The Bible teaches us in 1 Corinthians 4:15 that we have many teachers but not many fathers in the church. During this Father’s Day season it is important to remember the significant role fathers play in the formation of both their spiritual and biological children. I speak as a person who functions in and understands both roles.
(In most situations when I am speaking outside of my local church I function as a teacher; with pastors and leaders to whom I am assigned I function more as a father with a teaching anointing.)
I realize that we can also make a case for mothering and spiritual mothers. Because I am speaking based on personal experience I will limit my remarks to fathering.
The following are (perhaps exaggerated) generalities to accentuate the different functions of fathers and teachers.
I. Teachers disseminate information; Fathers pour out their lives
The primary function of a teacher is to take the revelation of Scripture and make it practically applicable for everyday living.
While teachers are called primarily to spend time studying and dispensing knowledge and information, fathers are primarily called to pour out their lives to those for whom they are responsible. A father’s primary method of teaching is through modeling excellence and wisdom in one’s life for one’s spiritual children. Fathers go by the adage “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This is the primary method Paul used to disciple Timothy, his foremost disciple. In a summation of his discipleship method, Paul reminded Timothy of “his way of life” right before his own martyrdom (2 Timothy 4:10-11). Paul defended his apostleship by illustrating his patient endurance in the midst of suffering, not by recounting his greatest sermons (read 2 Corinthians 11:16-32). Also, he not only spent for his children but he expended himself as well (2 Corinthians 12:15).
II. Teachers are motivated by illumination; Fathers are motivated by personal transformation
As a teacher in the body of Christ, I am constantly motivated to learn and understand more about the Scriptures and leadership principles so that I can pass my learning on through writing and preaching. However, when it comes to those in my special circle of people that I am assigned to father, I am more motivated by seeing the teachings bear fruit for personal transformation. I am called to walk with them, correct them, encourage them, and aid them in their life journeys so they will maximize their fullest potential. It is not enough for me to teach those in this group; I need to be available to coach them in their personal lives as well.
III. Teachers search for students; Fathers search for sons and daughters
Teachers enjoy nothing more than being in a room full of hungry students that can pull knowledge, information, and insight out of them. Those wired by God to father only view the classroom as an entree to find potential leaders they can have long-term connections with toward a process of aiding them in their journeys of becoming mature sons and daughters of Christ.
IV. We have many teachers; We do not have many fathers
Though there are countless teachers, mentors, and coaches in the body of Christ who can edify all of us, each person is only assigned one primary father for their life’s journey. For example, in biological families there is only one father and one mother, though a person may have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings who impact their life.
I believe when Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 4:15, he is also referring to the fact that so few saints in the church ever continue to mature enough in the faith so as to take on the role of a spiritual father. Through 30 years of full-time ecclesial ministry I also concur that rare indeed is this function! How sad it is that most of the pastors and leaders in the church try to replace the “way of Jesus and the apostles” with Bible institutes and schools. Formal Bible studies and education will never take the place of the model of nurturing leadership modeled in the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the epistles. One of the reasons for so much disloyalty and splitting in the church is because of a lack of fathering between senior pastors and their spiritual children, because children will have resentment and rebel against fathers who do not spend time with them.
I believe the primary reason many leaders in the body of Christ die unsatisfied and unfulfilled is because when they look back on their lives they see that they have not left behind a legacy of spiritual children that will carry on their work. Fame, speaking at large conferences, or writing best-selling books will never satisfy a person in old age like having their children around them!
V. Teachers bask in joy at academic success; Fathers enjoy life success
Teachers are thrilled when their students do well in school and become great students of the word. Fathers realize that, just because someone is filled with knowledge and has a great grasp of biblical knowledge, there is no guarantee that person will have a successful personal life and fulfill their mission. John said that he had no greater joy than to find his children walking in the truth–not in his children merely having the truth (2 John 4; 3 John 4).
VI. Teachers have an intellectual connection with their students; Fathers have a heart connection with their children
Teachers are stimulated when they have deep intellectual exchanges with students and congregations while teaching and preaching, or while doing question & answer sessions during informal discussions. They walk away from such encounters extremely satisfied because of the opportunity to dispense their vast knowledge. Fathers are not satisfied with such exchanges unless it also involves a long-term strategy to be involved in a process of pouring their lives into their students. This is because fathers are motivated more by a heart-to-heart connection than an exchange of the minds. Heart-to-heart connections delve into the heart, the mind, the soul, and the emotions of a person; they enable a father to penetrate beyond the surface and into the real life of a son or daughter. While a teacher may get excited when a student screams amen during a great lecture, a father desires to peer into the (compartmentalized) life of a son or daughter with the intent to bring wholeness and integrity, so that their teachings can bear much fruit and bring their children to maturity.
VII. Teachers desire opportunity to teach; Fathers seek opportunity for their sons and daughters to minister
Teachers bask in the opportunity to teach, even to the point where they would do it for nothing if they had to! They are always looking for a platform to get out their vast knowledge through preaching, teaching, blogging, books, CD’s, DVD’s, and all other forms of available media. They gauge their level of success in life by how far and wide their teachings are being heard and received by the masses. On the other hand, fathers do not gauge their success by the extent of their ministry platform but by the extent of the platform they prepare for their spiritual seed. They take greater pleasure being in the background while those they have poured into are bearing much fruit in the foreground! Instead of living for their 15 minutes of fame they live to wash the feet of their children and committing their lives to their success!
Finally, while many are attempting to preach and teach a message, not too many are willing to live that message out, through those they have spent years coaching into maturity for the maximization of their potential for the glory of God and expansion of His kingdom.
Oh God, give us more fathers! – Joseph Mattera