The Bible is clear – nothing but absolute disaster comes to those who are rebellious.

After years of pastoral work, much of which was spent training young people for ministry, I’ve seen an unteachable attitude destroy more people than blatant sin or immorality.

You simply cannot help someone who is in love with their own advice.

That’s why we should be thankful when leaders us teach the principles of authority, submission, order, and honor – revelations God utilizes to test us before He uses us. Something profound changes in you when God sets you in a house under a leader and then demands you get planted and submit to the process He wants to take you through.

You simply don’t reach your potential any other way.

However, there seems to be a growing excess in the world of “spiritual fathering.” I know for some the concept that it could even be taken too far is a novel idea.

But it most certainly can, and an over-reaching leader can cause as many problems as the rebellion they are trying to correct.

Before we proceed, please know that just because your pastor asked you to do something you don’t like or confronted you on an issue that offended you is NOT the definition of a “spiritual father” going too far.

Here are some characteristics of over-reaching authority (there are several – we will deal with them in future posts and podcasts):

1. Presuming to know God’s will for someone else.
Some leaders promote an idea that says, “If God wants someone under my care to do something, or move somewhere, or marry a particular person… then He will tell me first.”

Wrong.

Dead wrong.

And creepy, too.

Not to mention… wrong.

We cannot and do not know God’s will for other people. Sure, we have decisions we’d like to see them make and can certainly provide sound counsel, but imposing our preference in the name of God is not leadership, it is control.

On the other hand, if a leader warns you against a particular decision or attitude or person… LISTEN.

Dear God, please… LISTEN.

You don’t have to obey, but it is foolish to not at least give it consideration. I have never regretted following a leader’s advice and always regretted ignoring it.

2. Stripping people of their independence and autonomy.
Every parent knows their role is to train their children to not need them one day – rather than fostering a dysfunctional, toxic relationship where they need you forever.

The same is true with spiritual fathers. I’ve seen “sons” so “submitted” they sound like, look like, act like, and think like their “fathers” to the point you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins.

That is not unity. Or submission. Or order. Or whatever else you want to call it.

It’s toxic, co-dependent, and honestly heartbreaking when you see a young leader become so absorbed in someone else they cannot even think for themselves.

One more…

3. When a large portion of your teaching is about submitting to authority.
Some preach authority so heavily it’s easy to think that after making Jesus the Lord of our life, the next most important move is to come up under their leadership, or risk dying and going to hell. I’m not talking about teaching the principles of honor to stir people up through remembrance, or even doing a series on the absolutely vital need to remain humble and teachable, but when each and every sermon goes back to “obey and listen to me,” then we’ve gone too far.

Authority and submission are important, but we can go over the top and give it disproportionate attention. It is not the supreme revelation in the New Testament after Jesus being the Son of God, and shame on us if we pretend it to be so.

We’ll give a few more things to look out for later… this will do for now.

But please remember…

Honor and authority are essential, to be sure – just like prayer, kindness, forgiveness, worship, and a host of other Biblical principles. Submission is one truth among many – not the one and only.

So let’s father well – but remember the difference between A father and THE Father.

BONUS: Please don’t identify yourself as someone else’s spiritual father, or tell them “God spoke to you” that they are supposed to submit to you.

Get a hobby… or a life. And quit needing to be “needed” so badly.