Yet another interesting week just past – one that again confirmed that opportunities are ‘out there’ to share Jesus’ gospel and God’s love: Also that Christianity is not about ‘religion’ but about relationship …relationships with an interested heavenly Father and through caringly for one another.
Take last Saturday afternoon – in a fishmongers’ of all places! (what a place to ‘gospel fish for men!’) – as we were paying for our oysters, the young man, not a Christian mind you, casually commented that we need to pray that the right government gets in. It was, of course, voting day and equally casually we responded that we’d been praying so all week.
As it happened we were the only customers at that moment and the pursuing out-of-the-blue conversation opened up several relationship matters. Amazingly much was covered in a short space of time! The gospel and salvation through Jesus alone, trusting in God as one’s caring Father, biblical direction re praying for our governments, forgiveness, the need to be there one another, and much, much more.
Those meaningful minutes were a God appointment – and we took them, sharing how to be in fellowship with God through Jesus and being really neighbourly to others. Then, as customers started coming in, we had to leave it all with the Holy Spirit to speak further to the young man’s heart.
Absence of genuine, with-it friends
One particular matter he raised is very topical…this young man commented that ‘There are so many people around that need someone to talk to, need help, need a real friend.’ We’re trusting in God that he himself discovers the greatest friend of all – Jesus.
The previous Sunday when visiting and sharing with two dear friends contemplating marriage and their future together in general, we were paid an unsolicited compliment: ‘You’ve always been the spiritual dad and mum we never had. For years you were always there for us. How the church needs people like you guys – real spiritual fathers and mothers. They’re just not around.’
In a similar vein, recent emails (local and interstate) stated the same. In an overseas comment on one of our Encouragement articles, the writer (who’s in church leadership) complimented us – ‘Just lately a person in my church said to me, “You’re an encourager.” I believe, Robert and Maureen, that’s a big part of what your mentoring has helped me become. I know only too well that life isn’t airy fairy and we are not always “happy clappy.” However, it is my experience that people “work” better with encouragement.’
It’s not the first time we’ve been humbled by similar comments about this aspect of our ministry. But to us it’s a natural – to be there for people, especially Christian friends. Yet we are aware there are those – even some leaders who just don’t know who to turn to in times of need, deep heartache, decision-making, crises, spiritual bewilderment… neither natural parents or ministers (for various reasons).
But hey…this article isn’t to boast about our ministry! It’s highlighting a real need not just ‘out there’ in the mission field of life but in the very church itself!
Missing: Spiritual fathers and mothers
We’re again reminded of two scenarios –
- The oft-heard cry of ‘Oh, how we need spiritual fathers and mothers in Israel – the church today.’
- Paul’s 1 Corinthians 4:15 NLT declaration: ‘For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus …’
‘Others’ reads ‘guardians’ in other versions, ‘instructors’ in the KJV. It’s paidagogos – indicating a child trainer, schoolmaster, instructor, tutor. Although such a person can never take the place of a good biological dad, such an instructor is regarded here as a representation of a caring father.
Incidentally, the term ‘spiritual father and mother’ is not about gender, it’s about the heart attitude! What many troubled Christians look for today are spiritual figures who don’t put down but build up. Don’t unlovingly carelessly say, ‘That’s life, live with it.’ But who really understand, genuinely care, know the ways of the Spirit, can effectively speak into one’s life and minister from experience…have ‘been there, done that’ and can really relate.
Consequently we really like how the Message puts this Corinthian verse – ‘There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up. It was as Jesus helped me proclaim God’s Message to you that I became your father.’
Sounds a familiar cry?
Does this ring a bell? That there’s not many available spiritual fathers (and mothers) around?
Any good preacher’s Sunday message is important. Of course it is, as is after sermon prayer time! But there is a noticeable need beyond this for deeper, meaningful down-to-earth pastoral care in church life – a one-on-one ministry that gives troubled Christians the chance to open up and share from the heart to experienced Paul-like mentoring counsellors and prayerers!
