A Handbook for Spiritual Parenting



One of life’s most fulfilling experiences is being used by God to guide a younger believer in his or her walk with the Lord. And the need for such “spiritual parents” is great. This generation is crying out for spiritual fathers and mothers who will rise to the call of leadership and help them fill their destiny.

Spiritual parents are partners in helping their children discover what God intends for them. They will do all they can to help their children reach that goal. Author George MacDonald once said, “If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.”

How can we practically `’work with God” to cultivate spiritual parenting that will develop into trusted and honest relationships? Let’s get down into the nuts and bolts and take a look at how the Lord wants us to build healthy spiritual relationships.

1. The importance of prayer. For the success of the spiritual-parenting relationship, prayer needs to be woven; into very fabric. Praying for our spiritual I sons or daughters will wrap them in the Lord’s protection.

The apostle Paul said that he labored in the pains of childbirth for the Galatian church until Christ was formed in them (see Gal. 4:19). He invested a lot of time in these Christians whom he affectionately called his “children,” and he was expecting that each one would grow up spiritually strong. Much of his labor was in prayer for the Galatians.

Ibrahim Ornondi, who pastors DOVE (Declaring Our Victory Emmanuel) Cliristian Fellowship in Nairobi, Kenya, and serves as a spiritual father to other church leaders in East Africa, describes how
prayer with a spiritual father brought him to a place of spiritual maturity: “Those who had discipled me as a young Christian had long moved out of my life. I was left on my own until, at a Bible school’ I met an elderly professor who asked if I could pray with him regularly.

“Our weekly prayer meetings soon took on the form of a father-son relationship. I loved it. For once I recognized what I had missed throughout my Christian walk. I was able to open up in prayer. The deepest secrets of my life found no hiding place. I felt a new sense of security love and deep humility.”

Job rose early every morning and offered a sacrifice for each of his children (see Job 1:5). Jesus is at the right hand of the Father right now, interceding not only for the world in general but for us individually (see Rom. 8:34). We must pray specific prayers for our spiritual children. Pray that they will run to God and hunger for God’s Word. Pray that they will learn to resist temptation and flee from it.

2. Is it short-term or long-term? Is availability in a spiritual parenting relationship a lifetime commitment? It may or may not be. Discuss early on if you foresee the relationship to be for a certain
period of time, or if it is meant to continue in an ongoing, long-term relationship (this should be evaluated and updated periodically).

A spiritual parent may maintain a close relationship for a lifetime with a spiritual child; but with others, the relationship may be close for only a few years or even months. Whether it is for a predetermined period of time or an ongoing commitment, it is the relationship that is vital. Keep it healthy by periodically examining the relationship to determine if continuing it is God’s best plan.

Eventually a spiritual father and his son may determine the son can make it on his own with less input from the father. In a natural family, when a child marries, he is still your son. You may no longer have as much input in his life, but he remains a son. In some relationships, a phone call now and then will be all it takes to maintain a father-son relationship. It is important that sons or daughters know their father or mother is available if needed.

3. Be transparent and vulnerable. Spiritual parenting involves a sense of vulnerability and willingness to open our lives to one another. It is encouraging and accepting another person without reservation. A spiritual parent will not be afraid to take the

If a father is free to reveal his true feelings, his son reams to open up too. Spiritual fathers do not hesitate to talk about their failures as well as their successes. People identify with you when they see your weaknesses because you are willing to say, Follow me as I, a sinful human being, follow Christ.”

Early in our marriage LaVerne and I went to see a marriage counselor. Being open about this area of our lives has encouraged many married couples to get the help they have needed. When facing a crisis in their marriage. When we are transparent, spiritual sons and daughters don’t have to feel alone in their struggles. They will not be tempted to put their spiritual father or m other up on a pedestal. Spiritual sons or daughters will not think less d their spiritual parents. When they know their struggles–they will probably just be relieved that they are normal!

Jane, a young, married woman, describes the relief she felt when “the giant of a spiritual woman” she looked to as a mentor revealed that even her 30 year-old marriage experienced “bumps in the road” when she and her husband did not see eye to eye. “Just hearing her admit to her unspiritual thoughts helped me to see that she was learning to live in the grace of God in her marriage, too, and I was not alone in my problems” Jane said.

Jane was encouraged because her spiritual mother dared to say, “I am committed to Jesus Christ, and I’m going to be honest with you about how consistently I live my Christian life.”

