Fathers And Sons
The Biblical Model For Healthy Churches Part 2
In the previous article, I discussed the need that we all have for a spiritual father. The great lack in the church as it is currently organised is that we have generated institutions rather than community. Consequently authority in the church tends to be positional rather than relational.
The great need for the church in the west is for pastors/ ministers who provide the role of father to their people.
Before moving on to how this model would help to return the church to the New Testament model, we need to develop four principles of father-son relationships. It is vital that we understand these principles, or else the relational model will become just another institution with a different set of titles.
Principle 1. Relationships are reciprocal
In a healthy family, and in the biblical pattern of relationships, fathers and sons have a relationship that is mutually edifying. Neither is autonomous and neither is dependent.
Fathers are responsible for multiplying themselves in their sons. The nature of a father is to beget, to use the old King James language. I used to think the genealogies in the Bible were rather boring, but now I understand that they are there, not just to show the ancestry of people, but to show their identity in the nation and, more importantly, they show us how the ancestors have multiplied their seed and passed it down the generations.
In biblical times it was a father's duty to reproduce himself in the character of his son. He taught the son his trade or profession, he passed on the family's values and beliefs onto the son. Just as a father passes on physical traits to a son, he is to also pass on spiritual values.
A father will do all in his power to see the son reach his full potential. Economists have calculated that the cost of raising a child in Sydney is now $1,000,000. That is a big cash investment. But true fathers invest far more into their children. They literally invest themselves.
But sons have a responsibility also. Sons have a responsibility to honour their parents (Exodus 20:12). In the biblical understanding, this responsibility is a life-long commitment born out of the investment or honour that parents have invested in them. We are required to speak highly of, respect and care for our parents.
In the spiritual application of this, ministers (in the wider sense than just the office of pastors) have a role to reproduce themselves in the lives of others.As a pastor, I desperately want to see my relationship with God mirrored in the relationships of my flock with God. I want to see my prayer life, my giftings reproduced so that my sons and daughters will grow up “and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 6:13)
On the other hand, sons and daughters have a responsibility to obey their fathers, to help their ministry and to honour them. Obedience means that we listen to those in authority over us and do what they tell us. If you want to grow in Christ, you are going to have to follow the instruction of the one who is leading you. Just as fathers invest themselves into their sons' lives, sons must invest themselves in their fathers' lives and ministries. Honour means to highly esteem our fathers- this ends the long-standing tradition of Sunday lunch of roast pastor! This doesn't mean to be blind to their faults, but it does mean that we cover their nakedness rather than exposing it.
This relationship is based on mutual love. Love always builds up.
Pastors are often seen as the employees of the church. They are paid a wage to provide certain determined services. If they don't perform in a way deemed to be satisfactory they can be fired and a new one hired.
But you can't fire your father! And you can't hire another if you don't like the one you've got.
An employee will only ever do the job. A father gives everything to his family.
At theological college, I was taught to keep those pesky parishioners at arms length. They cannot be allowed to go into your home any time of day or night, and pastors must not make friends in the congregation. I tried to do things that way and quickly failed- I loved my people too much!
Principle 2. Sons pursue fathers
As a pastor I used to think it was my job to go and chase after my people. I had to go and make sure they were all right between Sundays. Traditionally, this was done by home visitation and endless cups of tea. It used to be a joke that the primary quality of a good pastor was a strong bladder!
I never felt easy about this. I'm not a drop into people's places sort of person. Then I discovered that the Biblical pattern is that sons pursue fathers, not the other way round. In other words, it is up to the followers to seek out the pastor and hang out with him. So now we have a home that is open 24 hours a day, as is the church building and my office (the latter close at night). My people like to hang out with me- I don't have to go chasing them.
The model of Jesus is most instructive. Reading through the gospels, one gets the impression that Jesus is walking through a town, he sees a likely candidate as he is walking past and tells them to join the travelling party. Obviously there is more happening than that. But on each occasion Jesus issues a command “Follow me” and the disciples leave their home and business to follow Jesus (see for example Luke 5:10-11, 6:27-28).
Jesus gives an invitation and then it is up to the disciple to follow. We never see Jesus doing the rounds of his followers to make sure they are doing all right this week. In fact, it is quite the opposite- Jesus seems to make it an issue of confrontation about whether people will follow him or not, almost as if he doesn't care that much! (See for example Luke 14:25-27, 18:18-25, John 6.)
Other relationships in the Bible also illustrate this point.
