How can the generation who grew up without understanding the love of earthly mothers and fathers, be spiritual mothers and fathers to others? How can they help the emerging generation understand the love of the heavenly Father?
In 1981, we began Somebody Cares by reaching out to the lost on the streets of Houston. The youth we encountered almost always had one thing in common—the absence of a father.
Today, one of the ministries that is part of our Somebody Cares Houston network of ministries, continues the work we began in the 1980s. At one of their annual fund-raising banquets, some youth who had come to know Jesus shared their testimonies. The common denominator in their pathways to destruction was physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, either directly from their fathers or indirectly through their father’s lack of presence and protection in the home.
We have a responsibility to this generation looking for spiritual fathers. We must adopt this orphaned generation and direct them toward our heavenly Father, who desires to seal them with His Spirit of adoption.
Many in my generation simply didn’t know how to be good fathers, including me. But those who are desperate for fathers are not expecting us to necessarily know how, but just to be willing. Willingness brings a release of God’s grace, which enables us.
Learning to Lead
In spring 2004, during one of the think tanks we hosted for NextGen and GenEdge leaders of the emerging generation, we had some very insightful and candid conversations. What started as a small gathering escalated into more than sixty leaders from across the country, including youth workers, college ministry leaders, worship leaders, seasoned pastors, marketplace ministers, ministry networkers, intercessors, and others. As each of them spoke, I realized that the recurring theme was the need for spiritual fathers. I already knew that the younger generation was looking for spiritual fathers—that’s why I invited those who are serving on the front lines to participate in “out of the box” ministries—what surprised me, however, was the leaders’ need for spiritual fathers!
When we older men said that we didn’t know how to be good fathers because we grew up in a fatherless generation too, they responded, “We’re not asking you to know how, and we’re not asking you to be perfect. We’re not even asking you to give us anything. But would you journey with us? We want to know that there’s someone who has gone before us, someone who can be there for us, just to give us advice. We want to know that we can call you. We want to know that you’re praying for us. We don’t need a lot of time; we just need to know we can connect.”
Just like the generation they are leading, the leaders are looking for connection and covering. One young minister ordained by our organization, who considers me a spiritual father, said, “I was saved and raised in church, but then I backslid, recommitted, and struggled for many years because I didn’t have a spiritual father.” As a result, his ministry is now centered on spiritual fathering. “If it isn’t relational,” he says, “we don’t do it.”
A pastor shared insights about “the marks of a father,” which he relates to both natural and spiritual fathers. “A spiritual father,” he said, “knows how to discipline his children with mercy, grace, and love.” In 1 Samuel 4, Eli did not correct his sons, even though they had been involved in immorality and had not been following God’s commands concerning sacrifices and offerings. The result was the downfall of Eli’s ministry. On his watch, the ark of the Lord, which represented the presence of God, was stolen from the temple. In that same regard, a spiritual father is able to discern his true sons and daughters, those who are faithful, won’t leave when disciplined, and will protect the DNA and reputation of the ministry.
He also quoted the apostle Paul when he talked about the importance of a father’s travailing prayers for his children:
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you. (Galatians 4:19 niv)
“Some things will come to pass, only if a father is pressing in through the pain of travailing, the pain of prayer, and the pain of fasting. Lots of spiritual fathers complain about their children or the staff God has sent to them. As fathers, they know the destinies of their children, but they do not always go to war for those destinies.”
Rusty Griffin, pastor of Christian City Fellowship in Sealy, Texas, put it this way: “Many times, there is a treasure inside a youth’s heart, but he doesn’t recognize it, so he runs after the treasure in someone else’s heart. A spiritual father has to help him see the treasure in his own heart.”
I remember when Ruben began coming to the ministry and was insecure about his reading ability. I encouraged him to get his GED, which he did. Today, Ruben and his wife run their own successful family-owned business.
Likewise, I saw how Kathy had a gift for counseling, so I encouraged her to get training. Now God uses her gift daily as she ministers to people who call in or come to our office for help with material, emotional, and physical needs. Kathy never knew her biological father, and her mother died when she was young. She came to our ministry in 1996 during Houston Prayer Mountain, a citywide gathering of prayer, worship, and fasting, which we hosted the last forty days of that year. Obeying God’s prompting, she began volunteering for us and later came on staff. When she was going through a season of personal difficulties and was abandoned by her husband, God allowed us to serve and help her by insuring that she would be taken care of financially through her employment with the ministry. Kathy now ministers to the singles at her church and even has her own ministry to widows. She just retired as the Chaplain for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff Department in Louisiana. She never misses an opportunity to honor me as one of her mentors and spiritual fathers.
