What Spiritual Parents Do

As we continue to consider “What characterizes our movement?” from The Navigators Vision, we come to another characteristic: “As spiritual parents, they model authenticity and relevance.”
People are searching for authenticity, which is definitely a key characteristic of a spiritual parent. In a  review of a Jay-Z album, “Jay-Z Reminds Us Who He Really Is on 4:44,” Matt Miller wrote: "But as soulless as the album's capitalist origins might be, 4:44 feels somehow authentic. It's certainly the most honest and empathetic Jay-Z has been in a decade.”
I do not pretend to know a thing about the quality of Jay-Z’s record. But it’s clear that authenticity is an important value to the reviewer, and probably to those who buy the music. It is most certainly important to those who are looking for spiritual guidance in this stressful and confusing world. Thus, modeling authenticity is essential to spiritual parenting.
At the same time, spiritual parents should also model relevance. By this, we don’t mean that they somehow make the institutions of Christianity relevant. That ship sailed long ago! It does mean that they live as Christ-followers who demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is in our midst.
In the excellent book Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons spoke about followers of Jesus who move from irrelevance to “faith.” They wrote:

Being a Christ-follower means proclaiming him as Lord and proclaiming the good news of the coming kingdom with those who don’t know him. But we may as well acknowledge that, according to society’s shifting values, living faithfully under the lordship of Christ is increasingly irrelevant. . . . However, we maintain that by proclaiming and living under Christ’s reign, we can work for the common good in ways that are relevant to the prevailing culture.
Laborers don’t keep their faith in a box labeled “spiritual things.” They show those they disciple how to reflect Jesus in ways that matter to the people around them.
I love the Amplified Bible translation of Peter’s charge to spiritual leaders: “Tend (nurture, guard, guide, and fold) the flock of God that is [your responsibility], not by coercion or constraint, but willingly; not dishonorably motivated by the advantages and profits [belonging to the office], but eagerly and cheerfully” (1 Peter 5:2). This captures the idea that being a spiritual parent is more about relational engagement than position or title.
In fact, this verse surfaces four specific ways that leaders are to tend the flock of God:  They nurture, guard, guide, and fold.
To nurture means to help someone grow. A key skill for that process is affirmation. That is, recognizing the image of God manifesting itself in a person and affirming that (calling it forth). Spiritual parents help people see what God has said is true about them. For example, Ephesians 1:4-13 gives us a view of how God sees us and what is true about us. The spiritual parent “nurtures” a person into this view.
To guard is to protect people from dangers they cannot see. Guards engage in spiritual warfare on behalf of the people they are helping. They pray for them and help them to grow in their ability to discern good and evil. They know that our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. They resist him, standing firm in the faith, because they know that their brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (see 1 Peter 5:7-9).
To guide is to help people with the next step. The key skill is the ability to understand where people are in their relationship with God and to respond accordingly. This requires the ability to observe, ask questions, exercise spiritual discernment, and to hold the flourishing of the other person as a high value.
To fold means to connect Christ-followers in community. The key skill is the ability to create an environment of grace where people can wrestle with the truth in a way that is both authentic and relevant.
Indeed, may God use us to raise up authentic and relevant spiritual parents who nurture, guard, guide, and fold the people God gives them. Isn’t that the essence of our vision?
For Your Consideration:
  •  Describe what you think it means to live authentically.
  •  What are some ways we might “work for the common good in ways that are relevant to the prevailing culture”?
  •  Prayerfully reflect on the four ways to care for those we disciple. Is there one you feel led to strengthen as you help others follow Christ?

Al Engler is the director of Nav Neighbors. To contact him or to learn more about his ministry, click here.

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of articles unpacking the Navigator vision. The series begins with Unpacking Our Vision: An Introduction.