There’s plenty of reflection among Christians about the spirit of Elijah. Doubtless, this Old Testament mouthpiece offers copious character traits that his New Testament counterparts would do well to model. However, for all the accurate prophetic decrees and miraculous moments that characterized Elijah’s ministry, it is his spiritual fatherhood that is perhaps most needed in the Body of Christ.
With companies of young prophets rising up and armies of prophetic believers awakening to the order to establish the Kingdom of God throughout all the earth, spiritual guidance is vital to a stable Church that the world will look to for answers.
Governments and other secular leaders won’t bow their ears to the utterances of super spiritual fruits, emotional flakes and hypocritical nuts. The governing church demands unwavering voices that refuse to compromise in the face of opposition, yet with a wisdom and grace that persuades even the hardest heart’s that God’s will is the only way.
The manifestation of the sons of God depends on spiritual fathers who will invest time and energy into their spiritual children. So as we consider Elijah and his miraculous ministry let us also consider this powerful prophet’s role in shaping the life and ministry of young Elisha, who went on to do far greater things than his spiritual mentor.
Spiritual FathersYou don’t have to be an apostle to be a spiritual father or mother, but the apostolic reformation is surely ushering in a renewed focus on this relational dynamic that will prepare the Church for its Bridegroom. We are seeing the manifestation of the Malachi mandate that proclaims: “He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6)
“There’s a revelation that’s beginning to come to the earth that’s obviously a part of the apostolic movement,” says Bishop Tony Miller, founder of Destiny World Outreach in Greenville, S.C. “In fact, this revelation of spiritual fathers is one of the major aspects of the Apostolic Movement – and it’s oftentimes overlooked. It’s the Malachi 4 model where God is restoring the hearts of the fathers back to their children and their children back to their fathers. It’s a two-way avenue.”
The Emerging Fathers
Many church leaders mourn the dearth of spiritual fathers in the Body of Christ today. Some, like Apostle John Eckhardt, founder of Crusader Ministries in Chicago, believes this parental drought is hindering the purposes of God in the apostolic revolution.
“I believe there are thousands of emerging apostles that have gifts within them and they are not being released because we don’t have fathers that understand the apostolic calling and the [need to] release them like we should,” Eckhardt argues. “I believe we do have many young ministers with apostolic callings who struggle to develop on their own because there is no one in their region that they are connected to that has a heart to train and disciple them into their gifting.”
One reason for the scarcity of spiritual fathers is the lack of a widespread fathering model in former generations. Many of today’s local church leaders were not fathered themselves, and subsequently do not know how to father others. The apostolic revolution is helping to break this vicious cycle with spiritual fathers and mothers and spiritual sons and daughters who are willing to learn and grow into their respective roles together for the sake of future generations.
Doug Stringer, founder and president of Turning Point Ministries International in Houston, Texas, is writing a book on the topic of spiritual fathers. His passion is to reach what he deems as a fatherless generation emer-ging as a prophetic generation in pursuit of spiritual fathers. In his travels, he frequently encounters young men and women with a deep craving for spiritual fathers.
“My generation was fatherless,” says Stringer, 50, author of the upcoming book Who’s Your Daddy Now? “We don’t know how to be fathers ourselves, but the emerging generation tells me they don’t expect us to know how to be fathers. They just want us to be willing to try, and to identify with them and offer a sense of connectedness.”
Anatomy of a Spiritual Father
Of course, the concept of spiritual fatherhood is not new to the apostolic. Long before the apostles were fully restored to the Church, Dr. Lester Sumrall raised up three strong spiritual sons. Sumrall passed away in 1996, but his ministry lives on, in part, through what he imparted to Rod Parsley, Ulf Ekman and Billy Joe Daugherty. Sumrall was known as a “pastor of pastors.” Sumrall, himself, was tutored by British evangelist Howard Carter and blessed by Smith Wigglesworth.
Parsley views his relationship with Sumrall as akin to the dynamics between Elijah and Elisha. In 1992, Sumrall passed his “sword of anointing” to Parsley, conferring on him the spiritual mantle of his ministry. “Dr. Lester Sumrall was not only my spiritual mentor and my pastor, but also he was, above all, my best friend. For more than 15 years he protected me, guided me, instructed me, corrected me and exhorted me. He encouraged and inspired me to a closer walk with God, and he increased my understanding of the spirit realm as no other human ever has,” Parsley wrote in his book Rod Parsley Presents Adventuring With Christ by Lester Sumrall.
Parsley described many of the characteristics of a spiritual father: protection, guidance, instruction, correction, exhortation, encouragement and inspiration. Miller agrees that these are some of the chief earmarks of a true spiritual father. A spiritual father, he says, is always willing to give his life for his sons. A spiritual father, he adds, will always anchor his sons to his character and purpose. A spiritual father, he continues, will always see gifts in his son that other people don’t see – and inspire him to put the gifts to work.
“In this apostolic move we’re moving into a season where I believe the emphasis of the Kingdom is not in doing but in being. That’s why fathers are arising on the scene,” Miller explains. Miller’s spiritual father is Tom Peters, pastor of Trinity Church International in Lake Worth, Fla. Miller describes him as man of godly character, yet not overly charismatic, who has made a tremendous impact on his life.
