I love to see the beautiful father/son relationship portrayed in the Pastoral Epistles between the apostle Paul and his sons
Timothy and Titus:
II Timothy 1:2
To Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace
from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
To Titus, a true son in our common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace
from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.
For me, these passages clearly reveal how things are supposed to work within the hierarchy of the Church. Rather than
the organizational maize within the leadership and structure of the Church that is now the norm, the Bible shows us this
beautiful and simple model to imitate that is quite different from the present-day Church system. This biblical Church model
is what I call “fathering.” For the sake of this instruction my comments are limited to fivefold ministers (Ephesians 4:11) in
both the father role and the son role.
WHAT IS FATHERING?
Fathering is actually a personal one-on-one relationship that God has ordained to exist between two people. This
relationship does not happen because one or the other person chooses to create and advance the relationship because it
is not a carnal thing; fathering happens by divine orchestration. Jesus sets two people into the fathering relationship in
order to fulfill His plan for their lives and ministries. It has been my observation that a father/son relationship is usually
initiated by the son not the father. This observation is not intended to be a doctrinal guideline but simply my observance
over many years of ministry. Perhaps it would appear self-serving or “recruiting” if it were initiated by the person in the
In this type of relationship there is created a true covenant relationship between the father and the son. A covenant
relationship establishes spiritual friendship and as a result the two persons are equals; we call these people “friends” in
that regard. (see John 15:15) However, even though there is a beautiful equality between the two, there is a clear spiritual
elevation in one of which the other recognizes and to which he gladly submits. Just as a father is to his adult son, so it is
with this spiritual father having prominence over the spiritual son due primarily to maturity and experience and calling.
Fathering is God’s way of preserving His covenant. In the natural sense a child continues the family name along with the
treasured family traditions. The son’s role is to preserve what has gone before. He is to learn from his father through
instruction and example and then to see that these things are fostered and continued. What the father has within himself
is a treasure chest of knowledge and experience; he relays these to his son and the younger man then builds upon these.
This is an accurate portrayal in both the natural sense and in the spiritual sense. Read from the Bible this powerful
“The things which you learned and received and heard and
saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
GENERATIONAL TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE.
Fathering plays a critical role in the Master Plan of God for His Church. It is God’s way of accurately transferring from one
generation to the next exactly what has been handed down from Jesus to His disciples, from them to their spiritual sons,
and on down the line to us here at this present time. Not only is doctrinal accuracy a reason for fathering, fathering also
benefits each new generation to not have to “re-design the wheel” over again. There is no need for any generation to
start fresh when the previous generation possesses much wisdom and experience beneficial for their sons. This is a
biblical concept called the generational transfer of knowledge. This generation receives what was learned by the previous
generation and then builds upon it to a higher level of knowledge and anointing. Each generation should be more
advanced and do more for the glory of God than the previous one. Spiritual fathering is what makes this happen.
A father’s words are life to his son, to that truth there is no argument. However, there is another level of transference
above the transfer of knowledge from a father to a son that I want to address. This is a spiritual thing that cannot be
measured or seen or heard. God places an anointing upon the father to be a father. It is power. It is divine enablement. It
is a setting apart for a specific task. It is all of these things. That anointing is a dynamic force that pours out onto and into
the son who is set in place by God. This is a spirit-to-spirit transfer. It is can be carried by words, by the laying on of hands,
or simply by virtue of being near. It is what happens when a son is simply close to his father in the faith. This is why it is
necessary for a father and son to spend as much time as possible with one another. When impartation is coupled with
instruction the son prospers.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF FATHER.
One of the complicating aspects of spiritual fathering is the possibility that we may relate our own personal experience
with our natural fathers. Our fathers may not have been righteous men, they may not have demonstrated godly behavior,
or perhaps they simply failed to properly instruct us in the ways of God. In any case, the wrong things were seen and
learned and therefore our perception of a father-figure is somewhat perverted. Our challenge then is to change our
perception of a father. It is to disassociate this wrong, natural experience with God’s way of placing fathers in our lives
that produces a rich and dynamic relationship that greatly benefits our lives.
BASED ON LOVE.
