By Larry Kreider
I will never forget the experience of being a father for the first time. My wife, LaVerne, and I had never been down that road before. I faithfully attended prenatal classes where I learned how I would coach my wife through the delivery. I thought I was ready. But when the contractions started, reality hit me, and I hit the panic button. We were going to have a baby! (Well, okay, LaVerne was, but I was on the team.) I wasn’t ready! I was too young! I wasn’t experienced! I wanted to tell LaVerne, “Couldn’t you just put it on hold for a few months until we are ready for this?” That was not an option. It was time, and she gave birth to a baby girl.
Twenty-two years later, I walked down the aisle with this “baby” girl at my side and gave her away to a young man to be his wife. We raised her to give her away. Now she will have the opportunity to be a parent and prepare the next generation.
Just as we raise our natural children, we must train everyone in our church and small groups to become spiritual parents. That is what small group ministry is all about: preparing and training future spiritual fathers and mothers. The Bible mentions three different types of people in our churches: spiritual children, young men and fathers. “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:12-13).
There are many spiritual babies in the church today who are new Christians or Christians who lack spiritual maturity. Many of them have few spiritual fathers and mothers available to disciple them. Many spiritual babies never grown up. They may be twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years of age and Christians for years, but have never grown or matured.
Spiritual young men and women have the Word of God abiding in them and have learned to feed on the Word to overcome the wicked one. Though they have attained a certain level of spiritual maturity, they have not yet become spiritual parents.
One of the greatest catalysts to maturity as a Christian is to become a spiritual parent. It challenges and even changes our perspectives. We overcome spiritual pride and are stretched in all directions of growth. The only way for a young man or woman to become a spiritual parent is to have children, either by adoption (fathering someone who is really a believer but needs to be discipled) or by natural birth (fathering someone we have personally led to Christ). In this role, young men and women commit themselves to helping these babies grow. The cell becomes the spiritual family, and when multiplication occurs, new parents start a new spiritual family.
In 1 Corinthians 4:15-17, Paul wrote: “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” More than thirty years ago, we began to develop Paul-Timothy relationships with new Christians. I met with a few young men each week for Bible study, prayer and sharing about life. My wife LaVerne did the same with young women.
My friend Lester, who served as a pastor in our church for years, was tremendously impacted by a spiritual father. When he came to Christ in his mid twenties, a 77-year-old man placed his arms around him and began a walk of discipling him.
Jesus Took Twelve
Jesus took twelve men and became a spiritual father to them for three and a half years. He knew that Kingdom values were caught more than taught. Though He ministered to the multitudes, He spent most of His time with disciples, who changed the world. The Lord expects us to do the same.
Maybe you never had a spiritual father or mother. You can give someone else something you never had by being their spiritual parent. You don’t need to be perfect, just faithful and obedient. If we wait until we think we are ready to be the perfect parent, it will never happen. Perhaps you feel you already tried but messed it up. Trust God for grace to start again. Someone once asked Mother Teresa what she does when she gets discouraged. “I don’t get discouraged,” she said. “God has called me to be faithful, not successful.”
There is a tremendous need for spiritual parents. Joshua had Moses; Elisha had Elijah; Timothy had Paul. To whom are you being a spiritual parent? Do you expect everyone in your church and small group to become a spiritual father or mother? If not, change your paradigm. Each of us must place our arms around someone who is younger in the Lord and help them in their journey with Christ. As Elisha experienced a double potion of the Lord’s Spirit after being fathered by Elijah, may we expect our spiritual children to go far ahead of us spiritually. Remember, we train them to give them away!