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Nov 10, 2013

The Expedition of Spiritual Parenting

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:8-11

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: parenting, spiritual parenting, bonding, relational evangelism


Paul talks about his spiritual parenting of the Thessalonians. In the process he reveals the priority of relationships with people in the presenting of the Gospel. Every child of God can be a spiritual parent at any age or stage. This message examines the importance of relational bonding in the communicating of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and becoming spiritual parents.


The Expedition of Spiritual Parenting

Series Empowered Expeditions—I Thessalonians

November 10, 2013


It wasn’t all that many years ago that population experts were predicting the demise of planet earth because of high birth rates and projected overpopulation. But the ZPG crowd (Zero Population Growth) has, of late, grown noticeably silent.

That is because today over 80 countries of the world face negative birth rates, a reality whose harsh consequences are just beginning to be felt as a shrinking demographic of younger adults who are finding themselves bearing the financial weight of a growing aging adult population. And low birth rate countries contain over 40 percent of the world's population, including every single country in Western Europe, plus notable giants like China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.

Since it takes 2.1 children per woman for a given generation to replace itself, anything below that birth rate means a population is declining (not factoring in immigration). S. Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world at 1.1 while Japan has the oldest population in the world. Things are getting so out of balance in France that they recently instituted an expensive system of financial support to families that have two or more births just to encourage couples to have more children.

Just to give you an idea of the trouble this will spell for us in America, in 1950 there were 13 U.S. workers for every 1 person drawing Social Security. In 2010 there were only 3.3 workers per retiree and in just 12 years (when I’m supposed to be drawing Social Security in 2025) it is projected that there will only be 2 workers per retiree. Think a low birth rate is no big deal? Think again.

Just as tumbling birth rates can spell catastrophe for individual nations or ethnic group, so a low spiritual birth rate in the church always spells trouble for the present and future strength of God’s family. Too many churches in the western world are beginning to look like Japan and Korea demographically—an aging population not being matched by new followers of Jesus Christ being born again into the church.

The answer to both declining national or church populations lies with one set of people—potential parents. In a nation, that is every living adult of child bearing age. In a church that is every genuine follower of Jesus Christ, young or old, male or female, short, tall, black, white, brown, yellow…you name it.

In physical parenting, any number of things may keep someone from becoming a parent biologically—singleness, personal choice, age or infertility. So, too, in the church, any number of things can keep us from becoming spiritual parents. But every one of those impediments to spiritual parenting are solvable. You never have to age-out because of spiritual menopause. You don’t have to wait for a proposal or marriage to become a spiritual parent to a whole house or neighborhood full of spiritual offspring. The pain of infertility is far more easily solved in spiritual parenting than in physical barrenness.    


We’ve come to a passage today in I Thessalonians 2 where the Apostle Paul, arguably one of the most prolific spiritual fathers of all time, talks to us about spiritual parenting. And by telling us what was involved in his spiritual parenting of the Thessalonians, he’s giving us much-needed insight into what is needed by any Christian or any church in order to have a spiritual birth rate that leads to a growing and vibrant spiritual family and people.

You interested in being that kind of spiritual family in Spokane? God’s interested in making his family fruitful, productive and prolific, turning every one of us into spiritual parents who have the joy and satisfaction of knowing we have poured our lives into the next generations of God’s family line and feel that close family connectedness that only parents and children know.  

So let’s pick it up midway through vs. 6 of chapter 2 of First Thessalonians— (NIV)Paul writes about how the Thessalonian believers actually became his spiritual offspring when he says, “As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”


Being one of the early church Apostles was a pretty big deal. Apostle literally means “sent on a mission with authority.” Paul had been doubly sent—by Jesus Christ when he was called to take the Gospel to the Gentiles…and by the church in Antioch when they sent him out with Silas to preach the Gospel and start new churches. There were only a handful of people like Paul who could play the Apostle card and expect people to step forward and pay the freight for his coming.

