4 Thoughts on Spiritual Fatherhood

4 Thoughts on Spiritual Fatherhood

Written by Jared C. Wilson  |
Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Spiritual fathers speaking into the lives of young men realize that accountability comes with access, that authority comes with availability, that ambition must come with authenticity — and that lasting, formative influence comes from closeness. You cannot be a spiritual father simply by monitoring someone’s intellectual progress. You have to get up in someone’s business. Spiritual fatherhood is local.

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
—1 Corinthians 4:15

As I get older, I think more and more about this claim from Paul — and the concept of “spiritual fatherhood” generally — and it seems a pressing issue to me, not just “culturally,” but personally. I won’t say I’ve done a great job of being a spiritual father, but by God’s grace, I want to be. And I’ve certainly benefited from spiritual fatherhood. These are some thoughts on what this practice looks like that I’ve been kicking around for some time and thought might be worth sharing.

1. Spiritual fatherhood is fatherhood, not guru-dom.

In other words, it does not consist in handing down spiritual proverbs from on high like some kind of authoritative oracle, but rather leads from alongside, encourages through relationship, coaches as one invested. By “guides,” I take Paul to mean theological and moral influences — both good and bad, perhaps — and these kinds of voices are of course many, especially in our day of talking head religious media and Internet know-it-alls. There is of course wisdom and positive influence to be found in these arenas. But nothing beats the wisdom of one who knows you and speaks into your growth and can even tailor and customize guidance according to one’s personality, giftedness, experience, and calling. Just as a father may speak to his own children in different ways according to their capacities, a spiritual father, unlike so many of our self-appointed gurus, knows how to relate to different believers in different ways. And while a guru only knows how to dispense all the right information, the spiritual father is honest about his own sin and struggles, transparent about his own mistakes and misunderstandings, and doesn’t claim to have all the answers. He just keeps pointing you to the One who does.

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