7 Reasons Spiritual Fathering Can Be Tricky

We live in a day and age where people are manifesting a lack of fathering in their life. There is a great need for spiritual fathers to rise up in who they are to lead sons and daughters into their potential.

Sadly, our culture reflects what the Apostle Paul saw when he said, “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers” (1 Corinthians 4:15). You can easily find thousands of teachers and instructors to give you sermons, messages and teachings. But if I were to ask you if there are any spiritual fathers in your life, most would say there is none to be found.

This lack of spiritual fathers is not simply because you are not looking. I find that people all around are searching for mentors, people who can be voices of encouragement, references of love and examples to follow. Yet there are not too many around.

When I first stepped out into transformational ministry, I sought far and wide for spiritual fathers who could be a voice into my life. I was greatly disappointed at the lack of fathering that was available. Many leaders had no time or were living in their own survival to really think about fathering others. In addition, many dysfunctional patterns were manifesting that made the connection very difficult.

But after many years of seeking fathering and working to mentor others, I have discovered through personal experience that spiritual fathering can be really tricky. It is not as cut and dry as many people try to convey it. I hear many teachers talk about it, but I am not sure they have weathered through what I am about to share here.

1. Spiritual abuse has been committed in the name of spiritual fathering.

When I first started using the term “spiritual fathering,” I ran into many churches and pastors that had experienced really unhealthy scenarios, which made them cringe at even the mention of the term. I also found myself coaching and counseling people who had been immersed in what was called a “spiritual fathering” situation, only to discover that the relationship was loaded with abusive characteristics.

Many people who have experienced spiritual abuse share about a close relationship with a leader that was seen as a “spiritual father” kind of relationship. At first, the relationship seemed amazing, but when things got closer, all forms of downright sinful dynamics started to manifest.

I have observed a wide spectrum of control issues, where the apparent “father” became a helicopter leader, hovering over a person’s every move and decision. Manipulation tactics in some camps ran wild. Leaders tossed around the term “spiritual father” only to abuse push around their congregants with guilt and pressure.

In some cases, what was portrayed as “spiritual fathering” got emotionally inappropriate and even sexual. In the past fifteen years, i have witnessed some of the most painful experiences that made me realize we have some healing to do if we are really going to provide healthy fathering to the next generation.

2. People jump to spiritual fathering too quick.

I find when someone throws this term around a lot, it’s often done prematurely.

Its really awkward when someone calls a leader a spiritual father, when they haven’t been under their ministry or leadership for very long. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with spiritual fathering is that it is jumped into way too quickly.

Spiritual fathering takes time to develop a foundational relationship, trust and genuine motives. Because most people long for fathering so badly in their hearts, they can easily jump to the first leader who seems safe.

3. Many call themselves spiritual fathers and they are not.

It may make you look good if you call yourself a spiritual father, but if you are not seasoned, it will eventually show.

To be honest, it is weird when someone calls themself a spiritual father when no one is referring to them as that. It’s also incredibly awkward when someone calls a fellow Christian a spiritual son or daughter, when that hasn’t even been agreed on. It’s like they are staking a claim to someone. It shows a real lack of self-awareness when you call yourself a spiritual father when other people don’t see that or call that in you.

Spiritual fathers don’t call themselves fathers, nor do they try to impose a fathering relationship on someone. People who see you as a spiritual father are the ones who call that out.

4. We are still operating from a slave culture

It is impossible to cultivate spiritual fathering when a church culture is still based on spiritual slavery. A slave culture is deeply marked by performance based living, control, pressure and in some cases, religious legalism.

Many take on the term spiritual fathering and simply attach all manner of control and manipulation to it. The insecurities of a leader rise to the surface. Instead of those issues being addressed and healed, they drive a leader to follow unhealthy patterns.

If you want to engage true spiritual fathering, you have to learn to release people. This includes releasing control and releasing your personal agenda for that person. Many leaders cannot handle this, because they have not addressed their personal insecurities.  

5. You become a spiritual father by first learning to be a son.

Many leaders see the subject of fathering and attempt to jump right into it. This is the worst thing you can do. You don’t start by learning to be a spiritual father. You become a father by first learning to be a son and live that our faithfully.

For example, I cannot effectively father my son Maximus and my daughter Abigail by “trying to be a good dad.” That won’t work and it will leave me exhausted. My parenting as a father to my children gets enhanced as learn to be a loved son by my Father in heaven. Out of that experience, my parenting is enriched.

The same is true for spiritual fathering. All fathering stems from your own sonship development. All Kingdom life flows from sonship.

6. We don’t even know how to live as brothers and sisters

The foundational relationship we all have as sons and daughters is to first be a brother and sister to each other. If you look at people at how you can “father” them, then you’ve missed it. You need to first learn what it means to live as brother or sister to those around you.

When this perspective is cultivated, you’ll seek to help others as a brother in Christ, not some authoritarian person who can control someone.

7. Spiritual fathering is hard work.

It’s easier to be a taskmaster, teacher or even controlling leader. It is really hard work to be a fathering presence. When I see leaders that are highly controlling, I get it. It’s easier to do that than to put in all the emotional energy it takes to be a spiritual father.

You have to watch people make mistakes and not panic. You have to know when to speak into an issue and when to simply let God be in charge. You have to be patient through rough seasons and at times, be willing to let go, as they pursue a direction that doesn’t involve your input.

You really have to work on yourself to be a spiritual father. Your insecurities, fears and wounds will rise to the surface. in that, you will have to decide if you will grow in your own sonship or rely on your old ways, so that you can attempt to feel safe.

Spiritual fathering can be done, but it is going to take patience, maturity and each of us growing in what it means to be sons and daughters to our Father in heaven.

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