4. Point them to Jesus. The truth of Galatians 4:2 that children need guardians and stewards also applies to our spiritual sons or daughters. Looking out for them, however, does not mean we stand guard duty. We don’t peer over their shoulders waiting for them to make a wrong move.

If they do need correction, the way we approach the issue is as important as what we say. Spiritual parenting is not a way to get people to do what we want them to do or for them to serve our ambitions. Instead, we must help them discern God’s will for their lives while holding them accountable to do it.

Personal accountability is finding out from God what He wants us to do and then asking someone to hold us accountable to do those things. It is helpful to check up on each other so we stay on a safe path. If a spiritual daughter wants to be held accountable to her spiritual mother for a certain area in her life that needs support, it does not mean the mother tells her what to do. Remember, we are only pointing to Jesus; people need to make their own decisions.

Normally a father-son relationship is one of deep friendship and trust. If a son seems to be making an unwise decision or is participating in a destructive behavior, a father who expresses his concerns will be heard. A father should not condemn; he should confront his son or daughter lovingly. In this way, he or she will be teachable and open to input.

5. Learn to ask vital questions.

Mentoring with accountability is done with patience and love. Ask questions to spur your sons or daughters on to new spiritual heights

How is your relationship with Jesus?

How is your relationship with your spouse?

Whom are you praying for?

Has your thought life been pure?

What sin has tempted you this week?

What struggles are you having in y your life? :

In what ways have you stepped out in faith lately? :

Have you shared your faith this week?

Are you serving others in love?

What was your greatest joy this week?

What was your biggest disappointment?

What do you see yourself doing five or 10 years in the future?

How can I help you fulfill what the Lord has called you to do?

Questions such as these will: motivate your sons or daughters and help them to be more like Christ. Of course, you should not bombard them with all these questions at one time!

Additionally, it is not wise to preach at your spiritual children by using these types of questions as leverage. Look for ways for these kinds of personal issues to naturally come up in your conversations
through time as the friendship develops.

6. Have regular contact. Decide on some practical get-together times. How often and how long should you meet? The answer to this question will vary. You may want to set up regular times to meet and
communicate. One breakfast meeting each month may be adequate for a healthy relationship. New Christians may need to meet more often (weekly or biweekly).

Meet both on your turf and on theirs. These planned, regular contacts should be interlaced with a lot of spontaneous contact.

Don’t think you have to solve every problem. Because of the powerful connection of a spiritual parenting relationship, there is a danger of the parents taking on too much responsibility for the growth of the children. A son or daughter may grow dependent and begin to demand more than a father or mother can give. Before they know it, the relationship becomes self-serving.

In spiritual mothering relationships, women especially, with their need to form close friendships, may tend to absorb themselves too deeply in a relationship. If a relationship becomes possessive and demanding, it may be moving toward an unhealthy dependency.

Tony Fitzgerald from Church of the Nations in Richmond, Virginia, has served as a spiritual father to church leaders scattered across the globe for more than 20 years. He recently gave this wise advice:
“Fathering is not to meet every need but to be sure every need is met.”

In the story of the good Samaritan, the compassionate Samaritan attended to the wounded man’s bruises, placed him on his donkey and took him to an inn. At that point, the Samarifan’s job was finished. He left and entrusted the wounded man to the innkeeper. He did not meet every need of the wounded man but made sure his every need was supplied.

Sometimes, spiritual fathers are available to help their sons meet certain needs and then entrust them to others to meet further needs. When a spiritual father directs his son to helpful resources such as books, tapes, videos and other spiritual leaders and counselors, he is helping meet a need with out directly meeting it himself.

7. Maintain proper boundaries. A relationship goes downhill when two people lean too much on each other rather than the Lord, if spiritual sons or daughters look to fathers or mothers to solve their problems or meet all their needs, the relationship becomes “need driven.”

“Dependent relationships become ingrown and create a: seedbed for one person to become emotionally dependent on another, says counselor Steve Prokopchak. In his book, Recognizing Emotional Dependency, emotional dependency is defined as the condition resulting when the ongoing presence and/or nurturing of another is believed necessary for personal security.

Steve goes on to say, “It’s true that we need others. I believe that relationship with God and with others is the most important thing in life. However, our need for relationship cannot be allowed to become the center of a person’s life. The though he cannot exist or function without this relationship. Mistakenly, this association is an attempt to meet the need for intimacy and security.”

