And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven

~ Jesus (Matthew 23:9)

This blog post stems from a conversation I had with my friend, Sharon, which unearthed a troubling encounter she had within the walls of a charismatic church. As she recounted the service, her words dripped with deep concern for she sensed a distortion of the Bible that threatened to lead astray the unsuspecting congregants.

Sharon’s tale begins with a visit to a church where the preacher, a self-proclaimed prophet, fervently advocated for the concept of having a “spiritual father” or “spiritual mother”.

The preacher’s assertions reached a crescendo when he boldly claimed the power to alter the eternal fate of his followers because he was their spiritual father. Such audacious proclamations prompted Sharon to question the validity of this teaching against the backdrop of her understanding of Scripture.

The notion that one needs a spiritual father or mother to navigate their relationship with God runs counter to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which grants believers direct access to the Father, she thought.

In addition, she also highlighted a troubling aspect. Which was the vulnerability of women who may place undue authority in the hands of charismatic leaders under the guise of spiritual submission.

Needless to say, her experience serves as a poignant reminder of how men of God can deviate from biblical truth.

The idea of having a designated spiritual parent, often referred to as a “papa” or “mummy” has become a prevalent concept in Charismatic circles. Therefore, in response to Sharon’s impassioned plea for discernment, this blog post endeavors to explore the scriptural validity (or lack thereof) of this doctrine.

Together, we will scrutinize the biblical support and engage in a thoughtful critique of this teaching that threatens to eclipse the liberating truth of the Gospel.

What is the Doctrine of Spiritual Mothers and Fathers?

The “spiritual fathers and mothers” doctrine is a teaching that stresses the importance of being under spiritual authority. It often manifests as a familial relationship, with the “man of God” taking on the role of a spiritual father.

Conversely, congregants submit themselves unquestioningly as obedient sons and daughters under his authority. Often, these churches operate with a hierarchical leadership structure that mirrors an authoritarian form of governance.

On the other hand, followers exhibit high levels of trust and loyalty towards their spiritual leaders, at times bordering on what could be perceived as a “personality cult.” As a result, it is not uncommon for followers to take pride in identifying themselves as the spiritual “children” of esteemed prophets, considering it a badge of honor.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that not all Charismatic churches embrace this belief. However, it’s prevalent in Charismatic churches influenced by movements like the New Apostolic Reformation and Word of Faith/Prosperity Theology. These movements prioritize concepts such as faith, healing, miracles, and financial prosperity and are led by individuals who identify as apostles and prophets.

The Appeal of Spiritual Parenting

The concept of having a spiritual father and mother holds significant appeal, particularly within the context of African Charismatic churches, for several reasons including:

  • Spiritual Covering: Followers often see spiritual authorities as powerful intercessors who can intercede on their behalf. Their “high” spiritual rank is perceived to influence positive outcomes, break spiritual strongholds, and secure blessings for the congregants. Therefore, being connected to a spiritual authority is seen as a means of ensuring divine protection from negative spiritual influences e.g. demonic attacks, curses, and other forms of spiritual warfare. The desire for spiritual protection is particularly appealing in our African contexts because our traditional worldview is steeped in superstitious beliefs about supernatural forces.
  • Anointing Transfer: Spiritual fathers and mothers often draw people who desire to have their anointing transferred to them. This process is commonly referred to as “tapping the anointing”. They believe that connecting themselves to a spiritual authority that carries a special “anointing,” “mantle”, or “grace”, will enable them to access greater blessings, favor, and spiritual power. They believe that such a transfer will help them to overcome obstacles, experience healing, and operate in spiritual gifts.
  • Miracle and Prosperity Teachings: Many African Charismatic churches emphasize teachings on miracles, healing, and prosperity. The idea of having a spiritual father or mother is almost always linked to the promise of receiving miracles or financial blessings through this spiritual connection. This is particularly appealing in our African context, fraught with various social, economic, and political challenges.
  • Receiving Personalized Revelations: There is also a strong emphasis on supernatural manifestations like visions and dreams in African Charismatic churches. The so-called spiritual authorities claim to have a special connection with God, which enables them to receive prophetic messages on behalf of the congregation. This ability to discern God’s will for their congregants’ lives can be alluring for those seeking direct and specific guidance through supernatural means. Not to mention, those who have a particular thirst for signs, wonders, and miracles.
a pastor in a grey suit holding a brown Bible on a podium acting as a spiritual authority

The Biblical Precedence

The “spiritual father and mother” doctrine often relies on certain biblical passages that are misinterpreted to support this teaching. These include the following:

  1. Paul’s Relationship with Timothy and Titus (Titus 1:4; 1 Timothy 1:2):

Proponents of this teaching often misunderstand Paul calling Timothy and Titus his “sons in the faith” as a suggestion that Christians should have spiritual parents. However, Paul was simply expressing his close relationship with them because he discipled them in the faith and ministry. The term “sons” was more about his affection and role as a mentor rather than a command for everyone to have spiritual parents. It highlights Paul’s responsibility in preparing them to continue his work. Much like an experienced worker training someone to take over. Therefore, it doesn’t mean that having spiritual parents is a rule for Christians to follow today.

