One of the unique roles of a father in your life is to provide definition, and to guard you from the wolves that want to define you. When you separate from your father, or when he fails to perform this role, you become susceptible to false fathers. A false father is someone who gains power over you and takes advantage of you, and then, through this abuse defines who you are. False fathers can only operate when your real father is not there to guard and define you.
This danger is especially acute in the church setting. When we get born again we become “sheep” (John 10:27). We lose whatever worldly and selfish edge we had. We stop looking out for ourselves and start looking out for others. This allows us to participate in the economy of love. We give and serve, and others give and serve in return. This naturally makes us vulnerable to those who would take advantage of our desire to give and serve. In addition, our participation in the invisible Kingdom often has the side effect of eliminating any natural shrewdness or discernment about the world around us. People who are very sharp in business, for example, suddenly find themselves in a situation where spiritual cues are just as important as natural cues. And we may become influenced by doctrines which then block natural discernment. For example, people may start believing the world is going to end, thereby eliminating all rational sense of how to properly plan your life.
All of that is to say that in the church, it is easy for a wolf to devour the sheep, if there is no true shepherd to protect you. Of course we all have the Good Shepherd, but if we are not hearing him properly, which for reasons above we might not, then we need true shepherds to protect us. Your natural father is the first good and true shepherd given to your life. Many fathers do not know how, or are not equipped to perform this role, however. Some are themselves working through their own lack of fathering or emasculation by women in their lives, and are disempowered to perform this function.
I am sharing all of this because I have recently become aware of this pattern through ministry situations. When a false father comes into your life, it can be very devastating. You might end up married to the wrong person, you might end up with your ministry dreams destroyed. Many bad things can happen to you. I’ve walked with so many people with this story, it will just break your heart.
One of the essential marks of a false father is that they “load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46) This can be through their direct personal influence or simply through the impact of their teaching, but they make Christianity impossible, and then they browbeat you for not being able to perform it. Yet they themselves could never live up to that kind of standard.
False fathers frequently get exalted in the church world. Paul had extensive difficulties with this. He wrote the letter to the Galatians because some people came in teaching scary doctriens and the Galatians believed them. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about some “super apostles” who people listened to because they were abusive. We just let these abusive people come in and steal the kindness that God has planned for us. Then the image of their selfish sinfulness replaces the true image of God in our hearts. Even the apostles got intimated by some people like this and Paul had to confront them.
False fathers victimize nice people, those who serve hardest, who want to please the most. They victimize people who do not have natural fathers or other loving and wise mentors to protect them. And once they get in the door, they destroy the house. What can we do about this?
Be Aware. The best way to be healthy is not to get hurt, so we need to protect each other, and ourselves from these false fathers. Be aware that Satan always seeks to put wolves in the sheep pen. If you do not believe that your church leader loves you sincerely, leave right away and do not look back. If you are a church leader, be watchful of who else you allow a platform in your church, especially outside teachers whose ministry is primarily corrective, or people on your team who clearly lack love. It’s your responsibility to provide a healthy place for the sheep to graze.
Find True Fathers. If you do not have a strong father figure in your life, you are vulnerable. If your natural father was unable to perform this role, seek out older mature Christian men you can trust and who can speak into your life. Do not choose someone about your age. And it does not have to be someone very important or on the platform. There are men who God has specially called to fathering spiritual orphans. They may not spend a lot of time in public, but they spend time helping younger men and women develop spiritual confidence. A true spiritual father does not take over your life. A true spiritual father, helps you to know the Heavenly father, and guards you against the Father of Lies.
Get Healed. If you have been falsely fathered, you have likely experienced significant damage to your relationship with God. You might be in a place of extreme darkness, you might have given up on God (because a false father, mars the image of God in you) or you might simply lack confidence. You need to actively pursue healing. Expose the lies deep in your heart to someone else who does not struggle like you do, and let the truth they tell you speak to you.