“My spiritual father recently said to me, ‘You don’t even need me anymore. You do far bigger things than I do’,” Miller shares. “I told him I would always need him. I need him because he was there when I had nothing. He understood the assignment on my life and he helped God forge character in my life. Then he told me that if I stay true to the character of God and walk humbly before the Lord, God will keep promoting me. It’s more important to him that I stay in a right relationship with God and posture myself according to character and the purpose of god than it is that I keep expanding my borders. I believe that that’s the heart of the true father.”
Breaking Down Resistance
For all the talk about spiritual fathers, we must not forget that without willing spiritual sons there cannot be the two-way avenue that Miller described. Spiritual sons should respect and honor their spiritual fathers, according to Peter Sumrall. That means serving the father’s vision and taking his advice concerning your own.
“My dad used to laugh because some guys would say ‘You are my spiritual father,’ but they were too busy to pick him up at the airport,” Sumrall recalls. “They didn’t understand the meaning of serving, or of receiving the spiritual insight and authority a father has to offer.”
It seems not much has changed today. An independent spirit often causes would-be sons to resist sonship, most notably the correction that come with the relationship. However, fathers who refuse to correct their sons will lose their sons as Eli lost his (1 Samuel 2:34; 4:11). And the Bible clearly states that those who will not receive correction will become bastards (Hebrews 12:8).
Miller puts it this way: Sonship is not visible by how someone receives encouragement; it’s visible by how they receive correction. A true son doesn’t make his father adjust the way he leads; a true son adjusts the way he follows. While ultimate accountability is surely before the Lord, spiritual sonship goes beyond accountability to a willingness to submit yourself to a father who can speak to the blind spots in your life so you can grow.
“I think many guys resist spiritual fathers because they don’t want to have to get permission from anybody to do what they want to do. It’s not about permission-giving. It’s about maturity. It’s about wisdom. You can enforce compliance, but submission can never be forced,” Miller explains. “Submission is an attitude of the heart. There are a lot of people out there who are keeping the rules but who are not submitting. They call you father until there is something they don’t agree with.”
Another reason some resist the father movement because they have seen what Miller calls rent-a-father, an abominable act where leaders attempt to merchandise believers. It sounds something like this, “Send me your tithes and I will be your father.” That tactic is not relational and does not fit God’s pattern for fathers – spiritual or natural. When a child is born, the father doesn’t tell him, “pay me and I’ll take care of you.” There is nothing wrong with honoring spiritual fathers with gifts, Miller asserts, but honor is far more than sending a check.
“A true father will cut away the flesh – that’s what circumcision is – that would impede the flow of life,” Miller says. “When a father takes his knife to shape the character of a son, it’s not to harm him. It’s to release a greater flow of life. That’s the reason I tell young men, ‘If your spiritual father doesn’t have a knife, go and buy him one.’ I don’t want my father not to carry a knife because I want him to deal with the areas of my life that cut off my productivity.”
The Qualities of Sonship
Beyond submitting to the counsel and correction – and receiving the encouragement and strength – from a spiritual father, true sons honor their father. But honor goes beyond gifts or even submission to include a measure of dependence. Young warriors are built for exploits, but older men who become spiritual fathers have a burden to impart before they depart. Fathers have an urgency to make a deposit in their sons’ lives so they win the battle.
just as we honor God by asking him to help us with our challenges, spiritual sons honor their spiritual fathers by asking them for insight. This concept is illustrated in 2 Kings 6 when the sons of the prophets came to Elisha looking for his blessing to go build a bigger dwelling by the river. The sons of the prophets, Stringer explains, wanted to build their own place, but they wanted their spiritual father to go with them in case they needed him. Indeed, when the young prophets lost their axe head in the river they turned to Elisha for some insight. Stringer sees that axe head as a symbol of strength, passion and the first love. Elisha was able to help the young prophets retrieve what was lost.
“Sometimes we need to be available to the emerging generation as apostolic fathers and help them find their passion, their creativity, their sense of destiny and purpose that God gave them,” Stringer says. “We need to give them wisdom, another shot in the arm so to speak, to keep them moving forward because they are full of vision and anointing. We just have to give them a compass.”
Apostolic fathers lay foundations. Rather than lording a title or office over a spiritual son, they get under them to push them to a higher dimension. Miller still remembers a recent trip to South Africa. A man there made a statement that still pierces his heart and reminds him of the mandate on his life. The man said, “Your success is my honor.” Miller tells his spiritual sons that the greatest thing they could do for him is to take what he’s imparted to them and use it to expand the Kingdom.
The apostolic is a multi-generational movement. The establishment of the Kingdom demands spiritual fathers who are willing to propel their spiritual sons to greater heights. Stringer puts it this way: “We will either be like Elizabeth rejoicing over the birthing of a forerunner generation or we will be like Rachael weeping over the loss of a whole generation. “It is up to us as the Church to carry the expression of Christ and to really represent the Father to a generation that has been deemed fatherless.”