  1. Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:9-15):

The relationship between the prophet Elijah and Elisha is also cited as an example of the “spiritual father and son” dynamic. Elisha famously asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit before Elijah was taken up to heaven. However, this narrative primarily demonstrates the passing of a prophetic office from one individual to another. We shouldn’t interpret it as a formula for establishing a spiritual hierarchy. Rather, it symbolizes the recognition and endorsement of Elisha’s role by both God and Elijah.

  1. Honoring Spiritual Leaders (Hebrews 13:17):

Hebrews 13:17 instructs believers to obey and submit to their spiritual leaders. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes misinterpreted to mean that followers must unquestioningly obey their spiritual leaders. However, when understood correctly, it’s an exhortation to respect and submit to leaders who are faithfully shepherding their flock. So no, it’s not a license for authoritarianism or abuse of power.

  1. Paul’s Exhortations to Follow Him (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17):

Paul in these verses encourages believers to imitate him as he imitates Christ. Some interpret this as a mandate for believers to have spiritual fathers or mothers to emulate. However, Paul’s exhortations are not about establishing familial hierarchical relationships. Rather, it’s about following his example of faithfulness and commitment to Christ. Additionally, Paul’s primary emphasis is always on following Christ rather than any human leader.

Jesus is the Ultimate Spiritual Authority

Jesus took on the sins of humanity, offering a sacrifice that reconciles believers with God. This act of atonement established Jesus as the ultimate mediator between humanity and God. The Apostle Paul highlights this in 1 Timothy 2:5 by stating that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 

The writer of Hebrews also asserts this in Hebrews 9:15, stating that “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” emphasizing the exclusivity of Christ’s role in connecting believers to God.

In addition, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers underscores that every Christian has direct access to God through Jesus Christ. Thus, eliminating the need for additional intermediaries. We find this in 1 Peter 2:5 which says, that we are “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

This access was made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

However, the spiritual father and mother doctrine introduces another mediator. It does this by implying that spiritual parents have a special spiritual connection or authority that other believers do not possess. This hierarchical framework contradicts what the Bible teaches about the priesthood of all believers. And most importantly, it challenges the centrality of Jesus Christ as the ultimate mediator.

The Dangers Of This Doctrine

  • Authoritarianism and Control: When followers elevate a charismatic prophet to the status of a spiritual father or mother, it often results in a situation where they exercise a significant amount of control over them. This control often extends beyond spiritual matters. It can also include personal decisions and other aspects of their lives that are beyond the scope of pastoral authority.
  • Abuse of Power: When one has concentrated spiritual authority in their hands, it can create a situation that is ripe for the abuse of power. In the absence of proper checks and balances, such a leader can easily exploit their position for personal gain, through spiritual, financial, and emotional abuse. Not to mention, sexual misconduct.
  • Manipulation and Fear Tactics: When a spiritual authority wields considerable influence over their followers, the use of threats such as eternal condemnation, illnesses, or poverty to enforce compliance and loyalty is common. This coerces followers into unquestioning obedience for fear of facing dire consequences. This, in turn, creates an environment where dissent or skepticism is suppressed, and critical thinking is discouraged.
  • Isolation and Groupthink: The emphasis on spiritual authority and the fear of dissent can foster an environment of isolation. This may discourage members from interacting with those outside of the community or from questioning the teachings of spiritual leaders. This can lead to groupthink, where individuals conform to the prevailing beliefs of the group without critically evaluating them.
  • Excessive Dependence: Relying solely and unquestioningly on spiritual leaders for guidance and authority often leads to an unhealthy dependence. This dependence can hinder critical thinking and ultimately hamper the ability to develop an independent and personal relationship with God.
  • Financial Exploitation: More often than not, spiritual fathers and mothers use their authority to pressure and control adherents into providing monetary support to the church. This usually takes the form of tithes, donations, or other financial commitments under the pretense of a spiritual duty.
  • Spiritual Pride: The “spiritual father and mother” doctrine has the potential to create divisions within the body of Christ. Designating specific leaders as spiritual parents may lead to exclusivity and the formation of splinter groups, which can undermine the unity that the Bible calls believers to maintain (Eph 4:3). Moreover, it can contribute to spiritual pride by making followers believe that they are spiritually superior to those who don’t follow their spiritual authority. Such an attitude can lead to a sense of spiritual elitism and superiority, fostering pride among both leaders and followers within the church.
  • Psychological Impact: The misuse of authority by so-called spiritual leaders can have significant psychological effects on their followers. When it’s used as a tool for control, it can result in trauma, anxiety, guilt, and a distorted sense of identity. Such effects can lead to a deterioration of the mental well-being and overall quality of life of those who are under the influence of such leaders.

