A couple years ago, my mentors introduced me to the idea of “spiritual parents”. It is one of our core disciple-making ideas (that is, it is the basic pattern we follow to make disciples). They communicated this idea and the way it works in disciple-making with this picture:
Basically, they were saying disciple-makers function as spiritual parents, parenting the people they are discipling (we’ll save the predictable patterns and missional purpose ideas for another day).
Somewhere down the line, I started using the term “spiritual adult” instead of “spiritual parents”, at least some of the time. I think I did this because I often find myself having to take the role of a spiritual parent with someone I am not discipling, maybe even someone who has no interest in being discipled. “Spiritual adult” seemed to fit better in that circumstance.
Not only so, but spiritual adult also communicated another idea: how hard this was. That has been my primary discovery about this reality. Being an adult and/or a parent (and being a parent involves being an adult, of course) is hard. Being an adult around children is hard.
But that hard thing is what the Lord has called His disciple-makers to do. That hard thing is what the Lord Himself did, and thus that hard thing is the pattern we are to follow. Our Lord talked about “sheep” (John 21), and unfortunately that is all some of His followers will ever be. He also talked about “shepherds” (Acts 20:28; or His followers did; same thing), and that is what some of us sheep will become. It is invariably harder. Of course being the shepherd is harder than being the sheep. Of course being the adult/parent is harder than being a child. But it’s what we’ve been called to be.
And it’s what I want to be. I was thinking about this as I was talking with some folks in my office recently. One of them told me about a devotion she had read in which a father was teaching his daughter. I told her that was a model for all of us. Parenting doesn’t just happen; it is intentional. That father was intentionally trying to get his daughter somewhere. He was intentionally trying to get her to a place of understanding and maturity and ability.
And that is what the shepherds/parents/adults among us will do for the others. God has a good place He is trying to get all His people to, and we shepherds/parents/adults will help those people get to that good place any way we can. To put it another way, we will make positive contributions to their lives as much as we are able. That is the trajectory of a disciple. And it is not easy. The woman who shared that devotion about the father and daughter with me told me that she was having trouble with that, and I don’t blame her. I have trouble with it as well. But it good. Difficult or not, it is a good thing to be and be doing.