            Instead of talking about his rank as an Apostle, Paul points to his relationship as a spiritual mother. In fact, everything he says from verse 6 to the end of the chapter is about the kind of relationship he cultivated with these total strangers in Thessalonica. And he did it in just a few short weeks.

            Relationship over rank—that’s what bringing the Gospel to anyone is all about. People don’t need to know our social class. They don’t need to know our degrees or pedigree. It’s not about the titles we have before our name of the letters we have after it. It’s all about what kind of relationship we have developed with the people to whom God has sent us.

            Notice the two family roles Paul uses to describe the kind of relationship he cultivated with people. In vs. 7 he compares his spiritual parenting with “a mother” while in vs. 11 he bookends it with the father imagery. “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children….” In talking about the parallels between natural parenting and spiritual parenting, Paul is also giving those of us who are physical parents a few clues about some of the difference between a mother’s more feminine parenting and a father’s more masculine parenting.

            So what are the mothering characteristics Paul points to? The image he wants the Thessalonians and us to have in mind is a mother caring for her very young children, specifically a “nursing mother.” The focus here is on the gentle care that a mother gives her very young child. When you are a baby, parenting better be all about contact, connection, bonding and cuddling. The job of nursing moms is to hold their children…a lot! Nursing moms aren’t in the business of writing out lists of chores for their newborn to do every day. She’s not supposed to be into external discipline of the kid, say spanking a baby for pooping its diaper or waking up every few hours because it’s hungry. Young motherhood is all about bonding with your baby through lots of time spent together communicating, almost purely through actions, how much you love that little person.

            When that doesn’t happen at that critical young age, certain things that could and should develop in a child’s relationship with its parent don’t happen either.

ILL: Several years ago when I was with the Agros team to Nicaragua (along with Steve Allen, my son Andrew and daughter Joanna and her son-to-be husband), we took a tour of one of the orphanages in Managua. I think it might have been run by the government. But it was a well built and staffed orphanage.

            Before going in, we were clearly instructed not to pick up the babies or little children. They rightly didn’t want the kids bonding in any way with some adult who was just there for a few minutes.

            The children were housed in buildings or “homes” depending upon their age—babies and toddlers in one, grade school kids in another, etc. We came to the building with the babies in it. There in a large living room area were about 15 little kids, some crawling, others just lying on the floor, others sitting. There were a couple of workers there, one feeding a bottle to one infant and the other changing a diaper or something.

            As our guide talked to us, a little guy about 6 feet from us started crying. He had seen us come in and wanted to be held. So here he is, looking up at us, crying. I glance over at Joanna next to me to see if she’s seeing what I’m seeing. Yes, she has this sad look on her face that says, “This little tike needs to be held!”

            Just about that time, this little fellow sitting there crying leans back just a little too much, loses his balance and falls back, hitting his head on the tile floor. Now he’s screaming, tears rolling down his face. It’s all I can do to restrain Joanna from hurdling over the baby fence to just comfort the little guy. Now Joanna turns to me, with tears in her eyes, and says, “That’s SO sad!”   And as we slowly exit that room full of kids who have already had dozens of experiences just like that in their little lives, I comment to Joanna, “That’s how Reactive Attachment Disorder starts, right there.”

            I think too many Christians have S.R.A.D—Spiritual Reactive Attachment Disorder. It manifests itself in an emotional detachment from others in the family of God. And it probably isn’t so much their fault as it is the result of the circumstances surrounding their spiritual birth and the lack of warm, personal, close spiritual parenting so many failed to receive when we first came to faith in Jesus Christ. Too many of God’s kids have been raised in the orphanages of nice looking but emotionally sterile churches. Like the orphanage in Managua, the buildings are nice, the staff is dedicated, the policies and procedures are all very logical but nobody is tenderly caring for the new babies or if they are, there just aren’t enough of them for the volume of children.


