In the early 2000’s, while pastoring a ‘cell church’ (refer Joel Comiskey et al) in a traditional denomination, I met up with Larry Kreider of the Cell Church movement and began to read his books. One that particularly impacted me was his ‘Cry for Spiritual Fathers & Mothers.’ Kreider went into a lot of detail, whereas I simply want to highlight the need for ‘spiritual fathers and mothers’ in our homes and churches today. In this connection I was struck by the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 4:14-17. Paul is defending his apostleship in the face of a rather immature and arrogant ecclesia of believers in Corinth, a congregation he had pioneered in the home of his friends, Priscilla and Aquila, over some 18 months. Lately reports had reached Paul of the Corinthians’ subsequent immaturity of life and practice. He underpins his apostleship with his self-humiliation and character for the sake of the gospel (check out his ‘CV’ in v. 1ff and v. 9ff). He then refers to his ‘spiritual fatherhood’ of the Corinthian believers in v. 14ff, “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians (Gr. ‘paidagogos,’ lit. tutor/teacher/trainer) 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… He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church…” These words point us to some essential principles of ‘spiritual fatherhood’: a personal and authentic relationship with God in Christ; a communication and living out of the gospel; ‘teaching’ undergirded by a loving, Jesus-centred and disciplined lifestyle; a ‘life’ and example to imitate. Paul’s witness was not the superficial, schizophrenic kind exhibited by so many leaders and ‘church-attenders’ today, who say one thing and live another [are we not (in the West) bombarded by 10,000’s of preachers and teachers, seminars, conferences, books, DVD’s, church programs, TV programs, etc? Yet our churches, more often than not, are shrinking quantitatively and qualitiatively as I write]. In short, Paul’s life and ministry was shot through with supernatural truth, integrity, realism, character and love. Was he perfect? Of course not! But he was a man surrendered, and that’s within our grasp. While we are not ‘apostles’ in the NT sense of Paul, James and John, we are all Christ’s ‘sent-ones,’ called to gossip his good news and incarnate his life in the world. We are mini-Christ’s, quite literally the only Bible most people will read. More specifically, we are called to be ‘imitate-able’ spiritual fathers and mothers in our homes, ecclesiae, community, marketplace and society. I happen to live and minister in South Africa, where more than half of our children and youth come from single-parent or non-parental homes. The almost weekly experience of my wife and myself (and our grown-up, happily married children) is that of younger people
and older people approaching us, not only for what we may know but (and we say this humbly) but for what they may just see in us, i.e. ‘spiritual fathers and mothers’ who by the outrageous grace of God reflect just a tiny glimmer of apostolic life.
All it takes, really, is a humble, biblical, relational, communal (in Africa we have a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child’), ‘real’ (down-to-earth), ‘ordinary’ faith lived out in the power of the indwelling Christ. As Paul declared to the Colossian believers, “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Col. 1:27b) We never know the outcome: think of Moses and Joshua, Naomi and Ruth, Granny Lois and Mum Eunice. Let’s see our spiritual offspring outstrip us in every way!
To be continued…