We sat down with ARC President, Greg Surratt, and ARC Executive Director, Dino Rizzo, to learn about what a spiritual father is, and how a son can look to build a relationship with a spiritual father.
Having a spiritual father (or mother) is a blessing. This is true for pastors and non-pastors alike. Having someone speak life, encouragement, and biblical truths into your life can produce great rewards. The ARC family is full of spiritual fathers and sons. We sat down with ARC President, Greg Surratt, and ARC Executive Director, Dino Rizzo, to learn about what a spiritual father is and how a son can look to build a relationship with a spiritual father.
What does it mean to be a spiritual father?
Greg: It’s not that unlike being a natural father. Fathers protect, encourage, and guide. I think a spiritual father does the same thing. Just because you’re 30 or 40 years old and planting a church doesn’t mean you don’t need a cheerleader on your team. You need somebody who wants to encourage you, who will protect you, and who will help to provide for you. I think we all need that.
Dino: I think of love and responsibility all merged together. It’s a huge responsibility to be a father. And you can’t do it without love. When I became a father to my family, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I mean, these kids show up! The more that you are in it, the more you begin to realize the responsibility of fathering. It’s the same experience in ministry for pastors or leaders.
How do you become a spiritual father, or how does someone gain a spiritual father?
Dino: I had this discussion the other day with one of my friends. He said someone had asked him to be his pastor. And I thought, “That’s even different from saying, ‘You’re my father.’” A lot of guys have somebody who pastors them. But fathering is a different thing. I may say, “Can you be my pastor?” But I can’t say, “Hey, can you be my spiritual father?” That comes out of a relationship, which takes time.
Greg: For some people, it may be very simple. For me, it’s difficult. I think it needs to be organic. When I raised four children, I knew I was their father. But in spiritual fathering it’s more like adoption, in a sense.
Dino: John Osteen, Joel Osteen’s father, called it “divine flow.” There’s this divine thing happening back and forth. There’s probably a little bit of covenant in there. Fathers and sons have permission to speak freely, be honest, and encourage one another.
Do you have a spiritual father in your life? What does that relationship look like?
Dino: My father-in-law, Wayne Austin, has been a spiritual father. The older I’ve gotten, I’m understanding the value of it. Dave Ohlerking was a spiritual father of missions in my life. I look to Pastor Greg as a spiritual big brother, which is huge.
Greg: I have never been directly asked that, but yes, I had a spiritual father. He was my uncle. He wouldn’t call himself a spiritual father to me, but he was. He was a guy who was on my team, who cheered for me when other people thought that maybe my ideas were crazy, who was able to speak truth into my life, and who had a major impact on me.
When did you feel the scale tip from “I’m working to build the Kingdom” to “We’ve got to help others build?”
Dino: It’s not an age. I think it’s a season. You come to a place in your life—Billy Hornsby said it well, and Pastor Greg says it all the time—when you start realizing, “Wow, I’m grateful for the fruit that has grown on my tree; it’s time to grow fruit on other people’s trees.” It’s a big topic of conversation within ARC right now.
Greg: Just a few years ago I saw my role changing. My role had been, “I’m going to take the hill and build the kingdom!” Which is good. But I woke up one day and thought, “I’m not sure I want to take the next hill right here, right now.” And as I worked through this process, I realized that my life was transitioning from being a king to be a sage. There are kings who have kingdoms and there are warriors in the kingdom, but sages don’t have their own kingdoms necessarily. They are advisors to many, many kings. That’s what I see the rest of my life being—whatever it is I’ve learned, I want to pass on a little bit, or be an encouragement to whoever’s coming next.
Dino: I’ve always felt that if you’ve been the recipient of it and if you’ve benefited from it, then start doing it. It’s not an age. It is an experience, a trusted place. You’ve got to get some mileage and have some wins and some losses. If you’re not ready to father, start brothering. Go ahead and start.
Greg: I agree—start where you are.
How would you encourage someone who is looking for a spiritual father? What would you tell him to do?
Dino: I always tell guys, “Take inventory of your life.” Is there someone in your life who has been there for you? Sometimes you need to start with the obvious. Is there someone already there who is in that role, or trying to be in that role? There are no perfect fathers. There may be people in your life, and you don’t realize it right now. God has a way of providing.
I think there are a lot of guys out there who, when they say, “I need a spiritual father,” truly mean they need a safe place for someone to listen, and then maybe give some commentary. I tell guys all the time, “I can’t make your decision, but this is what I would do if I were in your situation.”
Greg: You’ve just got to look around. Who’s investing in you right now?
Dino: Sometimes it’s seasonal. Somebody is fathering you in your life, and then suddenly, in another decade, there’s someone else. It’s the same with pastoring. There are several pastors who have pastored me throughout my life. Some have pastored me from a distance. Some have pastored me in one area of my life. I’ve had guys father me in an area spiritually, but then I’ve looked to someone else who’s helped me to be a father to my own kids. You want to be able to make those transitions in your life and in the right seasons of your life.
Greg: You need somebody in your corner even when you screw up. Maybe especially when you screw up. There have been several times in my life when I’ve known people who made terrible decisions. And God prompted me to realize, “You know what, they need a friend.” You just need to go in and be their cheerleader. Even if you know they did something stupid. They don’t need to hear that from you. They just need you to be an encouragement to them. I think that’s part of what a dad does.
You may be in a season right now when you’d love to be a father, you’d love to be a help to other people, and you’re going to do the best you can, but you’ve got a church to build, and you’ve got a family to build. And that’s okay—you’re building a kingdom. That’s what God has called you to do right now. There will be seasons of your life, and sometimes they ebb and flow, when you’ll have more discretionary time. You’ll actually be able to sleep through the night without changing a diaper. And that’s okay. Don’t get hung up in the “should haves.” Be present in whatever season God has you in right now.