Look at vs. 8. “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”  

            That little phrase “we loved you so much” comes from a Greek word that is only used once in the entire N.T. It’s not one of the common Greek words for love. The ESV renders it this way: “So, being affectionately desirous of you….” It is a word with very strong emotion. Outside of the Bible, it was used in ancient Greek of parents mourning the death of their child. Is there anything more heartbreaking than being with a young mother and father at the graveside of their little baby boy or girl, the little white casket sitting there ready to be lowered into the ground. Talk about deep emotion and heartfelt longing!

            I think this must have been one of the secrets of Paul’s ministry. This preaching of the Gospel of Christ was not some emotionally detached, intellectual presentation of a few truths. Paul “the murderer of Christians” had become Paul the passionate, affection spiritual parent of pagan people.

            I don’t know how you get this kind of emotional connection with people needing Christ except by 1.) being filled up with the love of Christ and 2.) spending time with people God is yearning to love to himself. When Paul says that the Thessalonians had “become so dear” to him, he’s using the word agape—God’s love, Jesus’ love that sacrificed himself on the cross to draw sinners like us back to the Father.

And when he talks about sharing “not only the gospel of God” with them “but our lives as well,” he’s talking about every part of his life that could be rightly shared with other people. Look at vs. 9“Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”

This is as “lifestyle evangelism-ish” as you can get. Paul, as he had done in Corinth and Ephesus and other cities, was working as a tentmaker by day (and possibly by night). This was workplace evangelism. He was self-employed and probably using his sowing skills to sit around with other tentmakers by the hour, talking. For Paul, tentmaking was only a means to a couple of ends—1.) putting food on the table, and 2.) putting the life of Christ and the Gospel into the hearts of people.

            And, yes, it was exhausting. Those two terms “toil and hardship” are about as fatigue-ridden as you can imagine. It’s the kind of “toil” a soldier has in combat or a wrestler has on the mat or a manual laborer has ditch-digging.

Bringing the Gospel to people will require effort. It will leave us tired. It will be demanding and rewarding all at the same time.

ILL: I was reminded of this recently when reading the book The Church Gathered & Scattered. In the preface, the author talks about how a year or so into a home group gathering in a new community where he was church planting, someone in the group asked if they were “a church”. This group had people in it at a whole lot of different places spiritually. Some were just hanging out because they like the people in the group and deeper discussions about important life stuff. Others were brand new followers of Jesus. And a few had been Christians for several years.

            The leader responded to that baby believer’s question this way, “No, we’re a faith community but we’re not a church. Church happens when a group of people decide to go on mission with God together.”

He went on to talk about how he and his wife along with another couple had been on mission for all of them. “We’ve given up our food for you; we give up our family time and personal interests to accommodate all of your spontaneous dropping by to talk. Half the time or more, we would really rather you stay away so we can enjoy our private time; but then we see you pull up in front of the house and we give another night up for you. We throw parties and gatherings for you and your friends all the time, and although it looks like it’s all fun for us, it’s a heck of a lot of work! In many ways, we’ve died for you; and if you want to be part of a church, you’ll have to die too.” [p. 46-47, The Gathered & Scattered Church by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.]

Moms know what “dying” for their babies is like. They do it every night when the baby wakes up at 1 and 4 a.m. hungry. They do it every day when they don’t even have time to take a shower or put on make-up because their little one is sick and just needs to be held. They do it when they change diapers 8 times a day or when they change their own clothes 3 times a day because junior spit up all over them more times than that.

And through all that, they are dying to themselves and bonding with that gift from God called a baby.

That’s what reaching our world, reaching our neighbors, reaching our classmates and work associates and family members will require. For most of us, there are people God has put in our lives on a daily basis, most days of the week. For some of us, we’ll have to be more like Paul and go set up shop, take up a hobby, get involved on a regular basis with people needing Christ. Doing so will require that we “go on mission” for people. It will make us more tired and more stretched than we already are. Or maybe it will just crowd out stuff that is stealing our time right now, stuff that just really doesn’t matter nearly as much as the souls and lives of the people God wants us to share our lives, our souls and Christ’s Gospel with.