Curt Williams of Youth-Reach Houston shares another real-life illustration of coming alongside the youth in a practical way:
During one of our many projects at Youth-Reach, I was in need of a specific tool to complete a job. I looked over at one of the boys, a resident of only a month or so, who likely had never held a tool in his life, and asked him to get me a crescent wrench from our workshop. He said “OK” and took off to get it for me. A few minutes later, he returned. Without saying a word, he held out to me a set of Channellock pliers. I could see in his eyes that he had probably looked at all the tools on the wall in the workshop and had just guessed that this was what I had asked for. It was also clear that he was really hoping he had guessed right.
He wanted to please me, and he had tried his best. You see, many of our boys arrive in baggy clothes with a gang affiliation and a long arrest record. They appear tough, but plain old hard work reveals that they are weak and soft and lack basic knowledge of how to really be a man.
I left the project behind and took that boy with me to the workshop. Without embarrassing him, I went over all the tools hanging there on the wall. He drank it all in and asked questions whenever he did not grasp the use of each tool. It was so clear that, at that moment, something had been missing in his life, or, more specifically, someone had been missing.
His father should have been teaching him this, but it was not to be. That man had abandoned him. However, it was my personal joy to step into the role of daddy for just a few minutes.
I have had the honor of doing this with hundreds of abandoned boys. It is important to teach young men the Word of God. It is also important to teach them how to hold a hammer, how to speak to girls, and how to balance a checkbook. These are simple life lessons, but without a father, who will teach them?
We are experiencing the fallout of a nation that has found it acceptable to procreate at will and then abandon its offspring. This generation of boys is looking for daddies; and if we, the church, can look beyond our programs and buildings, we will find a generation of world changers right outside our doors. But do we really care enough to pay the emotional, spiritual, and financial costs required to reclaim them? The answer to that question is yet to be heard.
My Greatest Joy
One of my greatest joys is to hear members of the younger generation tell me how they feel empowered when I come to visit them in their ministries. They feel valued and validated by a spiritual father. God has used me, someone who had no idea how to be a father in the natural, to spiritually encourage and empower many.
I led Randy to the Lord in 1981, and he proudly calls himself “the first Turning Pointer” after the name of our parent ministry, Turning Point Ministries International, which began as a Bible study in my workout studio. Randy was a professional dancer at the time and had been the Texas disco champion. Now he leads Ad Deum dance company, which has a troupe that tours the world and dances for the glory of God.
Once when I returned from an international trip, I had voice mail message that Randy had left for me on Father’s Day. “This is your son, Randall,” he said. “I just wanted to thank you for being such a good father and friend. You raised me well.”
Michael also calls me every Father’s Day. One year, he left a beautiful letter for me at the office, thanking me for being a spiritual father, not even knowing how much I needed that encouragement at the moment.
JT is another friend who surrendered and came to faith in the Lord through our ministry and became part of the early days of our ministry. His father had been shot and killed years earlier, and the anger, pain, and desire for revenge had held him hostage. But after J. T. came to know his heavenly Father and received the Spirit of adoption through the salvation of Christ, he was able to forgive and walk in that forgiveness. Today, he is a successful businessman, husband, and father. His daughter calls me “Uncle Dougie.”
Russ was addicted to drugs as a young man, and his family contacted me when they had nowhere else to turn. I was able to minister to him and help him get into a program. “Thanks to you,” he wrote to me once, “my kids never had to see their dad drunk or on drugs. You are an example of what I aspire to be.”
Dale was a part of our ministry for many years before moving back to Pittsburgh. In 2004, I had the privilege of reading Scriptures at his wedding. He was fifty-three and marrying for the first time. During the weekend’s festivities, I was honored when he publicly shared that he had two spiritual fathers: One was the late John Osteen, and the other was me.
Monica now serves at a nearby church pastored by one of my friends. Although I could not be there when they ordained her for ministry, I wrote a letter that was read during the ceremony, giving her a father’s blessing and letting her know how proud of her I am. She told me later the letter had brought tears to her eyes. She wanted her “daddy” to come when she graduated with her master’s degree, as well.
Cindy was a teenager struggling with rejection and thoughts of suicide when the Lord led her to a church where we presented the gospel through one of our dramas, and she gave her life to Jesus that night. She became a part of our ministries and also a member of our drama outreach at that time. Later she married and had three beautiful girls. Her now late husband, Tom, had become an integral and active part in our men’s ministry. And the list goes on: Ruben, Cynthia, Tim, Mike, Michael, Lance, Kevin, Jeremy, Jamie, Laura, Andrew, John, Debbie, Marti, Bob, Scott—so many people have acknowledged me as one of their spiritual mentors and fathers. What a gift!
