It really seemed strange to me the first time I heard it. Not that it would have seemed odd or misplaced were it in regards to someone else, but when applied to myself it seemed like the setup for a joke. The problem was there wasn’t a punch line. Well, actually there was.
I wasn’t really sure if I was ever going to be active in any sort of ministry. After my fall and the subsequent years of restoration I thought that perhaps my failure indicated that I was no longer of use in ministry. Of course I was in ministry of a sort. I am crazy in love with Jesus and I cannot help loving the people that He loves. So I minister; I minister love, peace, acceptance, and try to show as much of Jesus to people as I possibly can. This is basic Christ Follower 101, to love God and love people like it says in Mark 12:30-31.
In the sense of the ministry role for which I felt quite possibly disqualified, I’m referring to the “five fold” ministry gifts. Cool sounding religious speak for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Those are found in the book of Ephesians 4:11. I used to serve the community of faith in one of these rolls but resigned both organizationally as well as emotionally when I failed to live up to the standards of the position.
Over the past 13 months or so, it seems that there is still room for me. There may be some usefulness that wasn’t burned up along with my resume. First I began to see it happen; men and women were being drawn to spending time, seeking counsel, and learning from what I had experienced. Not by the hundreds, but by the handful. I asked God if there was something in this that He was doing. I felt like I actually got a response, a message, a directive that came from much higher than my own thoughts, that I was called to the ministry of fathering. It is not without it’s irony that a short time after I believe I received this message that I found my wife was expecting our second child together. Wow! Was that a chuckle I heard rolling over the hills from on High?
I resonate with the calling. It sits well in my spirit, though I still feel woefully inadequate for the task. I am being obedient to the spirit of what I believe was shared with me.
As far as five fold ministry gifts go, I am reasonably certain that “fathering” falls squarely into the role of pastor. What we seem to have come to view as a “pastor” in the church setting more often resembles that of the teacher. The well spoken sermon craftsman that draws people to audit the “Sunday sermon” may have pastoral gifts, but that isn’t necessarily so. My original perception of the calling I believe I received is that of pastor. I got lost in that role, perceiving it to be something other than fathering. I tried to fit myself into all five of the ministry gifts and somehow lost my way and wandered into a place where I was not equipped.
I have been exploring the possibilities while at the same time looking at what God seemed to be doing around me. I am looking at the relationships within my circle of care. While they all seem to have certain things in common, they come from different sets or types of need. In order to define those for the sake of discussion and description I have come up with three types of “fathering.”
The “Surrogate Father”
For many, their father’s have done well. They have equipped their children and lived intentionally to help their children grow into healthy, fruitful individuals. No one ever outgrows the need for a bit of fatherly encouragement, acceptance and advice. For those whose fathers are simply not available, either through distance or through loss, the surrogate is privileged to be there in the moment of need, to stand in the gap and help build upon an already well built foundation.
The “Step Father”
For many others, life was spent in the presence of a father who, for one reason or another, was unable to provide a good foundation for their children. It could be because of a lack of complete fathering in their own lives or other imbalances. Sometimes it may be because of absence. In those cases there is a need for a spiritual step father, to pass on some of the skills and help connect some of the dots to make the whole picture of life and spirit come into focus.
The adoptive father
For others still, there has been no active father present in their history. They lack the intentional care and discipline that comes from a father’s heart. These are in need of an adoptive father. The adoptive father brings to the relationship the whole range of love, encouragement, instruction and discipline needed to complete a person’s well being. A spiritual adoptive father will often be available for basic life skill instructions.
The reality is that none of these definitions do any sort of justice to the relational depth of spiritual fathering. It is not programmable, nor can it be prescriptive. Spiritual fathering, in any of the three modes and/or combination of them, is something that can only take place if there is an assertion of love, an engendered trust, a willingness to engage and a discipline to follow through. Spiritual fathering, to steal a phrase from another book, is to be faithfully present in a person’s life. The requirement for the father role isn’t preferential. In order to be, you have to surrender to that relationship. Of course there is a need for healthy boundary setting but it isn’t terribly difficult to see which ones need to be held.