APP: Write down the places where you have daily encounters with people needing Jesus Christ.

  • Work
  • School
  • Family
  • College Dorm


Now write down the places where you have weekly encounters with people needing Jesus.

  • Neighborhood
  • Sports/rec
  • Eating out place/coffee stand/etc.
  • Bank
  • Stores
  • Clubs/hobbies/groups


Lastly, write down the names of people or places where you encounter the same people about once a month or less OR are praying for new open doors to minister Christ.

  • Relatives outside Spokane
  • Acquaintances (work, social, etc.) living outside Spokane, doctors offices, etc.
  • Friends outside Spokane


So let’s wrap this up with what Paul identifies as important in spiritual fathering (regardless of whether you are a man or woman). Vs. 10—“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11) For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12)encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

            Paul lays out three different “code of ethics” that governed his spiritual fathering of new and potential saints. The first was his “CAREER ETHIC.” We saw this in verse 9 (put on PowerPoint--—“Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”).

An “ethic” is simply a set of principles by which you govern your behavior and practically define your moral values. So when it came to Paul’s “career,” that of either preaching the Gospel or sowing tents, he had a very strong “career” or what we would call today “work ethic.” He worked long hours, hard hours, night and day shifts, basically until he had nothing else to give. He embraced Jesus’ call to him on the road to Damascus to “come, suffer and die” to be a man on a mission.

CHALLENGE: It is time we all adopted Paul’s “ethic” towards both our careers and our calling in Christ. If we’re not working into that place of fatigue in our work and ministry, we’re missing out. (Yes, we must also have regular times and days of rest.) If we’re not seeing our place of work/school as God’s assigned place to both earn a living and share our life in Christ, we need to take a look at our “career ethic.” Why am I in the career I’m in if it isn’t to bring Christ to more people? Why am I bored or underachieving or unmotivated in school or at work? Maybe God is trying to show me that I’ve left the most important part out—life purpose in Christ—of my “career ethic.” The only “ethic” big enough to warrant this kind of exhausting hard work in life is Jesus Christ. Money isn’t. Popularity isn’t. People aren’t. Only living all out for God is.


Secondly, Paul points to his CHARACTER ETHIC in vs. 10. “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.

Each of these words speaks of character, character that can only be experienced when we are walking with Christ and living in the Holy Spirit. I can’t be holy apart from God. Holiness is simply the moral rightness of God—a life unstained by sin and uninvolved with sin. There is no way for me to embrace that kind of life at any time in my day let alone large swaths of my day unless I am living “in Christ.” Being righteous is the positive side of holiness—the living-out part of living the moral goodness of God. Only the “new creation” of the life of Christ in me can possibly make me into a person who chooses the right course, the right words, the right thoughts, the right actions in any given situation of life. Left to myself…or governed by myself…I will choose wrongly most of the time.

            Blameless simply ties both holiness and righteousness together in what is observed by anyone on the outside. The blameless person walks what he talks. He lives what he lectures. He demonstrates what he demands of others.


And there is no place where this “character ethic” is more important than before our children! Children can sense hypocrisy. They know when we’re faking it. They even test us to see how deep our “character ethic” goes. Paul is admitting that he lived a rather transparent life 24/7 with the Thessalonians. As short as his first stay with them was, he still invites them to examine his walk and his talk…together. Being the same people in public as we are in private is critical to successful parenting. And being humble about our shortcomings but never satisfied to remain stuck in them is something that will challenge our spiritual children to keep growing.


Third and lastly, Paul points to his COACHING ETHIC in vs. 11—“We dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 11)encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

While these three words have some overlap in their meaning, there are slight shades of variation.  