In one of my books on Hope for A Fatherless Generation and In Search of A Father’s Blessing, I quoted the late, Dr. Edwin Louis Cole’s definition of a father. He said, “A father is the one who guides, guards, and governs in the home. He is the one who brings proper disciplines, strengths, and direction to the family unit.”
Let us be fathers who will be remembered with adoration for our discipline, strength, and love.
Leading by Example
Leading by example is a major component of God’s plan for older generations. Something is desperately wrong when one generation is unable to successfully transmit its values to its children and grandchildren. The scriptural norm is found in Psalm 145:4–5 (niv):
One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty.
God wants us to be the kind of leaders whom younger generations commend to others. He wants one of our top priorities to be sharing the gospel and power of God with those we father and mother, both naturally and spiritually.
But even many intact families are finding it difficult to convince their children to accept their values. In fact, through the National Study of Youth and Religion, researchers concluded, “Most teenagers believe in a combination of works [based] righteousness, religion as psychological well-being, and a distant non-interfering god.”
How could this be? Why do so many Christian parents struggle to raise children who are radically committed to Christ? The answer is sad to admit: Many of us have lived lukewarm, uninspiring Christian lives, which are unappealing to our children. They see our compromise and conclude that they don’t want what we have. Really, who can blame them? Hypocritical Christianity isn’t very attractive.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that there is a “great cloud of witnesses” in the great “Hall of Faith” that is watching us from the grandstands.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 11:39–12:1)
Isn’t it amazing that the great heroes of faith will be made perfect “only together with us” (niv)? In the same way, our own destinies are inextricably tied to both those who have preceded us and those who will follow us in the relay race of life. Therefore, no task is more important than successfully passing on our faith to the next generation.
Leonard Ravenhill once told our staff, “Starting with only one hundred twenty people in the upper room, the early Christians had no Bibles, concordances, seminaries, church buildings, or modern media; but they had an endowment of power from on high. With scarcely any human resources, they turned the world upside down. Today, in contrast, we have more than one hundred twenty million believers who claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit; yet we have generally failed to turn the world upside down. We have all the resources, money, and Bible colleges; yet we lack a genuine endowment of spiritual power.”
We have a nation full of concordances and Bibles that collect dust, but God is investing His anointing in men and women of character so that they can affect and infect a whole generation, redeeming young people who have been spiritually aborted and abandoned by a self-centered society and an often apathetic church. The spiritual battle for the moral souls of this generation should move us to realign our priorities and carry out the biblical mandate of every believer to be a tangible expression of Christ.
The kingdom of God is built on relationships. Our love as followers of Christ is reflected in the kindness and compassion we show others. Yet, far too often, we are so engulfed in our personal challenges that we neglect the very things that attract God’s favor and blessings.
We live in such an impersonal, systems-structured society. As a result, instead of people imitating us as we imitate Christ, they become clones of modern-day institutional Christianity. They are “programmed” by our church structures and activities, which are often much too similar to the world they left behind.
The present young generation needs to see that we are who we say we are. They need to see us walk the talk. They need to see that we are the same people at home as we are at church. They need to see that we are different from the world.
If we display the fruits of the character of God—not bitterness and anger—when responding to trouble, then our walk will begin to speak, inspire, and direct. It will bring vision and hope to a generation that hungers for substance.
The Desire for Connection
I gained some insight into how we pass along that vision and hope; namely, through the biblical practice of laying on of hands. Even though, in the New Testament, hands were laid on people to impart healing and ordain them into the ministry, one of the original roots of the practice was to pass on blessing from one generation to another, as Jacob did with his sons.
Laying on of hands is not something you can do by phone, e-mail, or text. You have to be present. One of the tragedies many young people face is that they don’t have parents who are truly there for them in person or by example. They don’t have present dads and moms who can impart to them the value or even the techniques of interaction.
They are, however, very skilled with technology! These young people can find their way around the latest electronic devices—computers, iPods, cell phones—with ease. This often comes, though, at the cost of personal intimacy.
Contrast this with my generation, which grew up with board games and athletics as recreational activities. We relied on personal visits, telephone calls, and even written letters to keep in touch, and our communities were built around churches and schools. Whether we had model or absent parents, we still knew our neighbors. Our relationships were personal. This interdependent mentality dates back to when our country was founded, when entire communities were centered around the church and the water well—the two places of “life.”
