Daddy Deprivation. That’s the term Blake Wilson (Senior Pastor of Crossover Community Church in Houston, Texas) calls the trend he’s witnessing today among young people in the church. It’s a phenomenon that Pastor Eric Mason calls an “epidemic of fatherlessness.” (Manhood Restored, 21)
You may notice its effects when you visit the local ballpark or attend a school function. But if you ever peak inside of a church…it’s undeniable: the role of the father is indispensable in the spiritual development of a child. And it involves much more than driving them to church.
Fatherhood is a theme we see time after time in the Scriptures, and not simply from the Son Jesus Christ. (Matt. 6:9, 7:11, etc.) In explaining his apostolic ministry, Paul actually writes to the Corinthians, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Cor. 4:15) He uses this same kind of fatherly language in the beginning of his letter to Timothy as well: “To Timothy, my true child in the faith.” (1 Tim.1:2) In fact, the special relationship that Paul held with his disciple Timothy is one that he encourages his student to duplicate. (2 Tim. 2:2)
And this is significant when the church considers its divine call to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19) For many, the Great Commission is synonymous with international missions or door-to-door evangelism. But it’s so much more than that. It hinges on the word μαθητεύσατε, or “make disciples.”
It’s no coincidence that the same man who Paul considered a son in the faith was also his closest disciple. It gives us a glimpse into the way that Paul viewed this didactic relationship. The mentor role was, in some ways, a paternal role. And Paul doesn’t stop with fatherhood. He even compares himself to a mother! (Gal. 4:19, 1 Thess. 2:7)
What’s clear here is not that Paul is seeking to assume legal parental status, but rather a position of authority comparable in some ways to that of a father or mother. To be clear, a disciple role isn’t exclusively filial or son-like. Paul also calls Timothy his “fellow worker.” (Rom. 16:20) One cannot read 1 and 2 Timothy without absorbing the authentic friendship between the two men. However, in order for the modern church to recover a biblical spirit of discipleship, it’s important to remember how Paul fostered this unique relationship.
The parental language is undeniable. While Christ wasn’t necessarily commanding his church to “go therefore and become surrogate parents,” His purpose for the Great Commission was unquestionably grounded in authority. (Luke 10:16) And that’s where the church must begin in its evangelistic cause.
The answer to Daddy Deprivation isn’t simply found in the pastoral epistles. It’s found in the Great Commission itself.
My church offers an informal discipleship curriculum for college and post-college age men that we call an “internship program.” Lasting anywhere from three to five months, this “program” is designed to nurture and disciple young men who feel God’s call into His ministry. As a pastor, I also disciple young men without any official “program” or curriculum.
What’s interesting is that, between the internship program and my disciple relationships, the majority of these young men possess one noticeable common denominator: all but one of them either lacks a father, has a father completely absent from any church family, and/or has a father who disapproves of their call to the ministry. And for the longest time I thought this was just a coincidence. Now I’m not so sure.
What is it in these young men that drove them to ministry without a closer paternal presence? Only the Spirit can say for sure. However, what’s obvious in each of these aspiring ministers is their craving for Christian brotherhood and teaching. They want to be led.
And while every young adult is different, what remains in every juvenile Christian is a desire to be nurtured and loved. Therefore the Great Commission isn’t simply for an obscure country in the 10-40 window. It’s in your own backyard. In fact, your next disciple could very well be coming over for dinner tonight.
This is central to our Great Commission: to make disciples of the fatherless (and the motherless) and the unsupported. Christ’s call to make “fishers of men” isn’t limited to adults. (Matt. 4:19) Thousands of young men are waiting for a father figure or “big brother” to show them the Christian affection and friendship they read about in the Scriptures – to put flesh to the Gospel.
Christ told his disciples that it was the Father’s pleasure to give us His kingdom. (Luke 12:32) Not His duty. His pleasure. What delights us? What sparks our joy? If it’s simply lavishing gifts and time upon our own family, we haven’t shown ourselves to be much different than unbelieving families. (Matt. 5:46)
Thankfully, the Gospel is a message that obliterates nepotism and tribalism. In fact, the church was born from 12 men who were willing to forsake their own families in order to forge a new family of faith! (Luke 14:26)
Sadly, instead of spending an hour or so with an older male who can ground them in biblical teaching and Gospel maturation, thousands upon thousands of new professing Christians are introduced to the Bible, the church, and the Christian faith without any guiding authority in their lives. As a result, many younger, undiscipled males can feel lost and either divest themselves from the church or worse: turn to themselves as their ultimate authority.
Today, in many churches, we’ve traded in the word “disciple” for “baptism candidate.” And we see this most vividly when young men try to spiritually raise themselves instead of being discipled. But the church needs more than that. So much more. Christ demands more.
Even if it’s simply someone to show a young man how to pray. How to listen. How to speak to a woman. How to work hard and love Jesus. Churches need older, wiser men to compliment and echo the truths of Scripture that so badly need absorbing in the heart of a young believer – a small seed that needs just a few drops of water. This is discipleship. This is the Great Commission. It could be at your child’s school. It could be at the ballpark. It could be at your very own church…at the end of the pew.
When Christ encounters the Roman Centurion, he introduces himself as a “man under authority.” (Matt. 8:9) If you read it too quickly, you could miss the small preposition (ὑπὸ). It’s a tiny reminder that the greatest men of authority are men who have been given that authority. Who sit under authority. And it’s as true for evangelism as it is for parenthood.
This precisely why Christ’s Great Commission is immediately preceded by “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:19) Authority. For those who have been redeemed and resurrected in Christ, your evangelism begins with a higher authority that was won with the merits of a righteous and sinless life.
It’s time that we recognize the urgent need to disciple the countless unsupported young Christians in our community – not with our own authority, but with His. Discipleship and evangelism don’t belong in separate corners of our Great Commission. And a paternal bond doesn’t have to be relegated to our own bloodline.
In reality, you don’t have to step off a boat in Galilee to become a fisher of men. They just need an hour of your time. And maybe a Starbucks.
“It doesn’t take a village; it takes a father.” -Jim Hamilton