To answer this question effectively, we first need to lay a foundation. There is a great need in the world for fathers. We are not talking spiritually here, just in terms of natural life. The majority of people in prison in western nations come from homes with no father. Statistics show that children do better at school, and achieve higher grades and better careers when there is a father present. That is not the subject of this section, but is simply an illustration of the need for fathers.
There are so many things we derive from our fathers. Every son and daughter needs to hear the voice of a father, for a father's voice speaks love, affirmation, affection, approval, motivation, correction, success, permission to succeed, blessing, identity, courage, and security. Let us consider a few of these points briefly.
A son or daughter gets their sense of identity in the main from their father. The question of “Who Am I?” is answered in a child's heart by their interaction with their father. It has been said that 85% of what a person thinks about themselves comes from dad.
A father supplies the motivation that a child needs, and gives the discipline by which a child overcomes a lack of motivation.
It is a father that gives his son or daughter 'permission to succeed'. This 'permission' is written subconsciously upon a child's heart by what a father says, and by the attitude he takes to them. Some face life with confidence and some struggle. It is the father who has the power to speak and release in a child this subconscious inner sense of approval that tells them they have permission to succeed in life.
Whilst we could elaborate much, these are some of the things fathers provide, and they are very necessary. Spiritually this is the same too. The need for spiritual fathers is immense.
Many pastors on their own in the ministry have struggled, having to work hard without a “spiritual father” who encourages, supports, and loves through it all. We are not meant to walk alone.
When Jesus turned 30 years of age, the time had come to commence His public ministry. He came to be baptised by John. Upon this occasion the voice of God was heard audibly, an unusual event, and evidently important. “This is my son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17)
Why did God the Father speak like this? Because He knew the importance of a father's voice for a son. Jesus was receiving the approval of His Father, and it was done publicly so we would also know how important that is.
A father's blessing helps establish a faith system in the heart, but quite apart from the approval, security, identity, and the rest that comes with a father's love, spiritual power also flows with the blessing.
So a spiritual father is a man or woman in the ministry (the term father is inclusive) and refers to a leader or someone in the ministry who cares for sons. (also inclusive) In the same way we need a father in natural life (and cannot be born without one) so we also need a spiritual father for us to really live and do well.
God Himself is the model in that He was a Father, and as God the son, He needed a father. We should not be so proud as to assume that we don't need a spiritual father if Jesus Himself had one. At the same time we realise that we must ourselves become fathers so as to provide love and blessing for those given to us to care for.
A spiritual father is a person God provides to help bless and care for those in a personal (not an organisational or denomination) way and help them to grow and find life by loving and walking with them.
The last verse in the Old Testament says that if the hearts of the fathers don't turn to the children, and the children's back in return, then the land would be cursed. This verse indicated to us how great and important a need this is.