As we take a closer look at the issue of discipleship in this edition of Havurah, we can gain insight from reading about the Apostle Paul’s relationship with those whom he mentored. Expressions revealing the heart of a spiritual parent are scattered throughout Paul’s letters. In his zeal to see new believers grow up into the image of Messiah, Paul pushed and pulled, coddled and scolded—all while he cared deeply for those who would be disciples of Yeshua.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, Paul refers to himself as a gentle, nursing mother who tenderly cares for her own children.” He shows us that he not only imparts the Gospel to people; he gives his life to those who have become dear to him. What an example for us as we see a teacher sharing his learning and his heart with his disciples.
Paul also refers to himself as a father when he shows his disciples the sense of responsibility he feels toward them as he guides them along in their faith. Paul was fond of this father/child metaphor. He pleads with Philemon for the slave Onesimus, “…my child, whose father I have become in this prison” (Philemon 1:10).
He sees his disciples as his pride and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:19,20). Which of us would not want to feel such glory and joy over the growth of a new believer entrusted to our care? We can be spiritual parents at any age if we allow ourselves to see these “children” through Paul’s encouraging attitude.
While the New Testament is evidence of his extensive ministry, we can only marvel over the fact that Paul seemed to know and remember many of his disciples personally. He made it his practice that whenever he brought people to the Lord in a particular city, he remained connected to them and visited that city again. He was also quite familiar with the quirks and personalities of his disciples. So we, too, are encouraged to “learn” our spiritual children. Our job of “raising” them is never quite finished, just as the job of raising children does not ever seem to end.
As Paul did with Timothy, let us also encourage new believers to discover and use their spiritual gifts, and commend them to others when they do so rightly (Philippians 2:22). The Apostle recognized the young disciple’s gifts and encouraged him to use them. He did not see Timothy’s youth as a liability. Instead, he imparted to the younger brother a sense of strength and hope for how God could use him. We, too, can communicate to new believers we disciple a sense of how God might use them if their hearts are aligned with His will for their lives.
Paul saw himself as a spiritual parent, “midwifing” the second birth and moving the new disciples along to maturity. The nice thing about all this spiritual parenting is that you don’t need a big house, a big van or a big pocketbook to “adopt” a houseful of spiritual children. You do need a big heart, and that is available when you have the Father’s heart, to which we are all heirs. We can “afford” many spiritual children, and should seek to raise them in the faith.