Recovering the Lost Art of Spiritual Parenting



Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Jesus, I belong to you.

I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body to you as a living sacrifice.

Jesus, we belong to you. 

Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. 

Acts 16:1–5 

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.


One of the things I’ve discovered is the life-changing practice of taking others along on the journey with you. From my earliest days in life, my father loaded me up in the truck, often along with my sisters, and took us along on the journey of farming. I remember many times as a boy when my parents took me along on the journey to visit an elderly person who was homebound to take them the Lord’s Supper. My parents often took me along on the journey when they went to the homes of grieving friends who had lost a loved one.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, those were some of the most important learning moments of my life. I could scarcely articulate what I learned on those journeys. Truth be told, I could only teach it to someone by taking them along on the journey.

I will be forever grateful for people like Jim Hightower, C. R. Magness, and Margie McKenzie, who helped me navigate my twenties. Then I remember Jerry and Maxie Dunnam, who helped me steer through my thirties, and Paul Baddour and Bill Johnson, who helped me through my forties. They all took me along for the journey at critical points in my life. When someone takes us along on the journey we go to places we never would have found on our own and we become people we never would have become but for those journeys.

One of my dear friends is a man by the name of Mark Benjamin. Years ago I invited Mark along on the journey with me, mentoring him for several years through his time in seminary and beyond. I suppose I still mentor him now, yet these days I find he also mentors me. (That’s how the journey works.) Mark and I have been in a band together for the past decade. 

It gave me great joy years back when Mark invited our oldest son, David, (fourteen at the time) to go along on the journey with him and another leader on a mission to Haiti. Missing a week of school paled in comparison to what was learned along the way on that journey. 

Isn’t that what Jesus did? He took twelve along for the journey. Isn’t that what discipleship really is? The relationship between Paul and Timothy still teaches us after two thousand years. Their seemingly ordinary relationship made history. These kinds of relationships always do, whether the history gets recorded or not.

There’s a term for what Paul was doing with Timothy. I would call it “spiritual parenting.” I’ll say a further word about this in the podcast today that will interest many of you. With the challenges faced by Generation Z (born 1997–2012), we desperately need a resurgence of this largely lost practice. It also holds the possibility for a serendipitous recovery of the intergenerational nature of the church. Listen in on today’s recording for more on that.  


Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly dove, 
with all Thy quickening powers.
Come shed abroad a Savior’s love,
and that will kindle ours. 

—Isaac Watts, “Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove”


Who has taken you along for the journey? Who have you taken along? Who might you take along for the journey in the days ahead? Are you interested in learning about spiritual parenting and grandparenting? 


Today we will sing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (hymn 15) from our Seedbed hymnal, Our Great Redeemer’s Praise. Get your copy here. New shipments arriving now. Use Code: WAKEUPCALL for free shipping through the end of May (does not apply to bulk ordering). 

For the Awakening,
J. D. Walt

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

2 Responses

  1. I agree that God places other believers in our lives as we journey along the way. In contrast with this post which describes how the more mature in the faith will have opportunities to mentor younger, less mature believers; I find myself in a position to assist older disciples, or folks about my age, to be able to finish their journeys well. I’m not sure what term would would describe that, but it wouldn’t be spiritual parenting. There’s definitely diversity within the Body of Christ.

  2. Timothy, the Holy Spirit, and the Letter from Jerusalem’s “Esteemed Leaders”

    The message sent from the “sent ones” (apostles) and spiritually mature older believers (elders) in Jerusalem was written in a letter that is recorded in Acts 15:23-29. In Acts 16:1-5, Paul is delivering that letter’s message in the small towns of Derby and Lystra. The message said that Gentle Christians were not to be burdened with any of the Jewish ritual laws “beyond the following requirements. You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”

    That message meant that male Gentile believers didn’t need to be circumcised. Yet Paul, when he wanted to invite Timothy (who was uncircumcised) to travel with him “circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area.” Then “they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.”

    What a mystery? Why did Paul circumcise Timothy in order to satisfy the Jewish believers in the area at the same time he was delivering the message that Gentile Christians didn’t need to be circumcised?

    In the next section (Acts 16:6-10) we see that the Holy Spirit was actually preventing Paul and Timothy from preaching in certain places until Paul had a vision that told them to preach in Macedonia: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia . . . After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

    It appears that Paul trusted the Holy Spirit and followed the Spirit’s leadings more than he trusted and followed human leaders. Here is another example: Speaking about food offered to idols, Paul says: “We are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” (See 1 Corinthians 8:8.) Because of that Paul could write this in Romans 14:15-21: “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”

    Here Paul explains how he saw the “esteemed leaders in Jerusalem. “I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.” (Galatians 2:1-6.) Since Paul states that he sees all Christ-followers as equally favored by God, he doesn’t appear to recognize the leaders in Jerusalem as a religious hierarchy or clergy class having authority over him.

    It is interesting that Paul goes on to add something that isn’t included in the Jerusalem letter at all: “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” (Galatians 2:10.) (They must have asked this separately.)

    Jesus Himself, said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28.) I believe that Scriptures show that Jesus wants the members of his body to be Spirit-led, not hierarchy led. Paul said: “As many as are led by the Spirit are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14.)

    Here is Paul’s summary: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:13:18.)

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