or is there a crossing there where a girl can have a spiritual father? How does that change the relationship? Or should that be avoided?

  • Good call here, Laura. I think when Paul talks to Timothy and calls him his spiritual son, he makes reference to the women in his life and how big of a spiritual role they’ve played. Yet, are his mother and grandmother spiritual parents or predecessors, or does Paul play an irreplaceable role in his life? Where is Tim’s earthly dad?

    Did they “sow the seed” and Paul has come to do the reaping? Very interesting stuff here.

    As I still process this, I think that both young men and women need spiritual fathers. A father plays a very specific role in one’s life that cannot be filled by a motherly figure. Of course, God can be both mother and father, but the fact that he is Abba is significant, I think. Nonetheless, is there a role that a spiritual mother can play? What does that look like? Where in scripture do we see this? Just questions as I work thru this myself.

  • Seth,
    Missed the blog for a few days – just spent some time catching up.

    I echo what someone else said. We read your blog and trust you because of your heart for God, your openness and your vulnerability, not because you are some omnipotent oracle (though you have great wisdom). At least that’s why I read it.

    I’ve never seen you in action as a spiritual father, but it’s obvious that you love much, making things “emotionally wrenching” as you put it. It was true of Paul as well.

    Thanks for not giving up. God bless you Seth.

  • #1 and #2 are what got me here! And #3 followed soon after.

    Thanks Seth. I don’t say it enough 🙂

  • Ah, the need for fathers. The plight of a fatherless generation truly breaks my heart. However, the importance of a spiritual father CANNOT be underestimated. I grew up with a loving father who gave all of himself for his three girls… and yet I still long for that spiritual authority in my life. A generation it seems is rising up, being taught that the should depend upon only themselves as the world is full of lies and broken promises… but we are all so ill-equipped and so tired.

  • I am a father with a boy andd a girl almost adult,I want to answer to Laura…I srongly feel that girls need a father figure as well as boys….Fatherlessness in today`s America is havin a negative impact on BOTH boys and girls..a few years ago one night as I was praying about my ministry with the youth at my home church,it seemed God opened my eyes to the plight of fatherless daughters…anyway right now in my life my real desire is to father spiritually children and teenagers both boys AND girls.John,in his Epistles,when he addressed his “little children”he ment BOTH men and women.

  • I think there is a gender difference. When God sent His annointed, He sent the man Jesus Christ. Mothers do have their role, but a Father is a male person.

    When God created Man, male and female created Him, and female was taken out of male and given a distinct specific and clear cut role as mother. We cannot confuse or mix the genders here because that is what the world and the devil would like for us to do.

  • What happens after you have done intercession for six years with your spiritual mother and one day she says I ahve throw you out of the nest because God told her to..I am not sure what all this means she stated I should take it as a promation that God can trust me to pray with others out side of her shadow….really really confused

  • Tracey,

    Ask her to help you understand what she’s thinking. Anyone who has got that kind of influence in your life needs to spend time helping you understand.

    Let me know if you’d like help – I’d be happy to get someone to email your spiritual mom and seek clarification.


  • I think God may have given me a spiritual father but he doesn’t seem comfortable with the title. Some things happened where he filled the role wonderfully but when I tried to mention it, he seemed to shy away. So I don’t know if God will have him to be my spiritual father or not. I would like to let him know that I don’t really need one, sort of like I feel like I need to “let him off the hook.” He actually is a spiritual father and a great one but maybe he’s just really new at it and not used to the whole thing. At times, he’s anchored me and kept me from running away and helped me to see things I didn’t before. He’s definitely worth hanging on to and waiting out any jitters as a spiritual dad. I just don’t want him to feel pressured so I should back away maybe. I will pray about what to do. Will you please say a prayer also as led by God? That would be great.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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