I have heard horror stories of abuse and manipulation in so called “spiritual fathers” which is tad amount to a form of
witchcraft. True fathers in the faith relate on the basis of love to their sons. Their motives are not to gain something from
the relationship but rather to pour themselves and all they have into it. Witchcraft happens when the “father” attempts to
dominate and control the “son” in order to gain some personal advantage or to direct the thoughts or actions of his son so
as to further his own flawed (or evil) plans or to somehow elevate himself with selfish motives. True spiritual fathers love
their spiritual sons at a level that almost defies words. Their real joy is in the advancement of their sons, not in using their
sons to advance their own agendas. Personal success for a true father is measured by what the son accomplishes and
achieves and to see his son reach the top is the greatest joy imaginable.
HOW FATHERS HAPPEN.
Spiritual fathers come about in two ways. First, there is the situation in which a man of God leads a younger man to Christ
and he is born again. The new convert views the elder partner as a father and the father/son relationship continues. The
fact that someone leads another person to Jesus does not in and of itself mandate a father/son relationship, but it
certainly can produce one. Secondly, there is the situation in which a son led by the Holy Spirit approaches a certain man
of God to be his father in the faith so as to create this covenant relationship. The second situation is by far the more
prevalent. This is perhaps true because most people are born again either in a worship service or through some
evangelistic person rather then through the efforts of someone capable of or called to spiritual fatherhood.
NATURAL AGE MEANS NOTHING.
I have a spiritual son that is a missionary to Mexico. He jokingly calls me “brother Dad.” The reason for this is that I am his
elder of less than ten years. In the natural I could not have fathered him, but in the spiritual realm an earthly time-line
means nothing. I address this issue simply because the question has arisen before from my sons who in turn are
approached by other men of God desiring a father/son relationship with them but they have few (if any) years beyond their
age. Age is not the critical factor here, a divine calling and ordination is what this is all about. When God creates a
father/son relationship it is good regardless of the ages of the two people involved.
NOT GENDER SPECIFIC.
Throughout this instruction I have used the term “son” when referring to the subordinate partner; however, this is not
intended to establish a gender-specific doctrine in this regard. I recently met with one of my spiritual “sons” who is a
prophet and happens to be a woman of God. She is to me exactly as the male “sons” God has blessed me with. I see no
difference; therefore, I expand my instruction herein to include spiritual daughters.
EVERY RELATIONSHIP IS UNIQUE.
Not many days ago I was invited to meet with a group of apostles for a round-table discussion on the subject of spiritual
fathers. There were some interesting insights that came from that meeting. I learned from them and they learned from me –
iron sharpening iron. One of the important conclusions from the meeting is that no two father/son relationships are alike.
Each one is unique and beautifully so. That is why it is difficult to write a document on “How To” for spiritual fathering.
Since fathering is truly a God-thing, it must also therefore be a Spirit-led relationship. To approach this in any other way is
to defile it, pervert it, and create one more religious problem with which the Church must face. Be led by the Holy Spirit
and things will go well.
FATHERING TAKES AN ANOINTING.
It is good to remind ourselves at this point that spiritual fathering is not unlike all other spiritual endeavors created by
God; each takes a specific anointing by God to do it. Educational prowess does not qualify one to be a spiritual father,
neither does age, rank, or position. God sets those in authority where He chooses, and oftentimes His choices seem not to
be the ones we would make if given the same opportunity of selection. The spiritual father will succeed at his fathering
only because God enables him to do so. Yes, he will probably make mistakes and blunders in his fathering, but those
errors will not disqualify him from his appointed task of raising up a son to do the work of the ministry. The gifts and
callings of God are without repentance and in the area of fathering this same truth applies.
EVERY MAN OF GOD NEEDS A FATHER.
Ideally, every man and woman of God should have a spiritual father. In reality however this is not the case. In fact, for most
church leaders there is no spiritual father in their lives. This weakens the Body of Christ. It weakens the Church because it
is God’s way and when we do things apart from His way there can be no expectancy of total fulfillment.
Years before I understood anything about spiritual fathers, I felt this inner sense of a need for one. When the Lord called
my wife Kay and me to birth our first church I could hardly wait to tell my pastor about it. I fully expected his excitement
over our Kingdom adventure and I just knew his blessings would be heaped upon me. I was wrong. When he found out
that our new church would not be a church in his denomination; it was as if we were anathema. He washed his hands of us
and we found ourselves on our own. In the back of my mind I knew we needed his oversight at least for a while during our
rookie years because this was new territory for us. During those formative years many mistakes were made while I was
learning things that should have been transferred to me from my spiritual father, but I had none.
FINDING YOUR SPIRITUAL FATHER.
