What is a Spiritual Father?

Picture of Father walking up a hill with his son.
We are not meant to be in the ministry alone. Christ and the Father walked together, and we are supposed to walk with others too.

Almost nothing can change or influence your experience of spiritual life in a local church, or christian community more than having a genuine spiritual father.  

But there are Reasons Why People Don’t Understand this Question

  • Because their own fathers have been sinful, and made mistakes, and clouded how they understand what a father should be.  This also can confuse our relationship with our heavenly father too. So there is sometimes a struggle with authority.  
  • Because experiences with spiritual leaders they have known, and teaching they might have heard have also confused how authority in churches should work.  Often spiritual leaders themselves don’t know how to be a spiritual father, and make assumptions about their role that perpetuates wrong ideas.  
  • Because many people misunderstand the way that church should really work.  They think church is a top down organisation, but there are assumptions at play there too in both leaders and people in the congregation.

What a Spiritual Father is Not:

  • Not a dictator, or someone that bosses people around
  • Not a CEO, or spiritual owner of an organisation in charge of the lives of others.
  • Not someone who has a job of making sure people are accountable to them.
  • Not always male. (more on this below)
  • Not controlling, but always freedom giving.  People are free to make mistakes or disobey.  
  • Not someone determined to make people follow them.
  • Not someone who requires others to give them money.  Gifts can be given, and sometimes should be given, but there is never an obligation or expectation in this.  

What a Spiritual Father Is:

  • One who cares for you.  
  • One who is over you in the Lord
  • One who you submit to in Christ. (they do have authority)
  • One that you love and serve.
  • One God has provided to bless you and watch over you.
  • One who prays for you, and to whom you can go to in times of trouble.
  • One who is not afraid to ask the tough questions.

The Mindset of True Spiritual Fathers

A key difference in the types of people who might be a spiritual father is how they view their role.  Some view it organisationally, as though they are in a company and in charge of others. This is an institutional view.  

But genuine care and spiritual father is relational, and not something systematised.  Jesus was a real father to his disciples, who cared for them, taught them, and rebuked them.  At the same time he didn’t control them, so that even Judas was free to leave, and many other disciples did leave.  He never controlled, but he did care and he did speak the truth. The true spiritual father cares, and watches over people as though they are his (or her) real children.  How you go in life and in spiritual matters is important to them. This is a relational view.  In this, there is a genuine relational connection where you find a sense of belonging and care between each other.  

Elijah was a spiritual father to Elisha – it was a genuine relationship.

Moses was a spiritual father to Joshua, another genuine relationship.  

True spiritual fathers want what is best for those they care for, and will sacrifice and pray for those under his care.  However true spiritual children have the same corresponding attitude toward the father, they care and are not taking advantage of him.  

Many people want a caring spiritual father, or a famous spiritual father, or an influential or powerful spiritual father, but in return they have a taking attitude only, and not a serving or giving attitude.

Elisha served his spiritual father Elijah with a big heart.

Joshua served Moses with a big heart too.

The twelve disciples (minus Judas) served with a big heart.  

If you are looking for a spiritual father with a big heart for you, are you willing to open your heart towards this same person?  Beware, because there will be a test. God will at some point allow you to be offended to test your sincerity. It happens in every relationship, and working through these tests is what makes them genuine, and long lasting, and what brings the greatest blessing out of them.

In the same way that God the Father loved the son, and gave everything to Him, we see an example of what a spiritual father is like.  Likewise, Jesus served the Father, obeying and following him, and here is an example of how to walk with a spiritual father.  

What is a spiritual father?  God is our first example.  

Finally, the language of sonship in the Bible is exclusively male, but it includes all our dear sisters in Christ too. For example, in Christ we are all adopted as sons into the family. This isn’t a problem as long as we realise that we are all included in this language. So fathering is something that women participate in too. Some may call themselves spiritual mothers instead, which is completely fine.

To counter that, everyone, men included, are part of the Bride of Christ.

These concepts are considered in detail in the book The Spirit of Sonship by John Alley.

Also, keep reading – What is a Spiritual Son?