The One Thing the Church Will Never Give You

From the archives

I know a girl in her mid-twenties who was raised by a single mom and grew up without knowing her father.

For many of us who grow up fatherless or with strained father relationships, we experience great loss, as a result. Thankfully, this girl met Christ at any early age, yet she always longed for an earthly father to love her, not just her Father in Heaven.

When this particular girl was a few years older, she met a husband and wife in the their forties who began to show God’s love to her, counsel her, pray with her, and treat her like their own.

They asked her one day what is was that she needed–spiritually and emotionally. She paused and said she needed something that the Church would never give her…

…a father.

She said she needed a father.

Sure, the Church would give her a “mom,” another woman to disciple or mentor her. They would assign her a woman, if that was what she needed, but the Church would never give her a father.

The man in his forties smiled back at her, hugged her, and said he would be her father. That man is my father-in-law, but no, the girl in the story is not me.

The girl is another young woman I know who has received a loving fatherly relationship through my father-in-law. He approves (or disapproves) of her boyfriends. They grab ice cream together, hang out and watch movies, pray together, read the Word together…you know, father-daughter stuff.

Some people might find this relationship “weird,” or “unhealthy,” or even “inappropriate,” but I don’t.

The Church is a  family and it is supposed to be our family. Most normal, earthly families are, at least on some level, dysfunctional. We usually grow up lacking something from our own families. Perhaps we just need someone to show us love on a consistent basis or make us feel wanted or appreciated.

As in the case of this young woman, perhaps we just just need a parent to replace one that was neglectful, harmful, or absent.

When I first became a believer, I didn’t know what to expect or ask from the Church. I didn’t know that I could ask for things from my family of believers. But, if we really are a family, then we should be able to express our hopes, needs, and desires; and not only express them, but receive them.

One thing I have been afraid to ask the Church for has been opportunity to grow and mature in using my giftedness. I am married to a leader, a visionary, and a shepherd. God informed me a few years ago, though, that He had a specific and powerful ministry for me (not just the “me” married to Jonathan).

I have been fearful, though, of asking the Church for opportunity to develop and display the ministry He has called me into. Of course, He has been faithful to give me opportunities here and there, but I need to be bold and simply ask. I need to feel confident that I can come to my spiritual family and say, “Hey, here is what I need. Can you provide?”

I’m starting this week. I’m telling you guys so you can help keep me accountable. I’m going to ask for what I need. I’m going to ask for the one thing I have wrongly thought the Church would never give me. What about you?

What have you needed that you felt the Church would or could never provide? What do you need to ask for of your Church family? Do you need support, growth, resources, relationship, healing? If you have been afraid to ask, why?

post image here

31 thoughts on “The One Thing the Church Will Never Give You”

    1. I know, it’s pretty awesome. Both my parents-in-law have become spiritual fathers and mothers to many young people over the years.

      And yet, they never neglect being fully available to their own kids (my husband, myself, his brother and his wife).

      They rock! God hooked me up!

  1. I loved this! I have struggled with finding a community. I think sometimes big churches can be difficult because a lot of people seem to fall through the cracks. This post is encouraging, it is good to be reminded I am ALLOWED to ask my church to fill a need! :^) Thanks Nicole!

    1. Kristin,

      I so get the need for community. My last church dod so many things so well, but really lacked in encouraging community. I had to seek it out for myself, which is not naturally easy for me.

      I am encouraged that you are encouraged! Praying that you remember that you have permission to ask for your needs to be filled and that God and the Church would fill them!

  2. I can SO testify to the fact that your FIL is exceptionally gifted in showing God’s character and love in “being a father to the fatherless” (in a totally appropriate way that may be weird or different but as you point out, shouldn’t really be) Both he and your MIL acted like builders in my life (and many others like me), putting spackle in the holes and even building on whole rooms that were missing.

    When I try to think of something the Church (or Body of Christ at large)wouldn’t or couldn’t provide, I think it’s stuff I’m too lazy to ask for or don’t want to be accountable for having. Good for you for sticking your neck out. I think between the ministry of this wonderful blog, and the new church you’re starting, you are going to have A LOT of opportunity to let your giftedness be a blessing and a manifestation of God’s character and love to others. When you are ready, will you share what is the specific vision for ministry God has called you to? Meantime, praying for lots of opportunity for you to grow. PS…I think you’re awesome!

    1. Embee,

      I’m so glad that my parents-in-law were such Godly influences in your life.

      Thank you also for the encouragement. I totally acknowledge that God is and has been giving me more and more opportunity.

      I think right now, however, I am at a point where I have to ask for more, not just expect more. The whole ask and it shall be given to you thing.

      I’d love to share the ministry God has revealed to me. That’s a great idea! I’ll plan on writing that soon.

      Thanks again Embee. I think you’re awesome too!

