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Where are our spiritual fathers?

I wrote about spiritual fathers in a blog last week. Paul says, “You don’t have many fathers.” You can read more about spiritual fathers and this quote here.The last comment on the blog (#13, from Valentina) captured the feeling of many blog readers. She said, “I grew up with a loving father wh…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I wrote about spiritual fathers in a blog last week. Paul says, “You don’t have many fathers.” You can read more about spiritual fathers and this quote here.

The last comment on the blog (#13, from Valentina) captured the feeling of many blog readers. She said, “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 they 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.”

My random poll of Christians shows that spiritual fathers are in very short supply indeed. Women, you people are doing OK – I’m addressing the men this morning. Where are these guys who, having seen the kingdom of God, have sold their treasures to acquire it as Jesus suggested? I looked for years and years for someone to show me the kingdom and no one could. So I asked this question: where are all the spiritual fathers?

This question perplexed me as I was raising my kids. I was making a lot of mistakes. Surely there was someone to show me the potholes ahead in the road. Not that some great guys didn’t show up in my life periodically. Larry Rybka helped me not lose heart when I was ready to give up on ministry. He and Jo helped Karen and I get a renewed vision for our marriage when our kids were little and we were struggling just to breathe.

And then, since the turn of the millennium, I have bonded for life with Andrew Shearman. I am so thankful I met these men of God.

I was on a hunt for someone older and wiser, and for years I came up empty handed – “why doesn’t the church produce spiritual fathers?” I asked. And now, as I approach the ripe old age of 50 in a couple of months (btw – if anybody has any jokes to crack about that, they can just keep them to themselves), I realize this stark fact – for whatever reason, they just don’t exist.

They became businessmen home late for dinner, pastors in their studies preparing Sunday’s sermon, and sportsmen eager for the next game. They’re busy working on their cars and mowing their lawns. They’re more interested in the next election than they are in raising up world changers. They even are taking their kids to soccer practice or helping them with their homework. They’re all good men, but at the end of the day, they have had precious few glimpses of the kingdom – that far country that Jesus always talked about. That place where grace abounds, where people live in community and care for one another, the churches that make the widow and orphan the object of their religious affections as opposed to the Book of Church Order and the hymnal.

And if they have seen it, their debt loads are so high and their lives are so full, that they don’t know how they’re ever going to get out from under it. They doubt themselves and the promise of abundant life.

Yes, that’s the bad news and it’s grim. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Jesus had a lot more in mind than saving us and whisking us away to heaven. When we pray, “thy kingdom come” we can be the answer to that prayer – right in our own families and churches. Fathers can repent of their distraction and self-absorption and begin exercising their delegated authority. And a generation of young men can rise up and show a different way – becoming for their children all that they yearned for in their own fathers*.

It begins with a change of thinking – a recognition that, whatever time has been lost, whatever faulty decisions you’ve made, past does not have to be prologue. Whatever dark, obscure place our spiritual fathers have been hanging out, they can come out of obscurity and make a bold offer to those looking for them. It will be a place of fulfillment and life-giving that will set their homes and communities aglow with hope.

*See this related blog series on fathering. And also check out my “Not Many Fathers” blog.

Comments (4)

  • Seth,

    You have spoken my heart today. I am standing with you. I really believe that God is preparing this remnant of spiritual fathers to recapture the ground that has been lost. This generation will have a choice to experience spiritual parents.


  • I’m sure that part of the problem is that much of the American church hasn’t understood the gospel of the kingdom. You can’t teach what you don’t understand. We have often settled for a “Christian” life that is boiled down to believing right doctrine, like some school subject. That correct doctrine is slapped on to a normal American life whose priorities are doing our jobs well, making our families happy, buying stuff and going to church. Not that these are bad things, and there’s the trap – they’re good things, but they often end up as substitutes for the disciple life. The man’s life is not completely overhauled because he doesn’t know it’s supposed to be. Good doctrine is essential but it’s not all there is to discipleship.

    Having pursued this substitute for real discipleship, we become like the seeds choked by the worries and pleasures of this world, and we don’t mature.

    Obviously this is a gross generalization. But we churches haven’t offered a VISION of the kingdom so that people really understand “Hey, there’s something more to this Christianity, to this Jesus.” There’s real power here, there’s real change, it really is a completely different order than this world’s.

    We also have not offered that compelling vision of masculine participation in the kingdom. John Eldredge has written about this. Many guys are bored with church because they can’t see how it relates to them; they don’t see the adventure in it.

    Of course this is not every church, or every man in church. There are wonderful exceptions, and some great teachers who are teaching differently. And I don’t want to start the “blame the church” routine. But I don’t think I’m being too harsh either. I think it’s one of our big problems in the American church.

  • OOH! Rob, I think you hit on something really neat. Maybe there is something to guys not being served better in their church experience like Eldredge talks about. We’ve been discussing that women seem to hear God and follow Him better…well, maybe it’s because we’re the ones being catered to during a church service. Guys can’t catch the dream of charging out for the kingdom, because there’s no charging…only sitting and swaying. Our traditional church routine is designed to fulfill women, meanwhile there’s nothing to inspire a guy to become a leader. Becoming a leader in the church just means you’re the one left stacking the chairs and taking out the icky trash, you know, the heavy lifting, because that’s really what we keep the men around for in the church, for moving heavy objects and holding our hands during the service. That’s why guys really are more interested in the football game, because at least that seems meaningful and exciting. They can imagine running down a field and tackling another guy just for fun, and it’s invigorating. Kumbaya is not cutting it. We need a warrior class in our church today.

    I am SO excited about this new thought, and I’ve got to incorporate it into my youth somehow!

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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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