“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 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. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” 1 Corinthians 4:14-21.

Paul made himself worthy to be imitated. He saw his relationship as patriarchal, not professional. He was a man of excellent character, and he wielded authority. He saw his converts as his spiritual children, and he took responsibility for them. He was not interested in them staying merely converted, but trained to be true disciples.

Our modern world has run as far from this ideal as it could. And the church has given it little resistance. Too many of our pastors place a professional barrier between themselves and their flock. In most cases they did not even convert them. The people in their pews are the ferrel offspring of other ministries and other ministers who birthed and abandoned them. I know, because I have done that myself.

I did have a friend back in the 80s who showed how this was to be done properly. This was back when all we were doing was “getting people saved,” getting folks to say the sinners’ prayer. He and I had lead a man to the Lord who was trying to give up drinking. My friend committed to go see him every day and explain the scriptures to him. One day he went to the man’s house and was met by the wife who said, “Well, he’s gone again. And we’ll never see you again, either.”

My friend went out searching for him after he first found me at my store and told me to pray for the man. Then he went looking, found the man drunk in a bar, and dragged him out and took him home. He sobered the guy up and promised to help him stay on the straight and narrow. And he did. And the man’s entire family eventually came to Christ. My friend was a father to them all, and stayed in their lives. It was hard work, but I believe this is what Paul was talking about.