In spiritual-parenting relationships, we must maintain proper boundaries in order to maintain healthy relationships. This means we must be sure of our identity in Christ and want to please Him rather than another person.

You should be aware that sometimes you will need help to solve a severe problem in a son or daughter’s life. You should not be alarmed by these situations. Whenever you have people progressing on a spiritual journey, you have some besetting sins that need to be’ addressed. Stubborn struggles such as this could involve depression or addictions to sex, alcohol or drugs.

If your spiritual sons or daughters have a severe, ongoing addiction that you are not prepared to deal with, discern if they would benefit from meeting with someone trained in setting people free through deliverance from demonic oppression or perhaps seeing a professional counselor. You can stay involved in the sons and daughters’ lives and at the same time have the additional support available to help them through the difficult times.

8. Handle conflict properly. There may come a time in a mentoring relationship when negative interpersonal dynamics make it impossible to continue on. When l a once-supportive relationship: becomes critical and disappointment sets in, don’t immediately bolt from the scene.

First, address the root of the conflict-be candid and communicate and pray together. Try to resolve it as painlessly as possible. It may be helpful to have a trusted third party to guide you and your spiritual son (or father) through the conflict the spiritual-parenting relationship.

If it cannot be resolved, remember that a mentoring relationship is not a covenant bond; it is a spiritual impartation into the life of another that allows freedom and flexibility. If the time comes for a separation in the relationship, the love relationship we have with Christ and each other will help us discern: how to graciously and lovingly bow out. Allow the Lord: to: be: your comfort so you do not grow bitter or refuse to take the risk of another relationship.

9. Learn to empower those whom you Servanthood must be crux d: the parenting relationship. Servant hood releases sons and daughters to be all they can be, giving them power. I like the way Tom Marshall
says it in Understanding Leadership: “A servant-leader is willing to share power with others so that they are empowered; that is, they become freer, more autonomous, more capable and therefore more powerful.”

A servant–leader knows that the more people there are that have authority, the more authority there is to spread around. When the relationship centers on servanthood, it will rarely become selfish because it gives people the freedom to use their own gifts and abilities.

10. How to bless your spiritual parents. Although the spiritual father or mother is mature enough to give freely without a thought of return, I think it is a good idea for a son or daughter to look for ways to bless his or her spiritual parent. Parents need encouragement too.

Occasionally spiritual parents need to hear that they are having an impact on the lives of those they are mentoring. Words and actions of blessing are powerful. Spiritual children can bless their parents by
sending cards of appreciation, giving spontaneous gifts or telling them face-to-face.

I firmly believe this biblical promise to natural children also applies to spiritual children: “‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth'” (Eph. 6:2-3, NKJV).

11. Changes will occur. As spiritual parents encourage their spiritual children to grow up and have their own spiritual children, the relationship changes. Now spiritual parents talk to their son or daughter about their own parenting experiences.

Spiritual parents will continue to parent their grown-up spiritual children as long as they need the input. In some ways, the children eventually become peers, although they will always honor their parents. When children are babies, their parents meet ail of their needs. When parents are elderly, the children often assume a role of responsibility for the well-being of the parents.

12. Hand over the ministry to those you are training. Release your spiritual children to carry out their own ministry. Continue to hand the ministry over to those you are training with this mentoring style of leadership.

The Levites were instructed to serve in the tent of meeting from age 25 through age 50. At 50, they were required to retire (see Num. 8;23-26) to serve the next generation of priests. They were called to pass s on the ministry to those they were fathering.

Allow your spiritual sons and daughters to try new things for the first time and succeed. This is how the Ephesians 4:12 ministry of “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” is supposed to work. This is how you train leaders.

Spiritual parenting works best within the context of a working, New Testament-style church where everyone gets the chance to participate through some type of effective cell-group ministry. But we all have the same opportunity to be spiritual fathers and mothers. Be open to how God might use you to raise up leaders for the next generation.

LARRY K RENDER, having served as senior pastor of a cell church in Pennsylvania for 15 years, currently serves as international director of DOVE Christian Fellowship International, a network of cell-based churches scattered throughout four continents. He has spent the last two decades training Christian leaders nationally and internationally to make disciples with the cell-group concept. He has written several books, including House to House (House to House Publications). He and his wife, LaVerne, have been married 28 years, have four children and live in Lititz, Pennsylvania.