A classic father and son relationship is illustrated in the relationship of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah is one of very few people in the Bible who actually passed on their ministry to the next generation. Elijah calls Elisha and Elisha first wants to farewell his family. Elijah's a little gruff about this and continues on his way. Elisha has to pursue Elijah to catch up with him and join himself to the ministry. (1 Kings 19:19-21). At the end of Elijah's ministry, Elijah embarks on a grand tour of Israel with Elisha in tow (2 Kings 2:1-18). At each town Elijah tests Elisha's faithfulness. The issue is, will Elisha stay with his father to the end, and thus inherit his ministry? Elisha refuses to be side-tracked from his single-minded devotion to his spiritual father, and finally takes up the mantle or anointing of Elijah.
There are other relationships which illustrate this point that sons pursue fathers: Joshua and Moses, Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11:25), Timothy and Paul (Acts 16:1-5; 17:14-15).
When I first met my spiritual father, a man named John Alley, I knew that I needed to pursue his ministry. I wasn't sure at first what this father and son relationship was all about. He invited me and my family to visit him at home- so along with my own close spiritual son and daughter we all travelled 900 km (about 600 miles) to his home to stay the best part of a week in order to develop the relationship. John travels all over Australia with ministry teams and often they stay at our place. I was recently convicted by the Holy Spirit that, in order to grow in my ministry, I need to pursue John more closely, and in particular to join his ministry teams when he travels within Australia. This is somewhat inconvenient, but I know that in following the Biblical pattern of pursuing the father and seeking to serve his ministry, my own ministry will grow.
Because sons pursue fathers, authority is voluntary. Traditionally, authority in churches comes down from “the top” (wherever that is!). Bishops or presbyteries, synods and assemblies, pastors and boards have areas of authority delineated. Checks and balances are instituted in order to minimise damage and limit effectiveness. People in the system do what is they are allowed by the system to do. Rewards and punishments are encapsulated in regulations and unwritten traditions.
If a son decides that his spiritual father is not providing the care all he has to do is stop pursuing him. Hopefully, he will seek to resolve the issue with the father, but in the end there is no compulsion for the relationship to continue.
It often happens that a pastor is wounded by the enemy and starts to get off the track. In a denominational system, a congregation might decide they've had enough and seek to move him on, or they might fire him. In extreme cases, there might be disciplinary action of some sort. To be honest, often in these situations, it is hard to tell whether the pastor has failed the congregation or if members of the congregation have sought to undermine a good pastor.
In a sonship situation, two processes should start to happen. Firstly members of the congregation would seek the restoration of the pastor. This is happening as a relational process, so they would be seeking to draw closer to the pastor to build him up and reconcile any relationships that have been broken. They would honour him, rather than tear him down. Simultaneously, the pastor's own spiritual father (or apostle) would be seeking to correct or to heal the pastor. It is possible that members of the congregation would go directly to the apostle and express their concerns- not to have the pastor fired or replaced (remember you don't fire your father!) but to have him restored. It is possible that the apostle will bring correction to the pastor and/or the congregation, but this is voluntary discipline not imposition of outside authority.
If a pastor will not honour his own spiritual father, then the pastor and the congregation are in big trouble- but this is no different to the situation in more traditional structures!
Where this process is different is at the heart level of the protagonists. There is the world of difference between the attitude of an employer to an employee as against the relationship between fathers and sons. The dynamic is radically different.
Principle 3: Every father must first be a son
In the natural realm it is obvious that every father must first be a son. It is impossible any other way biologically. It is also true relationally that the better a relationship a son has with his father, the better a father he will be to his own sons.
The same is true in the spiritual realm. To be an effective spiritual father, a man must first be a son to a father. How can we learn to raise up spiritual sons, bringing believers to maturity unless we have first experienced the process ourselves? It is possible, though the grace of God, but it is better to learn from the mistakes of another than to learn by making the same mistakes ourselves.
When we know the love and acceptance, as well as the discipline of a loving spiritual father, we can become secure in our ability to offer the same love to others. As a son, I am liberated from my own need for acceptance, so that I am then able to raise other sons in the same security of relationship.