I crawled into the backseat of the van and was greeted with a big smile and warm handshake. My visit to the Philippines
was about up when I met this wonderful man of God and his highly anointed wife. Me and my staff were privileged to stay
the night in their lovely home in Manilla. En-route to their home I was confronted with this question, “Reverend Barnett,
for years we have wanted so very much to have a spiritual father. We both feel that is to be you. Would you consider being
our father?” Of course I was flattered that such prestigious and anointed people would desire that from me. My initial
response was as it is always when asked this question, “The Lord’s will be done. If He desires for this to be, I could want
nothing else. You will know it in your spirit if I am he.” We discussed spiritual fathering at length in the one hour trip. We
each one concluded God had ordained this father/son relationship.
I enjoyed and appreciated their hospitality and fellowship. The next morning their driver whisked me away for the airport. I
heard from them only twice over the next several years. I have wondered about what happened many times, why nothing
has come of this father/son relationship. When I first responded to her mention of me being a father to them, there was a
witness in my heart about it and I could sense they were seriously intent on this too. Yet, quickly the intensity vanished
and nothing has come of it. In retrospect one thing that was missed was the “get acquainted season” in covenant building.
We were together less than 14 hours and 8 of those hours were spent sleeping and personal grooming. It is quite difficult
to get to know someone even casually in that period of time let alone the establishment of a covenant relationship.
A covenant relationship is an intimate thing. There is full disclosure and absolute transparency between the parties to a
covenant; this is why it is such a powerful thing. This closeness is at the core of a father/son relationship. That is what was
missing from my relationship with these precious folks. My encouragement for those who are considering a spiritual father
or a spiritual son is to take the time to get to know them well. Every moment spent together is a meshing of the two into
one. Out of this powerful bond will flow the anointing of God and each will benefit from what God has done. Most
importantly the father will be enabled to release into his son those things necessary for his success in life and in ministry.
Let it be done!
FEW SPIRITUAL FATHERS.
The absence of spiritual fathers is a common problem in the Body of Christ. If we can correct this problem from here on
wonderful things will start happening in the Church. We must correct this problem. The phenomenon of the apostolic
reformation is the platform from which spiritual fathering is re-emerging in the Church. For that I rejoice. True sustainable
Kingdom growth will become the norm for local churches and ministries because fathers will speak into the lives of their
sons and this will propel them further and higher than they could have gone without a spiritual father. May spiritual fathers
arise and take their places, and may spiritual sons be led to their fathers. May the Lord Jesus Christ be magnified because
we have returned to His way. Amen.
DO NOT CALL ANYONE ON EARTH YOUR FATHER.
Any study of spiritual fathering must address a passage from Matthew 23 in order to bring understanding and balance to
our beliefs. This passage is one in which Jesus judges the Pharisees and their self-righteousness and arrogance. In so
doing He makes clear that God and only God is the Father of the nation of Israel. This is why Jesus tells them to call no one
on earth their father. Jesus acknowledges here that the One who begot these covenant people was not some mortal but
rather Almighty God. His intent in this passage for discussing fathers is to clearly establish that God is the pre-eminent
One over His creation, especially over those who are called as leaders.
We should not attempt to develop a doctrine from this single passage that might dilute the truth that God sets certain men
in place in the lives of others whom He intends to act in His stead as a father to them. These earthly fathers are not to
displace God but rather to act as His delegated representative in a fatherly way. Paul the great apostle who knew the
Scriptures as well as anyone would not have violated an injunction by Jesus had it been accepted that there were to be no
fathers in the faith as he was to Timothy and Titus.
To further develop the truth in this regard we should also read in Matthew 23 Jesus referred to teachers. He was not
declaring there to be no teachers besides Himself, but rather He was setting in order the truth that He and He alone is the
Teacher from whom all earthly teachers derive their anointing to teach. Ephesians 4:11 clearly states that teachers were
given by Jesus to the Church which supports the truth that teachers were not done away with. Neither spiritual fathers nor
teachers were removed by Jesus in this passage. In fact, each of these operates under the direct anointing of Jesus
through His Spirit to accomplish the work of fathering or teaching.
The caution in this regard is to always be mindful that it is God who is our Father and our Teacher. When we refer to
someone as “Father” or “Dad” or “Papa” we do so knowing that he is an official representative of the One true Father who
has called him to function in that role for our benefit. Rejoice and thank God for your spiritual father.