A staff associate told the story of three young brothers sitting on a couch, each playing with his own Game Boy. They were in the same room, sitting side by side on the sofa, yet there was no interaction, no conversation, no communication. We see it on a larger scale, as well, at internet cafés and coffee shops filled with young people working on their own laptops, not interacting with one another but obviously feeling the need to be connected via a social setting. Then there’s the popularity of social media sites like Instagram and Twitter, by which kids can connect with one another via cyberspace. “I’ve seen Facebook profiles of kids who have five thousand ‘friends,’” said my friend Mike. “There are people in every generation who are very relational and people in every generation who are very withdrawn. The danger today is that young people can have relationships without any personal interaction.”
In their hearts, Mike says, they are crying out to be part of something, longing to be connected. They just don’t always know how to do it. That they frequent coffeehouses and cybercafes confirms an innate desire to be connected to a bigger picture.
The Personal Touch
I prefer the personal touch. I don’t like voice mail or voice–prompt menus. But we live in such an impersonal society, even in our churches. We need to get back to the personal touch, because God is a personal God.
An Australian television commercial depicts a young Japanese couple in the delivery room celebrating the arrival of their newborn baby.
“How cute!” say the doctors and nurses to the proud parents. As the camera moves in to show viewers the sweet face of the little one wrapped snuggly in his blanket, the newborn suddenly whips out a Fuji camera and takes a picture of his surprised and astonished parents! The inferred message, of course, is that all Japanese are born with a camera in their hands.
Although I was born in Japan and my mother was Japanese, I don’t exactly fit this typical Asian stereotype. I didn’t even own a digital camera until I received one for my forty-eighth birthday from a church whose pastor wanted me to get back to my Asian roots.
Instead, you could probably say that I was born with a phone in my ear instead of a camera in my hands. People say that I’m always on the phone, and that’s because I love to keep in touch with people. No matter what time of day or night I happen to be awake, I know that there is someone in the world—whether in Malaysia, Africa, Fiji, Australia, or some other part of the US—I can call on the phone, just to let them know that I am thinking about them.
When it comes to technology, we need the younger generation to teach us their knowledge, skill, and finesse. And, in turn, we can impart to them the gifts of personal touch and face-to-face interaction.
Matt and his wife, Katy, coordinate a youth initiative throughout the Northeast. I had been the keynote speaker for their outreach in that same community. Several of the interns had ministered to me during a time of prayer led by Matt and Katy’s ten-year-old son, Caleb, who had been a pivotal part of the outreach with his energy, zeal, and enthusiasm. Just a few days after I had left, Caleb had been in a car accident and had gone home to be with Jesus. Josh had also been in the accident but survived.
A year later, Matt told me how he demonstrated the love of God to his oldest son, Joshua, who was twelve at the time. One day, during an outreach in Lowell, Massachusetts, the teams of young people were in an intense time of prayer and worship. They had been out all day serving the community with work projects. Josh, still reeling from all that had happened, went off by himself, feeling tired, fearful, and confused. As Matt tells the story:
Knowing Josh had suffered a loss no twelve-year-old can easily endure, I walked up behind him and put my hand on his shoulder. He was slouched in his seat, and his face was covered so no one would see him crying. I leaned over to gently speak in his ear and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know.”
I knew that meant I should ask again. “What’s the matter?”
He told me that he felt scared, like God was far away from him. The Holy Spirit quickened me to ask, “Do you know how close God is?”
I quickly replied, “He is this close.” Then I knelt down and hugged him as long and as hard as I could. Josh didn’t need my theology or thoughts at that point. He needed a tangible understanding of how much God loves him and how close He really is.
Later that evening, he thanked me and asked, “What do kids do when they feel far from God and don’t have a dad to hold them?” Even in his youth, Josh recognized the need for human touch, for the tangible touch of a father.
One Christmas, a team of five families from Warren, Pennsylvania, came to Houston, giving up their own holiday to serve others in our Holiday of Hope ministry and other Christmas outreaches. As one of the dads on the team was helping a five-year-old girl and her mom pick out Christmas toys in our fellowship hall, the little girl looked up to him and asked, “Could you give me a hug for my daddy? I don’t have a daddy.” He hugged her and tried to hold back his tears.
God depends on us to be fathers in the flesh to those who don’t have dads to hold them. Let us not be afraid to impart this intimacy and to “be there” in person and by example. It was no mistake God chose to pass on blessings through the laying on of hands!
 Gene Edward Veith, “A Nation of Deists,” WorldMag.com, June 25, 2005, http://www.worldmag.com/2005/06/a_nation_of_deists.
Excerpt adapted from Doug’s book, In Search Of A Father’s Blessing, published by Whitaker House, 2016