I have been in ministry for over 20 years and it is only in the last few years that I have entered into this relationship of being a son. As a minister in a denomination, I knew my position and I knew the rules. I had a career plan and knew that I was destined for a position of prominence in the denomination. Although I was “successful” I was under a lot of stress. I was actually driven to prove to my biological father that I was “OK.” While I thought I was part of a big denominational “family”, I in fact functioned as a loner, doing my own thing under the auspices of the denomination. Later I established an independent fellowship, and recognised the need for “oversight” which I understood as a safety rail which would prevent me from getting too far off the track. The avenues for oversight which I sought, for one reason or another, didn't work out.
Then I met the man who could be that spiritual father that I needed. As I have learned to love the man rather than the office and to receive his father love, I have become more free in my own ministry. I am less driven and more relaxed. I feel more love for my people than ever before. There is a change in my thinking about the people I pastor in that I no longer focus on their faults and how they fail to meet my standards. Rather it's about lifting up their shortcomings up to the heavenly Father in intercession, and focussing on encouraging them to give their best to Jesus.
For years, I have felt that bringing in an outside pastor to “run” the church is a second-rate principle. The preferred method is for leaders to be raised from within the congregation. In fact, the church should not be ordaining ministers, but recognising the leaders God has called.
Now that I understand the relational principles of fathers and sons, it makes even more sense to raise leaders from among the sons of the father in the household. In this way continuity with the spirit or values of the congregation is maintained. Instead of importing an unknown person, we allow the ones who have shown themselves to be true sons to inherit the mantle of the father.
When I was in my previous denomination the way of determining the ones who should be trained and then admitted for ministry was a rather lengthy series of interviews by different bodies in the denomination. Firstly the elders, then the congregation, then a committee of the regional body (Presbytery), then a committee of the State body (Synod) would each interview the candidate before a decision was made to accept him/ her for training. At the end of the training period another series of interviews would make a decision to either accept or reject the person as a minister.
This is a very bureaucratic process which uses administrative methods and human wisdom to decide whether a person has gifts which might make him/ her useful in ministry. It removes the process of relationships altogether and leaves out the Holy Spirit completely. In practice the people who best knew the person, i.e. the local congregation, felt that they didn't have the qualifications to refuse a candidate for ministry and just bumped the application up to the next level, while those who had the most experience to tell who might make a good minister in general terms had the least personal knowledge of the person.
The end result of this process is that relational issues which are at the heart of pastoring are completely overlooked in the calling of ministers. People who are trying to fill a need for a father in their own life, are thrust into a position of having to father a multitude of people. Driven by their own neediness they end up manipulating people to perform so that they themselves look good and feel good.
Principle 4: Hearts knitted together
These days fellowships are often seen by members as another service provider in our consumer-focussed society. If you don't like McDonald's you can go to K.F.C.; if you don't like this church you can go to another.
Church is meant to be a family. Ephesians 3:14-15 describes the church as “the” family. The word patria means a family (that is an extended family) or a clan. In my understanding of church, there is one church in a townor locality (we'll talk about that kind of unity in a later article), but there may be several fellowships or households of faith. The pastor is the father of the household.
It is really important to remember at this point that this is all relational not authoritarian.
The pastor invests his life into the sons and daughters in his care. The sons and daughters invest themselves in building his ministry and honouring him. The hearts of fathers are knitted to the hearts of the sons.
This generates a true community in which everyone is bound together by love. However, it has to be based on a process of people willingly giving their hearts to one another. When sons give their hearts to a father, they will also love the other sons, because they value what the father values. I love the members of my congregation and I expect that they will love one another out of respect for me, if for no other reason.
Some years ago we had some conflict in our church. I won't go into details about the conflict, but inevitably some people left. There was one couple, in particular who left but shouldn't have. They had been good friends for many years. I thought we were too close to be separated, but it seems that was not the case. Because our hearts were so knitted together, their leaving left an enormous wound in the church. We were literally heart-broken for more than two years. Going to church was a depressing experience for me and for many members.
When a church consists of people who are bound together by the love of the father of the house and where honour and esteem flow freely, the church will not readily split over the colour of the pew bibles or the size of the choir or any of the other silly reasons which churches divide over all too frequently. Our love for one another will overcome our petty differences, even our major differences.
In this article I have shared from my heart on this subject of the father-son relationship. I am convinced that we all need a spiritual father who will love us and release us into the fullness of maturity. I believe also that, having come into maturity of faith, all of us are also called to become spiritual fathers to others.
Those in ministry particularly need to find the person whom God has set as their spiritual father. This may be, but probably is not, the person in authority over them in the denominational structures. Remember this is a relationship that comes from the heart of the father and the son, not by appointment or position.