By Larry Kreider
Imagine a Christian more mature than yourself giving you a hug and saying, “I see God’s potential in you. I want to stand with you for the long haul and see God work in your life.” After the initial shock wore off, how would you react? By giving a hug back and shouting with joy?
If you are like most Christians, another sermon on Christian living isn’t going to scratch your spiritual itch. What you need is more of the Lord, along with a mature, compassionate “father” or “mother” to parent you spiritually.
God is raising up spiritual parents who are willing to nurture spiritual children and help them grow up in their Christian lives. This is a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). Although this scripture certainly has implications for our natural families, its significance for spiritual parenting in the church is profound. As I travel throughout the world, training leaders week after week, I see a consistent and desperate need for three types of spiritual fathers and mothers.
- The grassroots spiritual parents. These cell leaders see their group members as a spiritual family who need nurturing and training to become spiritual parents. This is basic training, boot camp.
- Pastors and church leaders who see themselves serving as spiritual parents to the group leaders in their church. “Fathering” small group leaders is a priority for these leaders of healthy churches.
- Apostolic fathers. These pastors mentor and coach pastors of local churches and offer them a shoulder to cry on and ears to listen. Regardless of what you call them in your denomination or movement, pastors and leaders throughout the Body of Christ are crying out for such apostolic fathers.
True spiritual parenting is built upon healthy, God-given relationships. A Christian learns how to become a spiritual parent by leading a small group. This is the Lord’s boot camp for training spiritual fathers and mothers to serve in all levels of spiritual parenting.
Let me tell you Carl’s boot camp story. Carl and his wife, Doris, live in the small town of Manheim, PA, and he was in his 50s when they started attending our church. Carl was an unassuming, quiet member in his small group who worked at a local feed mill. Doris worked as a buying agent for a local firm.
Carl and Doris’ small group leaders asked them to consider leading the group. With fear and trembling, they agreed and completed our leader training. After a few months as interns, Carl and Doris assumed leadership responsibility for their small group. They were not flashy, but they loved people, and those people responded. Their living room soon filled to capacity. They continued to mentor assistant leaders (interns), and raised up enough leaders to start another group. Before long, they launched their third, and soon thereafter birthed a fourth group. Over the next few years, their small groups continually grew and multiplied.
As our church rapidly expanded, we needed to add more support pastors who would “father” the small group leaders. As we prayed and looked for spiritual fathers among the small groups, our eyes fell on Carl, a true pastor. He already was fathering the leaders. He had been trained in the seminary and boot camp of the “Basic Christian Community,” the small group. Carl joined our paid staff and continued to be a “father” to the group leaders in the greater Manheim area.
A few years later, in early 1996, the Lord called us to decentralize and plant eight new churches in our region, all at the same time. Who became the Senior Pastor of the new church in Manheim? You guessed it — Carl.
A Scottish couple, Duncan and Kath, attending our Leadership School, joined a small group in the Manheim church. They returned to Scotland to plant a new group, and it evolved into a new church. Duncan looked across the ocean to Carl as a spiritual father.
Carl’s story has been amazing to watch. Various church leaders throughout our nation and the world look to Carl as their spiritual father. He served on our Apostolic Council, which oversaw leaders of more than 50 cell churches scattered across four continents. A leader in the body of Christ from another part of the U.S. told me, “I have been looking for a spiritual father all of my Christian life, and God has answered my prayers. Carl has become a father to me.”
Carl worked in a feed mill when the Lord called him to learn how to be a spiritual father. The Lord used Carl’s experience of small group leader servanthood to prepare him for future service in His Kingdom. Carl did not aspire to pastor a church, much less to pastor other pastors. He just loved Jesus and wanted to serve in a supportive role in the local church. God had other plans.
God is Calling You!
Years ago, I was a chicken farmer when the Lord called my wife, LaVerne, and me to serve as spiritual parents to new believers. He was training us in the basics of spiritual fathering and mothering.
Our God is no respecter of persons. Some of us are high-school students, others run corporations, work in law firms or in retail. The call is the same. He is calling you and me to become spiritual parents. And he is training us today in His boot camp, the small group.
About Larry Kreider
Larry has spent the past four decades training leaders to make disciples with the small group concept. Larry serves as the international director of DOVE International, a worldwide network of over 1,000 churches in 26 nations. Larry has written more than 40 books and travels extensively teaching and imparting practical discipleship to leaders globally. Read about Larry or catch up on Larry’s blog.