Discipling is Jesus’ growth, and maturity strategy for personal and kingdom leadership. Discipling matures ordinary Christians into ministering leaders. Discipling is not a temporary or paranthentical aspect of spiritual growth; it is a pattern of relationship that matures as the people involved mature. In other words, we are always being discipled and discipling if we are following Jesus’ growth and maturing strategy.
Fathering is one discipling relationship and one aspect of His discipling strategy.
Recently, one of the spiritual fathers God assigned to my life died. I had not seen him for a few years and our discipling relationship had ended because of reassignments in both our lives. We did not separate in a bad way–not at all–so our separation did not rob us of what God did in our lives. The role of this spiritual father was intense for a few months, continued on a more mature basis for a couple of years, then disappeared because both of us were simply doing other things assigned to us in the kingdom.
During that period of time, God assigned other fathers to speak into my life, into every aspect of my international assignment. They fathered me because that was the relationship in which their discipling occurred.
I had been in ministry more than three decades at this time in my life. Fathering relationships were a bit different for me because of where my calling and assignments, but the fathering relationships were absolutely necessary to my personal maturity as a leader in the kingdom. I was discipling hundreds of people while being discipled by international leaders. I never had a moment when I was without a spiritual father discipling my life.
We do not outgrow the need for a spiritual fathering until we enter the afterglow of our life’s work. The role each spiritual father fulfills in our lives is defined by the maturity of our lives and leadership. When Timothy was leading the fastest growing regions of his generation, he continued to be fathered by Paul even when the apostle carried out the fathering and discipling through writing or when Timothy spent time with Paul, the prisoner. During this time Timothy was discipling “faithful leaders,” and these leaders had the ability “to teach others also.”
Measuring Timothy’s ability to lead “faithful leaders” by his own faithfulness to following his discipling father, we understand that our ability to lead is tied to our ability to follow, our authority is tied to our submission, our maturity is tied to maturing others.
One of the greatest weakness of the modern ecclesia, maturing God’s people into functional leaders within the Body, may be clarified within this understanding. To mature enough to lead is different from maturing as a leader; for our leadership to mature, we must be successful at maturing others. A natural father matures naturally enough to produce children; but to mature as father, he must be successful in rearing the children he is mature enough to produce.
Since we have done such a meager job of maturing believers into ministering leaders, perhaps we should return to a closer inspection of Jesus’ own leadership and His leadership strategy for the kingdom ecclesia.