Loving people will cost you. Once you decide to become emotionally and spiritually invested in another person, you feel the weight of caring for them and helping them to become all that God has created them to be.
My wife and I were married for eight years before we had children. It was a great time for us to build our relationship. Both of us were still in school, and our lives were very busy, but most of our activities centered around what we wanted to do.
However, once children came into the picture, our lives radically changed. No longer were we just concerned about what happened to us; we were concerned about our children – how they were doing, what their needs were and how we could protect and provide for them. We carried a weight of concern for them that continues to this day.
You never stop being a parent, and you never stop being concerned about the children you love. In a sense, disciple making is spiritual parenting. You are taking another person under your wing to train them, develop them and help them walk with God. You are their spiritual parent, and that wonderful role comes with a weight of concern for those you disciple.
The Apostle Paul felt this weight of concern for the people into whom he poured his life. The church at Thessalonica was a church near and dear to Paul’s heart. He founded the church during his second missionary journey as detailed in (acts 15.36-18.22 ESV).
Paul entered Thessalonica and immediately began to speak about Jesus, proving through the Scriptures that He was the messiah. While many people believed his message, the jews in the city resisted Paul and stirred up a mob against him. Paul had to flee the city under the cover of night.
Sometime later, while Paul was in Athens, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how the believers were holding up under persecution. Once Timothy returned to Paul with the good news that the church was thriving and spreading the Gospel, Paul wrote a letter encouraging them to keep following Jesus. This is one of Paul’s more endearing letters, and in so many ways, you can hear his deep love for this church.
Paul wrote, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy,” (1 Thessalonians 2.17-20 ESV).
Can you hear Paul’s concern? He was torn away from them, like a parent torn away from his own children. He was eager to see them face to face and tried often to make his way back to them. For Paul, his hope and joy before Jesus Christ was not his personal accomplishments, but the fact that these people he had come to love so much were walking faithfully with the Lord.
Paul loved them with all of his heart. This is a good place to stop and ask some important questions. Do you love the people you are discipling? Do you really care about them? When you are not with them, do you think about them and pray for them? Do you long to be with them when you are apart? Are the people you are discipling a source of joy in your life? Paul was a spiritual parent to them, and he provided a great model for us of how to be a spiritual parent to the people we are discipling.
Here are four great practices of a spiritual parent:
1. Gentle Concern
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children,” (1 Thessalonians 2.7 ESV).
Like a mother who nurses her child, Paul said he was gentle with these new believers, caring for them like they were his own children. Babies need to be held, cared for and gently encouraged. There is so much they don’t understand yet. In the same way, new believers don’t need harsh correction. They need gentle instruction and a lot of patience. They are going to make messes. They are going to struggle and make mistakes. They are going to have setbacks. That’s to be expected. But, your role is to be gentle and patient with them as you help them grow in their faith.
2. Loving Investment
“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us,” (1 Thessalonians 2.8 ESV).
Paul communicated to his disciples how much he really cared about them. He told them and he showed them. Just as a parent needs to regularly demonstrate love and affection, the people you are discipling need to know that they are more than just a spiritual project to you. They need to know that you really care about them and their families.
3. Setting an Example
“For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers,” (1 Thessalonians 2.9-10 ESV).
Paul never expected these new believers to provide for his financial needs. Instead, he set a great example for them by working hard, trusting God and staying busy with God’s mission. Just as a father sets an example for his children to follow, as you disciple the people in your life, you must set an example for them in all areas of life. They are watching you at work, at home and in your marriage. They are watching how you raise your children and how you handle crisis and difficulties. Your example of godly living will be what sticks with them the most.
4. Consistently Challenging
“For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory,” (1 Thessalonians 2.11-12 ESV).
Like a father who challenges his children to do what is right, even when it’s the hard thing to do, Paul challenged his disciples to walk in a manner that pleased God, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. These strong challenges are part of what it means to be a spiritual parent.
Sometimes this means you have to have hard conversations, call out character issues or hold your disciple accountable in some area of his or her life. While these things may be difficult or even unpleasant at the time, it will produce lasting life change if you are willing to take the relational risk and do it.
I remember meeting with an older man on a regular basis when I was a young pastor. He challenged me in just about every area of my life: my marriage, my finances, my physical health, as well as my walk with God. Sometimes those conversations were difficult, but as I look back, I’m so thankful that he cared about me enough to ask the hard questions.
This blog features an excerpt from our book, Invest In A Few.