While studying parenting as a church leader, I’ve identified five essential skills every spiritual parent needs to raise up sons and daughters well. These five crucial components will make a huge difference in the lives of your spiritual children.
Be a Relational Parent
The first step in any relationship is being relational. In many branches of the church right now, leaders tend to set themselves apart, subtly suggesting they are “above” their people or choosing to relate to people through a professional veneer. Western culture longs for authenticity, and if we want to raise up an authentic church that relates to the culture around us, we have to be real people. It is important to shed all veneers and masks, and be honest, open, and transparent with one another in a relational way.
Relationship by itself needs a structure to contain it, and that structure is covenant. My commitment to my children needs to be impeccable; there can’t be any question about how I feel about them. I love them and am committed to serving them at a level that costs me sacrificially. I live for my children and pour my life into them. As a spiritual parent, embrace covenant with the children you are raising.
In addition, covenant with the other leaders you’re walking with. This is similar to a marriage—a husband and wife in covenant with one another and that covenant eventually produces the healthiest offspring. As a leadership team, you need to come into covenantal relationship with one another, which will produce the kind of updraft of development you want in your church community.
As you build a leadership team that’s committed to one another relationally and organizationally, you move into reproducing the next generation. Every church (and each spiritual parent) needs to be able to welcome new “babies” in Christ as well as provide growth opportunities for the older children. Unfortunately, many of us end up focusing on one or the other. We build our churches to support believers who have known Christ for years or we build them for seekers—new babies who are still in diapers. Seeker churches bring in a lot of new people, but those people don’t necessarily feel developed at the end of the day.
Our goal in raising spiritual families is the same as our goal in raising natural families: We want to nurture our children at every age and help them grow into solid, healthy adults who can reproduce and raise their own families.
Think Developmentally: A parent develops each child while focusing on the family
For a few years, all seven of my children were living at home. When the youngest was an infant, the oldest was twenty. I had to customize my parenthood with each one of them, because each child had different needs at different times. I couldn’t have seven independent “families” built around each child; I had one family moving forward in God’s purposes, with each child developing from one level to the next under my leadership. That is your challenge as a spiritual mother or father; you need to develop a church family that produces a developmental outcome.
Practice Intergenerational Partnership
The purpose of God—that His glory would fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)—requires that individuals be developed in Him as His sons and daughters, stepping into the fullness of all God called them to be. This happens effectively when you, as a pastoral leader and spiritual parent, release the “older” generation in your church to take on the challenge of raising up younger sons and daughters.
In his first epistle, John addresses different levels of maturity. He writes to the “children,” whose sins are forgiven; to the “young men,” who know God’s Word and have overcome the wicked one; and finally to the “fathers,” who know Him who is from the beginning. Three generations are presented, and each has something powerful and valuable to offer the others. The idea of spiritual generations dovetails with the reality of age. Every church has older and younger saints, spiritual parents and spiritual children. You will have older believers in your church, as well as believers in their teens, 20s, 30s and so forth. How do you work with all of them?
Intergenerational partnership is similar to a large sailing vessel that has multiple large sails and a deep keel. You have a tremendous amount of power to harness the wind—but if you don’t have a deep keel, the wind will cause the ship to topple. Older, more mature believers provide a depth of wisdom that will keep the vessel upright.
Unfortunately, a lack of “depth” is why many ministries fail. They have a significant potential for velocity…but not much depth. Your older leaders can act like the keel of a boat and establish a vertical sense of torque. They offer leverage that allows the wind to push hard into the sails without causing the boat to capsize. They have depth, experience and a sense of ballast that goes down into the depths of the water. Only with such a partnership can maximum velocity be realized.
It is essential that every member of your church be a disciple-maker. While every person grows from “level to level”, each person is calling someone else to join him or her. If you can build that kind of leadership developmental updraft within your church, you will fulfill the Great Commission by making disciple-makers, who go out to make more disciples.
You can make an intergenerational, developmental process part of the very foundation of your church.