The church today needs spiritual parents who will help less mature believers grow in the Lord.

Spiritual parenting requires deliberate, intentional implementation in a local church. Some call "spiritual parenting" having spiritual fathers, mentoring or discipling. Paul said it this way: "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Cor. 4:15-16, NKJV, emphasis added).

Too many are seeking to be elders, deacons, presbyters or bishops before they first bear the fruit of spiritual offspring. Church offices are empty positions unless they are occupied by experienced, mature, spiritual parents in Christ.

Spiritual parents are fathers and mothers to less mature believers who are growing in the Lord. Like natural parenting, spiritual parenting requires a devoted, committed measure of time and attention, which in the 21st-century church might embody the following traits:

1. A focus on relationship beyond rules. Law is important, but rules that stifle relationships reduce churches to being legalistic organizations instead of living organisms. Paul writes, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6).

2. A relationship built on friendship, not simply formality. Discipleship and mentoring have too often been stiff and formalized. Friendship involves more than just relating in groups, cells, classes and services. Christian parenting in friendship includes mentoring marriages, holding parent "sharing" times for learning and accountability and working together in the community and workplace (see John 15:15).

3. A friendship producing fruit, not just good feelings. We often spend too much time trying to please people instead of equipping, maturing and raising up children in the faith to become mature parents of the faith (see John 15:5).

Recently, a close friend in the Lord many years younger than me taught me a valuable lesson in marketplace ethics. How thankful I was that he took the time to be a spiritual parent to me. His insight, counsel, discernment and confrontation helped me mature another step in spiritual growth. In truth, his Spirit-led guidance parented me.

The goal of Christian parenting is equipping the saints (see Eph. 4:12). Equipping requires time, accountability, honesty, purity, integrity, transparency and intimacy. If the hearts of spiritual parents are turned to the spiritual children in our churches, then their hearts will turn toward loving the Father and others.

Larry Keefauver serves as a teaching pastor at The Gathering Place Worship Center in Lake Mary, Florida, and has recently authored, Lord, I Wish My Teenager Would Talk With Me (Creation House).

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