I sat in the diner booth, fiddling with my coffee cup, feeling low, unworthy, and broken. Across from me was a man I loved and respected. “Bill,” I said, “I feel like you gave me the keys to the family car, and I drove it into a brick wall.”
Bill Kynes pastors our sending church. My respect for him is immeasurable. With a sharp mind and a tender heart, Bill has faithfully served his church for more than 30 years. Without his vision for church planting, his willingness to invest in me as a young pastor, and his steady commitment to our church, we would not exist.
That morning in the diner, I expected him to tell me all the ways I’d gone wrong (there were plenty), and why I should be ashamed. Instead, he looked back at me with compassion and asked what was going on.
Though he didn’t hold back where I needed correction, he took time to remind me of my identity in Christ and my gifting from Christ. In that moment, Bill became more than a mentor. He became my spiritual father. “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers” (1 Cor. 4:15).
Loneliness of Church Planting
There may be no truer statement for pastors and church planters, as we can easily believe we’re alone in the work—or at least don’t have time or margin for this kind of relationship.
Bill has taught me what it looks like to be faithful as a man, husband, dad, and pastor.
Leading a new church plant is as exhilarating as it is perilous. It’s vital for church-planting pastors, then, to seek out numerous guides and mentors along the way. It’s right to get help and work to grow in theology, ecclesiology, missional strategy, liturgical formation, financial responsibility, preaching capability . . . the list goes on and on.
And yet, both the desire to grow in myriad areas and also the pursuit of mentors and guides can still leave a pastor feeling lonely—a spiritual orphan bent on overcoming the odds by sheer will and might.
It doesn’t matter how healthy or broken your biological family is—we all need spiritual fathers. The books we read and the prominent pastors we follow cannot provide what a spiritual father can—any more than a podcast can parent a child.
So what makes a spiritual father different from other mentors and guides?
They Are Worthy of Imitation
Mentors may be worthy of imitation for specific skills. Preachers should listen to other preachers to grow in discerning their own capabilities and voice. Planters should get help in understanding organizational leadership and how to structure a church.
A spiritual father, though, is also worthy of imitation as a man, and a spiritual son must be close enough to see his integrity and character. Note Paul’s statement that Timothy had seen his life, conduct, patience, and steadfastness (2 Tim. 3:10–15).
I’ve had the privilege to learn from Bill’s marriage, parenting, study habits, physical routines—and his integrity and character—in ways that go beyond a simple mentoring relationship. He’s taught me what it looks like to be faithful as a man, husband, dad, and pastor.
They Discipline Their Sons
Paul postured himself as a father throughout his letters. He consistently provided a corrective influence, while not provoking or embittering people unnecessarily.
Church planters and young pastors are missing out if they don’t seek out more seasoned spiritual fathers.
The apostle provided love and discipline—free from shame—as he urged course corrections and behavioral changes. The gospel is not just heady theology, after all; it transforms everyday lives. Guides may be easily discarded when we disagree with them, but spiritual fathers are given authority and even sought out for correction.
Sitting across from Bill that morning didn’t solve anything practically. Much of what I was facing wasn’t easily fixable. But our relationship deepened because I gave him authority over my life to correct my course, and he was willing to take it on. I’m thankful that what started then continues to this day. He lovingly and patiently challenges me, asks penetrating questions to expose deeper heart issues in my life and ministry, and calls me to greater repentance, discipline, and integrity.
They Breathe Courage Into Their Sons
Just as Paul reminded Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6), spiritual fathers breathe courage into their struggling sons.
Bill has been a massive encouragement, regularly challenging me to leave fear and shame behind and to embrace the power of God’s Spirit to move toward love, self-control, and a willingness to share in Christ’s sufferings.
Church planters and young pastors, you’re missing out if you don’t seek out and submit to more seasoned spiritual fathers. And older and wiser pastors, we need you to invest in younger men who can grow up under you in ministry. We need to hear you say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
I needed an older mentor and the accountability of sitting under the authority of godly elders as I set out to plant a church. But God gave me more than I hoped for with the gift of a spiritual father in Bill. Young church planters, seek out this blessing for yourselves. Older pastors, consider who you might be able to bless as a spiritual father.