“Encouraging” focuses on the impact his presence had on them. Notice how personal that encouraging presence is. “We dealt with each one of you….” People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. Paul’s impact came, not because of his massive intelligence but more through his positive presence.

ILL: If you’ve worked with children at all, you know how easy it is for them to get discouraged about learning a new skill or mastery. You can give them a puzzle to solve, but if you’re not there to help them when they get stuck, chances are they will either dissolve in tears of frustration or get up and go onto the next interesting-looking thing. The best thing a dad can do to develop his children is BE THERE to patiently coach them through the challenges when they want to give up. They are questioning if they can even learn to do it. We know they can but that it will take some time and effort.

            Just being with people is a powerful part of bringing Jesus to them. People know the difference between being a project and bringing our presence.

ILL: I’m actually not the best at this. As a task-oriented guy, I tend to see hanging out with people as sort of a waste of time. I have to consciously tell myself to just relax, sit back, ask a few questions and listen to someone’s heart through all the chatter of their mouth. Lately I was reminded of how great an experience that can be. It was a couple of weeks ago right here. I was just about ready to lock up when a young man walked in and started looking at the art. We struck up a conversation. And since I had an hour between then and when I needed to be at the next event, we just sat down and talked in the window over there. An hour later as we got up to go, he said to me, “You’re the pastor here? Wow, I really enjoyed our time today.” Then he said something that drove this truth home. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a pastor who took this kind of time to ask me about my life.” I silently told the Lord, “O.K. I got the message. Thanks!”


The next word Paul uses about spiritual fathering is “comforting”. It is almost a synonym for the previous word. “Comforting” is not a word we normally associate with dads, perhaps. But the kind of “comfort” Paul is talking about providing here is one that not only helps people to feel good because of his presence but one that helps them DO well because of his encouragement.

            There is something dads are meant to bring to the parenting table when it comes to action. We are to model what it means to initiate or take action when perhaps others are content to just sit and watch life happen. Men tend to be more comfortable being doers rather than talkers. Where moms might tend to pamper and accommodate children more, dads want their kids to push the envelope a little, take some risks, get off the couch and video games and go DO something that takes strength or muscle or action.

            A father’s encouragement must not become an anesthetic that puts people to sleep. It must be a stimulant that awakens us to better action. We’re to be more like a can of Mountain Dew than a bottle of melatonin. We’re meant to do what a mug of strong coffee does to, say, Eric than what a cup of cold medicine does to, say, me! J

            At some point spiritual parenting involves challenging people to change course, choose Christ and take up a new adventure.


Which is how I want to close this message.

1.) We’ve talked about how our careers (work or school) can be for every one of us one of the best places to live out and share the Gospel of Christ. Are you ready to make the Gospel in word and deed part of your Career Ethic?

            If you are like me, one of the first thoughts that fires back in your head when I say that is, “But I don’t know HOW to do that.” Well, good news! We just happen to have a Conduit Class every Monday night for the next 6 weeks (and again for 6-8 weeks in Jan-Feb) that is designed to help you very practically make Christ a natural part of conversations and relationships anywhere. Perhaps that is the next step you need to take to become a prolific spiritual parent. We’ll see you Monday night at 6:30 right here.


2.) We talked about our “coaching ethic/influence”—what it takes to be anyone’s spiritual parent is first and foremost TIME. Earlier I had you write out the places where you spend the most time and most frequency with people needing Christ. As we spend some time in prayer and worship shortly, I want to invite you to go to the map on the west wall and do 3 things:

1.) Put a ______________ colored dot on a.) the block you live in and b.) your place of work or school.

2.) Then put a ________________ colored dot on places you have encounters with people needing Jesus weekly.

3.) Finally, put a ______________ colored dot on any place in this city where you frequent once a month or less OR are praying for God to open a door for you to do some spiritual parenting.


We have instructions above to the map in case you get confused. J