Ultimately, this type of environment can create a perfect storm for manipulation and abuse characteristic of cults. The unchecked authority, manipulation, and dependency can lead to followers becoming ensnared within an oppressive system. In such a system, followers are prone to blindly following the leader’s directives to their detriment. Similar, to what we witnessed in the Shakahola massacre.

Related: What is a Cult and How to Spot One

Does This Mean That Pastors, Elders, and Deacons Do Not Have Spiritual  Authority over Their Churches?

Although we should agree that the Bible doesn’t support the spiritual father and mother doctrine, we should be cautious not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. According to the Scriptures, God has given divine authority to those who lead and care for the local church. The following are several biblical principles that highlight the God-given authority of pastors as shepherds:

  1. Divine Appointment and Calling:

The Bible teaches that God appoints certain individuals as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints and the edification of the body of Christ. He entrusts them with a leadership role that involves guiding and nurturing the spiritual growth of believers.

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-12, ESV
  1. Shepherding Model:

The New Testament frequently employs the metaphor of shepherding to describe the role of pastors. In 1 Peter 5:2-3, Peter encourages elders (another term for pastors) to “shepherd the flock of God.” This language emphasizes the pastoral responsibility of caring for and guiding the spiritual well-being of the congregation.

"Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." 1 Peter 5:2-3, ESV
  1. Accountability to God:

Hebrews 13:17 reminds believers to obey and submit to their leaders because they watch over their souls, knowing that pastors will give an account to God for their leadership.

"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." Hebrews 13:17, ESV
  1. Teaching and Guarding Doctrine:

God entrusts Pastors with the responsibility of teaching sound doctrine and guarding the flock against false teachings. This involves using their authority to maintain the purity of biblical truth within the local church.

"He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it." Titus 1:9, ESV
  1. Servant Leadership:

Jesus Himself set the example of servant leadership, emphasizing that true greatness comes through serving others. Pastoral authority, according to the Scriptures, is not about lording over the congregation but serving them with humility and love.

"And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.'" Mark 10:42-43, ESV

1 Peter also presents a beautiful depiction of a well-rounded pastoral ministry through the following exhortation: 

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:1-3, ESV

This is the kind of spiritual authority that the Apostles of Christ exercised when they saw themselves as “spiritual fathers” to the churches they wrote to (1 John 2:1, 12–13; 2 Cor 12:14–15; 1 Cor 4:14–15).

For further reading on this topic, I recommend reading the following commentary on 1 Corinthians 4 by Bob Deffinbaugh. In 1 Corinthians 4, the apostle Paul addresses the Corinthian church which was facing a leadership crisis characterized by small cliques aligning themselves with certain leaders whom they admired more than others. While the specific phrase “spiritual father and mother” may not be explicitly mentioned in this passage, I would argue that the correction by Paul in this chapter perfectly addresses the hierarchical model often associated with this doctrine.


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  1. avatar

    I find it interesting that you on one hand say there’s nothing like spiritual fatherhood, and on the hand, go on to explain what spiritual authority/fatherhood/covering is all about. What you just described as God’s divine authority. Just because several clowns have abused father x son relationship doesn’t not invalidate it. While a nicely written article, it’s incoherent in though and concept. Perhaps you would’ve done a better job being critical of those who abuse it, than saying it doesn’t exist in scripture the going on to validate it.

    1. avatar
      Wanjiru Ng'ang'a says:

      Hi RDN,

      Thank you for your response and for engaging with the content of my blog post on the topic of spiritual authority and fatherhood in the church. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the perspective conveyed in my writing.

      I want to emphasize that my intention was not to assert that the father-son relationship, as understood in biblical contexts of mentoring and discipleship, does not exist. Rather, my focus was on critiquing the misuse and distortion of this relationship within certain charismatic circles where leaders may inappropriately elevate themselves to the status of exclusive mediators or spiritual parents.

      The concern I highlighted in my article is when teachings and practices deviate from biblical principles and risk leading believers away from the centrality of Christ and His mediation. Scripture clearly emphasizes the direct access believers have to God through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), and my aim was to caution against doctrines that undermine this fundamental truth.

      While I acknowledge the potential benefits of healthy spiritual mentorship and discipleship within the church, my critique was directed at teachings that promote authoritarianism, manipulation, and the exaltation of men of God above Christ.

      Therefore, I firmly stand by the assertion that such distortions of biblical principles have the potential to undermine the priesthood of all believers and detract from the unique mediation of Christ. Nonetheless, I really appreciate your engagement on this important issue and welcome further dialogue.

  2. avatar
    Enoch says:

    Great read. I believe a wider audience needs to hear this.

    1. avatar
      Wanjiru Ng'ang'a says:

      Thank you so much Enoch. Please feel free to share it with friends and family.

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