  3. The modern church has put so many restrictions on the relationships of it members. Most of these restrictions come from a good place–a desire to protect the body from sin and temptation. Unfortunately, they also insulate the nuclear family in a way that excludes all others.

    I praise God that I have had the opportunity to know your in-laws! I am thankful for your FIL’s big bear hugs (not sideways pats) that were never considered inappropriate. I am thankful for how they would provide a home to young adults without ever worrying that someone might question it. Maybe if more people led lives above reproach and focused on serving Christ and showing His love to others we wouldn’t have to spend so much time and energy fearing appearances and perceived temptation. Yes, we should avoid the appearance of evil and resist temptation, but I don’t think God wants us to exclude and abandon the needy because we fear what others might think.

    But I suppose that’s a controversial topic for another post.

    1. Bonnie,

      You said it so well. I too am thankful that you had the opportunity to experience my father-in-law’s bear hugs!

      The world and sadly, even the Church, tries to scare us in to avoiding situations that seem “inappropriate.” Yet, remaining above reproach does not mean excluding others.

      We can do both–show Christ’s love and resist temptation.

      Thank you Bonnie for sharing and commenting here! Blessings.

  4. I was blessed to have spiritual ‘big sisters’ in my life up to about age 24. I started attending a new church at that point and felt a hole from where those relationships used to be. At some point I stopped believing that their would be someone to fill that role in my life.

    I prayed about it and thought of different people, but no one seemed right. It took well over a year for it to finally become clear and I have the best person loving me, challenging me and cheering me on as a new wife. I love her and I’m so grateful that I started to believe that I could have that relationship again.

    I love this post, Nicole. You make my days more interesting, for sure!

    1. Heather,

      I’m so glad you grew up knowing Godly relationships with women a little older than you and then that you prayed for more when the time came.

      Many of us don’t even recognize what we need, so we never know what to pray for. I’m so glad too that the relationship you so desired has been fulfilled.

  5. Hey NIcole… I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now… ever since Acuff posted it on twitter and I saw that you were from Scottsdale (I’m a youth pastor at a new church in north Scottsdale). Thanks a ton for your wisdom and words on this blog… its really awesome. One day you wrote about how Jesus doesn’t feel sorry for you but promises to help you deal with your pain, and it hit me right at a timely moment. :) Anyways, I wanted to echo what you are saying in this blog. I grew up with an emotionally distant father who would hide behind laptops, books, and entertainment rather than spend quality time with his sons. As a result I had a hard time having a father to look to for an exmaple of what a godly man looks like.

    I went to a small Bible college in Manhattan Kansas. We had a counseling professor there that sought me out and took me under his wing. For lack of a better way of saying it, he gave me “free couch time” as a therapist/professor.

    I remember one time I was relating to him my frustrations about my dad and my lack of a relationship with him and he wheeled his chair up to the where I was sitting and looked me right in the eye and said “Luke I want you to know that I love you.” They were words that went deep down into my parched soul like water. Looking back on all the conversations we had, I found in this man a “faith-father,” who wasn’t my ‘real’ dad in the strictest sense of the word, but who functioned as a father and example in my life. I believe that God is a God who “sets the lonely in families,” who provides fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters within the community of faith, and that has changed my life.

    EVen to the point where that relationship helped me to develop a better relationship with my real dad.

    thanks for this post. I dream of a church that provides those kinds of relationships!

    1. Luke,

      Your story is bringing tears to my eyes. I love how God provides for us, in our needy-ness and brokenness.

      The Lord knows what we need and then graciously provides even when we are so undeserving.

      I am so blessed to read how God provided a loving father relationship and also brought greater healing to your “real” dad relationship.

      Thank you for sharing this with me Luke. I am beyond encouraged by our Lord’s goodness and His redemption in our lives.

      May you also be able to return the blessing to other young men in your ministry!

  6. Something I had always needed from the church family was just somebody to hang out with. When I partake in an activity, it’s usually always with 1 of the 3 same friends. When they have other plans, I don’t have very many other options. It kind of sucks when I can’t find somebody to go to a baseball game with me, because the 100 some Christians I know are too busy with church programs.

    1. Brian,
      Hmm, you hint at Christians who are always busy doing “Christian” stuff instead of living life as people who happen to be Christ-followers. The distinction is an important one. I’ve felt frustration over the same thing. I just realized I never emailed you that house church stuff. I’m on it. My apologies.

  7. As one of your FIL’s adopted daughters, I can’t say enough what it meant to learn from him and his family. To see a healthy family in action, day in and day out. Several times I remember asking your hubby and his bro if they ever resented having all of us in their lives all the time, and they always responded the same way, by looking at me like I was crazy and giving me a hug as they said “noooo! not at all”. I remember standing up at your FIL’s birthday party and sharing (with shaking knees and quivering voice) about what it meant to have him as my spiritual dad…and my spiritual brothers without a word got up to stand by me and hugged me afterward. The Lord works in amazing ways…and I’ll forever be grateful for the healing He did in me through my spiritual family.

