06 January 2011

Thinking about “Spiritual Fathering”

Spiritual fathering is an interesting topic.  Something many groups are hot about.
So I want to have a limited go at it…again.
Spiritual fathering is not necessarily :
  • A “relationship” that can be recruited. Perhaps the very word  “relationship” is totally overused and therefore begins to lose meaning.  We have a relationship with our bank, our doctor (who might remember our name, or not; [he did read the chart before he came in the room]), our employer, our paperboy, our next-door neighbor, our spouse and Dr. Phil.  Relationship describes a sense of “connection” that exists on some level for a period of time.  (My bank advertises itself as “The Relationship People.”  Right.)
Like any genuine relationship, spiritual fathering is multifaceted – emotional, spiritual and physical.  There is an emotional bond between spiritual parents and those they father.  It is either the result of “spiritual birthing” (when someone leads someone to the Lord and disciples them to maturity) or “spiritual adoption” (when someone chooses – or are chosen by – a spiritual “parent”).  It seems to me that there is a great deal of confusion about the “fathering” connection.
My friend Henry Orombi, current Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, told me he hardly knew his father.  Henry grew up in a polygamist household as the youngest son of his father’s third wife.  He was a “son” but basically had no “relationship” to his father.  I think Henry said he was one of seventeen children.  He was one of a group who bore the bloodline and the image and even the DNA of his father, but he had no quality relationship with him. He said to me that he grew up never really knowing his father although they lived on the same compound.
Spiritually I believe this happens also.  I know groups and networks of churches who claim the same DNA, but who have people on their roster of “sons” just as names and ministries.  No real “relationship,” or heart-felt (opps, subjective!) sense of connectedness.
Can we confuse pastoring with fathering?  Are they the same thing?  What about “apostolic fathers” – in the 21st century sense – what is their role?
  • Any overbearing authoritative male relationship.  Just because someone critiques your life, your motives and your choices, and just because he “hits it” so often that it’s scary doesn’t mean he’s you spiritual father. Just because he’s a powerful, controlling and opinionated church leader does not qualify him as your spiritual father.
  • About big names and religious politics. Often people like to give you their pedigree to impress and give credence to their words or ministry.  (I guess they feel it’s like they’re selling a horse and they want you to know that there is a derby winner in their bloodline. They might look like a nag, but there’s a Seattle Slew in there somewhere.)  And of course they have biblical precedence for doing this – the whole generational Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concept.  It’s not about big-guys, big-names, big-ministries needing to father little guys.  Little guys can and should be fathers, too.  And pedigrees are not really that important.  It is the relationship after all.
  • The cure-all relationship.  There are other relationships in the church.  A few years ago in our NoBrand Retreat, we spend time discussing the need for every man to have three levels of masculine relationships: father (elder) relationships, peer (brother) relationships and disciple (son) relationships.  All are necessary for a balanced and dynamic spiritual life.  When we only have one level, we get unbalanced and do not mature beyond a certain level.
Spiritual Fathering should be:
  • Both spiritual and emotional.  It is a “felt” bond between father and child.  It is genuine because it is spiritual.
  • On-going. But with varying levels and dependencies.
  • Fulfilling and challenging. Not debilitating and overbearing. Spiritual fathers are not about controlling another person or using them for their own agenda.  True spiritual fathers are not about co-opting their “children’s” dreams, visions or spiritual gifts for their own use.  They’re not about what can I get from this person, but much more about what can I give to this person in order for them to experience their own fulfillment and place in God’s Big Story…
  • A validating and confirming relationship that sets the course for your life.  I am blessed that I know who my spiritual father actually is.  So here’s my linage (filled with spiritual Seattle Slews and Sea Biscuits):
    • My spiritual father – Jimmy Smith
      • He retired as associate pastor at New Covenant Church in Valdosta after various ministry "incarnations".  He was the youth guy at Northside Baptist in Valdosta when I was in college and God invaded my life…
      • Jimmy awakened vision and passion in me and set me on a course of seeking and knowing God…
      • Jimmy affirmed me as a “man of God” – though young, untried and ignorant…
    • My discipler – Joe Glenn Smith
      • He is different form my father.  He took me to another level in maturity.  I worked for him, pastored storefront/cell church with him and learned from him as I served him…
      • Joe Glenn taught me discipline me through discipleship.  Phyllis and I were with him and his family almost every day.  We did things together – some spiritual, many not.  We traveled together.  We had time together – laughing and crying.  He taught me how to dig into the Word and how to hear the Spirit..
    • My pastor/apostle – LA Joiner
      • We’ve walked together for years through thick and thin…
      • LA has taught me grace, commitment and transparency…
      • LA affirmed me in ministry and released me into an expanding ministry…
  • A vision-enhancing relationship.
    • I think a true fathering relationship is chaordic in natureChaordic is a word invented by Dee Hock, former CEO of Visa.  He says this:
      • Chaordic… Any self-organizing, self governing, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order…
“Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes choice. One who is coerced to the purposes, objectives, or preferences of another is not a follower in any true sense of the word, but an object of manipulation.  Nor is the relationship materially altered if both parties voluntarily accept the dominance of one by the other. A true leader cannot be bound to lead.  A true follower cannot be bound to follow.  The moment they are bound they are no longer leader or follower. If the behavior of either is compelled, whether by force, economic necessity, or contractual arrangement, the relationship is altered to one of superior/subordinate, manager/employee, master/servant, or owner/slave. All such relationships are materially different from leader/follower.”
This has gotten way too long.  More later… maybe.

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