Some churches operate under a CCC banner – ‘Campus Corporation Covering.’ The push is to pump out many sons and daughters that must fit the mold – causing disarray, disillusionment and disappointment. Troubled Christians say that something is missing locally as ‘everything has to be okayed from back up the corporate ladder’ and that pastoral parenthood intimacy is lost.
Spiritual fathers and mothers don’t choose their children to mold ‘their way’ – they’re given to them by God, the Father, to ‘grow in Christ.’
Such caring spiritual parents are there on the local scene, as Paul writes, to help make ‘the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love’ (Ephesians 4:16 NTL).
A number of Christians have shared that meaningful prayers, advice and sound direction just aren’t there from some leaders because such ‘church heads’ have never walked where they’re walking, never experienced life’s problems or circumstances. Yet are so quick to put the hurting down making them feel belittled, unheard, misunderstood and ignored.
The depths of the compassion of Jesus
Many leaders – even some so-called friends – can come across as presuming that you’ve done something wrong, therefore that’s why you’re in trouble. Some may seem sympathetic but what’s needed are spiritual fathers and mothers who are emphatic!
Sympathy is good – it’s feeling compassion, sorrow, pity (but not degrading pity!) for the hardships that another person encounters, but meaningful empathy is putting oneself in the shoes of another! It goes deeper – its very aroma is that of real compassion.
Spiritual fathers and mothers carry this precious aroma – just as Jesus did. Matthew 9:36 highlights the depth of his emphatic concern for the needs of his ‘local church’ – his followers: ‘When he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion to the depths of his being, for they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep who have no shepherd.’
There’s a bigger picture here! In his study on the above scripture (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol 1) the eminent Bible scholar, Professor William Barclay, writes of Jesus: ‘In all our afflictions he is afflicted. He cannot see a sufferer without longing to ease the pain.’
Jesus’ compassion is splangchnistheis – the strongest word for pity in the Greek language. It seeks to describe a situation that touches one in the deepest depths of his or her inner being. Apart from usage in some parables, splangchnistheis is used only of Jesus (Mat. 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mar. 1:41; Luk. 7:13).
The wording here, and in the surrounding verses, is so vivid and emphatic. From the depths of his innermost being Jesus surveyed the bigger picture, one of hassled, hurt and hungry souls. Jesus ‘saw’ – meaning ‘knowing and understanding’ – something that ‘moved’ him, stirring empathy from so deep within that, being the good shepherd he was vehemently affected!
Jesus saw that the ordinary people were disconcerted, distressed, dismayed and disappointed – brokenness, bewilderment, confusion and loneliness due of life’s nasty curves and religious leaders with nothing to offer leading to being drained, tired and shepherdless. ‘Bewildered’ alone is so strong – it speaks of being pestered without pity, treated with insolence, wearied, flayed and robbed (Think of the Good Samaritan).
Bridges needed today
It’s so apparent today that we need good shepherds, good Samaritans, good spiritual fathers and mothers that can clearly ‘see’ from the depths of their hearts, years of experience, real emphatic understanding and, using God’s word, to be there for hurting, troubled and confused individuals.
Admittedly many church leaders are genuinely busy people – congregants can tend to abuse such with unreasonable demands. But, wearing themselves out and causing dismay, there are also those who insist on doing everything themselves, who won’t release able and willing workers to carry the load, share the ministry and be ‘bridges.’
Bridges – that’s how an appreciative friend described our particular intercessory, spiritual father and mother ministry: ‘You two are the bridge that’s needed today. The bridge that takes troubled Christians like me to higher ground, a better relationship with God.’
Jesus’ example – and Paul’s too – are clarion calls for more willing and available ‘spiritual father and mother bridges’ in churches. And to leadership to utilise such workers…there’s a particular needed Matthew 9:37 harvest within the church too!
This generation needs such bridges – now!
(Scripture emphases ours). Links: https://connectingwithyou.net/2016/06/29/dare-to-call-him-shepherd-june-29-2016/ / https://connectingwithyou.net/2016/07/02/from-pauper-to-prince-to-preacher-july-2-2016/ / https://connectingwithyou.net/2016/05/03/the-tyranny-of-pastoral-visitation/