This past weekend, I had the privilege of participating in the inaugural Mantle Conference hosted by my friend, Dr. Bobby Manning (@drbmanning). This conference was designed to bring together pastors and ministers from different ages and stages for an intergenerational conversation about life and ministry. It was highlighted by “Elijah/Elisha” interviews between fathers in ministry and their spiritual sons. I had the honor and privilege of interviewing my spiritual father and pastor, Archbishop Alfred A. Owens, Jr.
The focus of these conversations, and much of the conference as a whole, was on the relationships between spiritual fathers and sons in ministry. While the language is extremely patriarchal, please know that these terms are gender-neutral. They could easily be exchanged with spiritual mothers and daughters, and the conference speakers ensured that women in ministry were also acknowledged and included. There are some who believe that women have no place in ministry, I am not one of them, and I would encourage those who are to see just how intricately involved women were in Jesus’ ministry. If He was cool with it, then I am too.
Of the many positive things that took place during this conference, I was blessed to moderate a panel on leadership succession, which was the focus of my doctoral dissertation. The panelists included an actual (biological) father-son team, Pastors Tommy and Perrin Rogers, who went through a succession process at their church that was healthy and successful. Sad to say, many successions are not as successful. This is partly, I believe, due to an incomplete understanding of spiritual fatherhood and sonship.
At the closing session of the conference, someone asked a question about defining spiritual fatherhood, and I proffered that the primary role of spiritual fathers (or mothers) are to give provision, protection, and correction. Just as natural parents provide for, protect, and correct their children, spiritual parents are called to do the same for those they “raise” in ministry. The challenge, however, is that spiritual sons (or daughters) must be in a position to receive and reciprocate if the relationship is to be successful.
One of the my favorite TV shows is Sons of Anarchy. This show is about an outlaw biker gang in California. Since, preachers of the gospel follow Jesus – the King of Kings – we are called to be “Sons of Monarchy.” With that in mind, I would like to offer these three principles of spiritual sonship. Spiritual sons are those who SUBMIT, SERVE and STAY. Now, this is certainly not an exhaustive list of the responsibilities of a spiritual son (or daughter), but every successful son, at the very least, exhibits these three traits.
1. Spiritual sons SUBMIT.
Successful spiritual sons are those who have no problem submitting to the spiritual authority of their father (or mother) in ministry. In the church world, we often primarily speak of submission within the context of the marital relationship, and even then, we often only focus on a wife’s call to submit to her husband in Ephesians 5:22, while conveniently skipping over the call to mutual submission in the preceding verse (Ephesians 5:21).
Spiritual sons are also called to submit to their spiritual parents. This is an extension of the commandment to “honor” our fathers and mothers that our “days may be long”. Perhaps many people cut their ministries short because they have not honored their spiritual fathers. Submission is an outgrowth of honor. Just as a child honors his or her parents by “submitting” to the rules of their house (curfew, etc.), spiritual sons honor their parents by submitting to their authority.
The word ‘submission’ can literally be described as being subject to the mission. It is voluntarily coming under the authority of someone else’s mission. If done by force, that is not submission – that is slavery. Submission is not the result of manipulation. It is a willful act of honoring the one who has paved the path you are traveling on, and it is a necessary first step to successful spiritual sonship.
2. Spiritual sons SERVE.
Not only must a spiritual son (or daughter) SUBMIT to spiritual leadership, he/she is also called to SERVE alongside spiritual leadership. There is no question about it – sons are called to serve. Even in the natural world, in agrarian societies the purpose of having children was to have hands to “work the farm.” Farmers needed sons (and daughters) to help till the fields, milk the cows, herd the sheep, clean the stalls, etc. so that the farm could run smoothly.
Even in contemporary society, there is a reason why so many of our trade companies are named after fathers and sons. My plumber, Barry Spencer, started his plumbing company when his son was only an infant, yet he intentionally named it Spencer and Son Plumbing because he knew his son would be called to serve with him in that company. He and his wife homeschooled their son so he could be free to learn the family trade serving alongside his father. Now, Caleb is a teenager and the last time I had a plumbing emergency, it was Caleb who showed up at my door – not his father. He was willing to serve.
In ministry, spiritual sons are called to serve alongside their fathers in ministry, learn the tools of the trade, and be available to show up even when the father is unavailable. The church needs more sons who are willing to “work the farm” in order to bring in the harvest. Spiritual sons are called to SERVE.
3. Spiritual sons STAY.
This is perhaps, the most difficult task of the true spiritual son. While the hired servants on the farm are free to jump to the new ‘mega-farm’ that popped up across town with shinier new tractors, more cows in the pastures, and bigger barns for the hay, sons have a higher and deeper calling. Sons are there for a purpose – not a platform. People who jump from farm to farm looking for better opportunities are not sons, they are hirelings.
It requires patience and spiritual maturity to stay – even when you don’t feel like it. However, a true son would not leave without the father’s blessing. As the saying goes, “Some were sent…some just went.” Sons are always in the “sent” crowd. They leave home to start their own farm – only when the father sends them. They take “milking engagements” at other farms – only when the father releases them.
Far too many people in ministry lack “staying power”. We want our own farm, our own cattle, our own tractors, and don’t realize that as long as we are on the father’s farm – we already have our own cattle and tractors. One of the telling statements in the story of The Prodigal Son is the father’s conversation with the older brother (the one who stayed). When the brother complained about the fuss the father was making for the son who returned, the father says to the son who stayed, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31). The son who returned got the fatted calf, but the one who stayed got the entire farm!
I want to challenge and encourage every spiritual son (and daughter) to follow these principles – SUBMIT, SERVE, and STAY. They will lead you to success – you can bet the farm on it!