The Scriptures refer to believers in churches as children in several passages such as: 2 Corinthians 6:13, 12:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 2:11; Galatians 4:19; 1 Peter 1:14, and multiple times in John’s epistles. The Corinthian and Galatian passages that mention fathers and sons/children are metaphors for the state of spiritual infancy of those in the community. It’s not necessarily a compliment, a model of ministry, a protocol, or standard to be maintained for all time. It is a metaphor for a relational spiritual reality and a season of spiritual development that we all pass through on our way to realizing our maturity in Him. .
The Thessalonian verses also use the term as a metaphor for Paul’s tenderness and affections among them. First Peter 1:14-15 also uses it as a metaphor for the believer’s relationship to God, not their relationship to leaders or mentors. In John’s epistles, it is again a metaphor describing John’s affection/heart state toward them, especially in their spiritual infancy.
Paul explicitly refers to only three people as his sons: Onesimus, Timothy, and Titus. In each case Paul applied the term to those for whom he was instrumental in their conversion process and subsequent development. Peter refers to Mark as his son once in 1 Peter 5:13. Paul refers to himself generically as a father in 1 Corinthians 4:15:
For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, you have not many fathers;for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
If we want to be “strictly biblical” in our thinking and methods, one has to question the scope of the f/s ministry paradigm for any relationship other than that of a convert and the one who leads him/her to conversion and subsequent growth in the faith. The context of 1 Corinthians 4:15 is explicit and frequently ignored when this topic is preached. Paul’s metaphor of spiritual fatherhood is related to birthing in the gospel: conversion, new birth.
Some believe the image is not limited to conversion, but to being “fathered in ministry.” Paul simply does not use the metaphor in such a way. It’s not in the text. It’s a weak, if not illegitimate inference. To categorically adapt this language to a relationship of someone who has transferred from another assembly or who has joined an apostle’s “network,” is a very dubious application of Scripture. But for the sake of the proposition, let’s say there is application beyond spiritual birthing.
Joining a network or association no more establishes a f/s relationship than putting a mouse in a cookie jar makes it a cookie. Any organization resembling a “Christian entity” legitimately exists only as a context for the development of relationships of mutuality, not as the source of identity or value. God operates by family. We want to build entities, institutions, and “networks.” Networking the verb is not such a bad thing if it means investigating and developing Spirit-wrought relationships. Network the noun is not such a good thing as it is only different than a denomination by the finest nuance of definition.
It is also a stretch to think that if Paul specifically identifies only three, and Jesus related to only twelve intimately, that any of the rest of us can have scores, hundreds, or thousand of “spiritual sons and daughters” around the world! The idea is preposterous: ego on steroids.
It’s biblically illegitimate to make much of a little. It’s one thing to use the language of family, fatherhood, sonship, and children to describe Holy Spirit birthed unique relationships, primarily associated with conversion. It’s another matter to turn the language into a mandatory and universal spiritual protocol of “ministerial relationship” that all must submit to under dire threats of missing God’s best for his or her life. This is manipulative, controlling, nonsense.
 1 John – little children, young men, fathers.
 I am not a fan of the term “leader.” It has some cultural baggage associated with it that is nearly insurmountable to overcome and the NT Scripture does not use it specifically. I much prefer “follower” to leader as in the Pauline: “Follow me as I follow the Lord.” In that sense, yes, it is leadership.
 Philemon 10; 2 Timothy 2:1; Titus 1:4.
This blog is an excerpt of our booklet: Father-Son Ministry: Reassessing Apostolic and Prophetic Perspectives, available at www.stevecrosby.com
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