In fact, if we examine the lists of what a parent is/does, it seems clear that the main role of a parent is to be an example of God’s love and devotion to us. Parents are essentially shepherds, disciple-ers, and ministers in the order of Christ: Sacrificial, intentional, and all the rest.
From this perspective, then, it seems right that we can and perhaps should have numerous “spiritual children.”
We might call them ‘students’ or ‘disciples’ or something else, but if we follow the teachings of Christ and model after Him, we end up with different stages in our lives when many people are like our ‘little children’, to quote John.
A good friend, Dan Millheim, who is a gifted minister at many levels, recently told me that the greatest impact a minister can make is the “paternal one” (maybe it would be the maternal if he had been speaking to a women, but I don’t want to assume).
When people think of you as a Spiritual Father, it means you have in some meaningful way represented Christ and His Truth to them and they have experienced it as Truth.
Paul says of and to the Corinthians “… I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children…” (4:4, NASU). As he prepares to speak the truth to them, he reminds them that he thinks of them as his beloved children. John’s thoughts on it must be the spiritual parent’s (or any parent’s) motto! It is noted back up at the title of this article. Jesus also refers to His followers as “children” (Mark 10:24) and “little children” (John 13:33).
With these are our models, it makes sense for us to think of our students/followers/etc. as, in some respects, our spiritual children. Think of how this mindset would make us different from the world when we make business decisions, or budgeting or scheduling decisions, if we were to accept and even embrace our followers as “little children.”
At least, it would make us much more sober about the decisions we make that affect those God has placed “under our care’ (1 Peter 5:2).
In the sense that we are talking about here, the term “spiritual parent” will reference a person who takes on one or more of the spiritual roles of a parent in the life of another.
So, if it is proper to say that the main job of any “parent” whether biological, adoptive, or “spiritual”, is to be something of a representative of God to their child, then I hope, pray and dream that by the time I die, there are dozens, or hundreds, or even more who think of me as a “Spiritual father.”
However, there is still one more item I wish to clear up.
Though there might be many of whom we could say, or who would say of us, that we have played some key parental role in our lives, I think there is another echelon of spiritual parenting created by taking on the parental of “claiming.”
I think some of the coolest and most powerful passages in the gospels are the stories of the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34) and the paralyzed man lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), especially the accounts of these events as Mark gives them.
The reason is the Jesus meets two people in what might be considered their gender specific worst possible situations (her: rejection, unclean, alone – like a social ghost; him: helpless, dependent, powerless – like a living burden). Because we jump to the miracle of healing the Jesus brings to both situations, we often ignore two tiny words that spring from Jesus when He speaks directly to the stricken.
A man who offers no performance value to anyone, but before anything else, Jesus calls him “Son…” A woman alone, and seemingly abandoned, and Jesus’ first word to her is “Daughter…” I believe that in this moment, Jesus is claiming them! (I can find no other spot where Jesus personally refers to someone as “son” in this way… or “daughter” either).
With the woman, Jesus is walking with a synagogue official Jairus, who’s only daughter was dying. What does it mean for Jesus to claim this “unclean” woman in this man’s presence? What does it mean for us, when at our very worst, when at our very least, for someone to look at us and once again, reflect the heart of God by saying “You are my son, and I am well pleased?”
Many of us can go a lifetime without ever hearing it!
Personally, I think the church should put an end to this drought.
However, though you can be a spiritual parent to some degree to dozens, I have found it much more rare for me to really claim someone as a son or daughter. As I said before, I pray that I have been in a role of spiritual parenting at some level to many, but I would think those who I have claimed as a Spiritual “son” or ‘daughter” is limited because I am so limited.
I am proud to call many people spiritual parents, and am ecstatic that God has given me a paternal role with some, and even moreso by the few I have been able to claim as mine – whether they wanted it or not (my biological kids, who I obviously claim, really have no choice!)
This has been a fun assignment – I appreciate whoever asked me to talk more about this – I imagine it was one of my sons or daughters. However, with all of this rambled out like this, I want to make the most important thing abundantly clear.
At the most significant level, I am NO ONE’s father when the standard for “father” is our heavenly father.
Just as the moon is not the sun, but reflects its light, my passion is just to reflect our Father’s paternal light to my biological children and others. In fact, I feel like my main message in from this perspective is exactly the words of Jesus:
“… you have one Father and He is in Heaven.” (Matt 23:9, NIV). Don’t ever forget it.