  8. Cool. I have watched my wife my “Mom” to fellas on 2 different continents now and it never gets old seeing God fill the gap.

    You said “Some people might find this relationship “weird,” or “unhealthy,” or even “inappropriate,” but I don’t.”

    Just my opinion, but I think this comes from a damaged view of how the Church should operate. If it is encumbered by compartmentalized lives then we can’t see the sharing of live that is necessary for it to be like Him.

    1 Thessalonians 2:8–so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

  9. I work for a couple who are involved in a community ministry. The lady is in her forties and is like my second mom; her husband is like my second dad. They give me a level of spiritual support that my biological parents can’t provide for me, and they pray for me often. I thrive on these relationships as a young woman, and I benefit greatly from thier advice, support and prayer.

  10. What a beautiful example of showing love to one another and helping each other out. I don’t know that I ever would have thought of that on my own; your father-in-law and mother-in-law sound like amazing people.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

  11. As Paul to Timothy, indeed.

    Now as to what I would ask of The Church regarding me, personally. Hmm. I reckon it would be that I would really like to see my family in Christ spending more time seeking The Big Picture, and not getting side-tracked on nonsensical pursuits that lead to many down too many rabbit holes.

  12. This makes me sad, because I just “lost” my father-figure, my father-in-law, because my husband and I are separated. He was everything my father was not – physically affectionate, teased me (lovingly, not with barbs, like my Dad), supportive of my faith. This is what they don’t tell you when your marriage ends, that you lose much more than a husband/wife, you lose their families, too.

    I’m glad this woman was able to find what she needed, though. Thanks for sharing this.

  13. Nicole, I appreciate your candor. I have been on both sides of this question and seen the good as well as the bad in it. I grew up without a dad before my mom married my stepdad when I was 6. He adopted me when I was 8. I became a Christian at 22 and not long after adopted a spiritual father. He loved me until his death a few years ago. I have pastored for 9 years now and have tried to offer the same to others. The danger can come when a man offers to be a father to a vulnerable younger woman. Sometimes that is bad for his integrity. (not in my case but I have seen it) Sometimes he tries to fill a role that only Christ should fill. (occasionally my downfall…) Sometimes he doesn’t see that while his heart is good, he can’t help with the challenges she faces and he serves to hurt her without knowing it. So while this can be beautiful it is, in our fallen world, fraught with danger. And we should be careful.

  14. Nicole,

    Sister, this article has completely stunned me. I am not really sure how to respond other than to say thank you. This article has put to words something that I have been sensing deep within my spirit. There is so much that I need that I didn’t know the church could provide until recently. I know this is simply the start. The Lord has used your article to give me permission to travel down a road I have only dreamed about. Thank you.

  15. Sad to say I have only just come across your musings and they seem very good well done!

    Bookmarked your site for further Godly utterances.

  16. I’m in a similar place being the fatherless girl who was just about desperate to find a replacement throughout high school. An interesting thing is that when I began my professional career in campus ministry there was someone who came alone side me seeking to be the sort of fill-in-the-blank father that your speaking of. Everything was great for awhile but after a little while it did turn unhealthy, unfortunately and we realized that type of expectation that he would father me, became too great a responsibility for him & too needy for me. However, in the last 5ish years, my previous supervisor has become a wonderful Daddy/Uncle figure in my life and it’s completely healthy and life giving from the beginning. All that to say, it never hurts to re-evaluate and adjust as time goes on. I can’t say enough though, how important it’s been for me for these godly men to come alone and stand side by side with me as a campus minister. I have needed their affirmations and love and kindness and empowering, father-like influences in my life so completely. So yeah, I AGREE! Ask for it! I’m a lot less hesitant to do that now that I see how great the benefits are. Sorry for the book I just wrote here. =)

  17. Thank you for your article on “The one thing the church will never give you.”.It’s very kind and sweet of y our father-in-law to take the young woman as his daughter. I think too the church needs to do more, in the sense that not everyone has a “dad” in their life. My dad past away a little over 3 years. He was an absent dad, not at all there, not loving. It would be nice to have that “dad” in my life. But until then, God is being “dad” to me. I’m grateful for it, very bless, because I’m seeing His goodness.

  18. I think it’s wonderful. I was blessed with an earthly father who made it clear from day one that he loved me unconditionally. Hurts my heart to know that anyone doesn’t have that.

  19. I need advice on how to become a man but it’s awkward asking people. I know of one guy I want to ask because he isn’t very outgoing but he seems to be respected and functional but he left before I could ask him anything. Maybe next Sunday… <_<:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *