by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
1 Corinthians 4:15, NKJV
I was born again in 1969 while in the U.S. Air Force. After competing my four years of service in 1971, I moved back to Anchorage, Alaska, to pursue a courtship with a Christian young lady who had led me to the Lord. The courtship succeeded, and we were married for 38 years before she went on to her heavenly reward.
I began attending a church in south Anchorage — Abbott Loop Community Chapel (later named Abbott Loop Christian Center). In my very first service there in March, 1971, I heard Pastor Dick Benjamin preach the Word of God in a way I had never before heard. He spoke with power, with Holy Spirit anointing, and in a way that made the Word of God sink deeply into our hearts and spirits. I immediately knew that I was “home”! Today, 47 years later, I still feel that “family” relationship with Dick and with that church.
Over the course of many years I’ve heard hundreds of Dick’s sermons. Just as importantly, he welcomed me into his life and fatherly counsel. Without pushing or striving to be so, Dick just became a true father in the faith to me. In that same church there were other great men of God. True to the apostle Paul’s words (above), they fulfilled a valuable role of being “instructors in Christ,” but Dick Benjamin became a genuine father in the faith to me and many others.
We know from his writings that the apostle Paul was an unmarried man. He had no biological children. But that did not prevent him from taking younger Christian men under his spiritual, fatherly care and training. Paul is perhaps the premier example of spiritual fathers in the Bible. Timothy’s natural dad was not a believer (Acts 16:1). The young man joined Paul in his travels and became a spiritual son to the apostle. Timothy grew so substantially under Paul’s paternal influence that at one point Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20, ESV).
Similarly, Titus became a close disciple of Paul and became to the apostle a “true son in our common faith.” Here too, as with Timothy, we see Paul’s paternal influence developing character and ministry skills in Titus, to the point where the apostle could send Titus into very important ministry situations, including installing elders in the churches (Titus 1:4-5).
I had the privilege not only of growing up in the faith under Dick Benjamin’s preaching and teaching. But I was also invited to travel with him to various churches planted from Abbott Loop. Being with Dick allowed me to observe firsthand his apostolic and pastoral ministry to the pastors and saints of these churches. This provided me with invaluable experience when I later on planted and pastored two churches myself.
I’ve prayed together many times with Dick Benjamin. I have heard firsthand his prayerful care for and concern for the churches we had sent out from Abbott Loop in Anchorage. These churches and their leaders were very much cherished in his heart the way a father cherishes his own natural children.
I had the additional privilege of traveling with Dick on ministry visits to many of our outreach churches, both in Alaska and in the Lower 48 states. His example of fatherly care for the saints and for the pastors of these churches was an inspiration to me. And even though Dick was in every way a “senior” minister by comparison, I was greatly impressed by the humble approach he would take towards the local church pastor. I recall once traveling with him to one of our Alaskan churches. I’ll never forget him asking the pastor, who was a young man in his first pastorate: “How can I serve you while I’m here?” That was probably 40 years ago, and I remember that brief sentence to this day! Dick loved those churches and their leadership. And many of them in turn looked upon him very much as a father in the faith.
We hear often of the “patience of Job,” and rightly so. But the opening five verses of the Book of Job tell us something about the man as a father. Whenever any of his 7 sons would hold a feast, the next morning their father Job would offer to God “a burnt offering for each of them,” in case they had sinned against God in their hearts. I’m a Dad too, and I can fully understand the love in Job’s heart that would lead him to intercede before God for his children. I remember one time long ago when one of my then very young sons was in a difficult situation. I spent virtually an entire night seeking God on his behalf. And thankfully the situation was fully resolved the next day.
Job’s is the type of dedicated paternal love I’ve seen year after year in my father in the faith, Dick Benjamin. I know for a fact that even now, at age 93, he prays nightly for countless men and women and their families, as well as for churches and other ministries. At his advanced age now, his days of traveling ministry are over. But decades ago, when I was pastoring churches in New York and Oregon, my pastor and apostle made it a point to visit and minister to us and our churches. Those visits added much encouragement and strengthening to us “on the field.”
Let me share another instance of Dick’s fatherly concern for me. In the early 1970s I was newly married and busy starting a career as an air traffic controller. Through our own fault, my wife and I began to miss some church services. Dick noticed, and he called me to check and see how we were doing. That call, that expression of concern, refreshed and strengthened our commitment. And we stayed devoted to that church, and to Dick, for many years thereafter. That’s the kind of influence a caring spiritual father has on his sons and daughters in the faith.
I recall another instance of Dick’s love and concern — in this case, for a fallen brother. My wife and I were on vacation in the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Dick had learned the geographical location of a former Abbott Loop minister who had fallen away from the Lord and was now living in Florida. Dick called me and asked me to join two other pastors and fly to Florida to try to find and bring that brother back to the Lord. To cut to the end, we did find him, had good fellowship with him, and facilitated his return to the Alaska church. Thank the Lord, he is serving God to this day in an effective ministry in a western state. All because a spiritual father was willing to send three men across the country to try to help recover a fallen “son” of his.
[Please forgive the many personal references. My heart is to communicate what a true spiritual father is like. And my best exposure to that is the many and diverse ways in which pastor and apostle Dick Benjamin has been a father in the faith to me. I trust you’ll bear with me. The personal stories are given to point to the father, not to the son.]
It was June, 1972, the day before my wedding in Anchorage. My fiancée’s mother was taken critically ill and was rushed to the emergency room and then directly admitted to the hospital. I called pastor Dick, and he was there quickly. He went in and prayed for her, then came out and spoke to us. It was a bewildering time for my wife-to-be and me, with our wedding scheduled for the very next day. Then Dick spoke kindly but firmly, “Don’t postpone the wedding.” That word was very welcome. It dispelled our confusion, we proceeded with the wedding, then visited my mother-in-law at the hospital before leaving on our honeymoon. All worked out fine, thanks to a wise fatherly word spoken by Pastor Dick to us in a bewildering time of crisis and confusion.
One thing I’ve greatly enjoyed about my “father” Dick is his fantastic sense of humor. Ted, a pastor friend of mine, once said in admiration, “Just name a topic and Dick can come up immediately with a joke about it.” Always clean, always uplifting. His example has helped me to understand that serving the Lord and ministry on His behalf don’t have to be all sober-faced and emotionless. To the contrary, we saw and learned that life in the Lord’s service has its ups as well as its downs, its times of joy and laughter as well as heartache. I recall reminding Dick of something hilarious that he had once said, and he laughed so hard at the recollection that tears filled his eyes. I like that! He showed us that the Christian life can have lots of joy and delight.
Humor? I was gazing through the hospital nursery window at my firstborn infant son Brian. Dick Benjamin arrived, took a look, and said of the baby’s good-sized feet, “Look at the gunboats on that boy!” We laughed heartily. I liked that. No platitudes, no phony phrases. Just a light-hearted comment that brought joy to that waiting room. Most importantly, though, was the fact that the very day I had become a first-time dad, my spiritual dad was there encouraging me. That’s the kind of thing fathers do.
I’m a Grandpa now, 24 times over! My grandchildren are like a crown to me. I love them! Pastor Dick, although not their biological grandparent, has always shown great interest in how my children are doing. Case in point: My wife and I were recently in Anchorage to visit our daughter and her husband and 3 children. She and her husband — spiritual “grandchildren” to Dick in a very heartfelt sense — asked me if I could arrange with Dick for them to come by his house with the kids and have him pray a patriarchal blessing over them. He happily obliged, and I’ve added below a photo of that poignant moment of apostle Dick Benjamin praying over our daughter and son-in-law and their three children. That was as stirring a moment for them as it was for me.
Remember our opening verse (1 Cor. 4:15). The apostle Paul was a spiritual father to these Corinthians. As such, he worked hard at “following the example of Christ” in order to be a good role model to the Corinthians. I’ve watched my father in the faith exemplify many Christian virtues. It’s very helpful to us “sons” to see godly character lived out in other exemplary human beings, so we see that it can be done. Let me share a few such examples from my times with Dick Benjamin.
When Dick’s late wife Carol was declining in her health, I personally saw (and heard other examples of) Dick’s continual, loving care for her. He had great attentiveness, patience, and devotion to his beloved wife throughout her declining time of health. I can hardly think of a better role model of spousal love and devotion than Dick was to his wife Carol.
One time when I was pastoring in southern Oregon I had occasion to visit Anchorage. Dick heard of it and invited me to stay in his furnished basement apartment. And the next morning he personally cooked a massive and delicious breakfast for us. He truly exemplified Jesus’ saying that He had “not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Here was this respected pastor, apostle, and church planter, known around the world for his ministry, cooking my breakfast in his home!
I’ve always marveled at Dick’s willingness to let young men participate in public ministry before they were older and more mature. In January 1972 Dick and his associate pastor started Abbott Loop’s fulltime, daytime Bible School. Although I was relatively young in the Lord, I had devoted myself to studying and learning God’s Word. So I was invited to join Dick Benjamin and Dick Strutz as the third (in my case off-staff) teacher in the Bible College. I readily accepted, and from that time to this, 47 years later, the Bible teaching ministry has been the consuming and joyful passion of my ministry life. It all started when my spiritual dad took a chance on a greenhorn!
But Dick was not just willing to help young ministers find a place of expression in the Anchorage church. As our vision grew for outreach to the world, Dick was also willing to release and send trained — and even veteran on-staff — ministers from our local church to go elsewhere in Alaska, to the Lower 48 states, and to the mission field to plant churches and to win and train souls for the Lord. Rather than hoard all the saints for the Anchorage church, Dick had the apostolic gift and vision to send out 1,200 people on about 70 church-planting teams. As the apostle Paul released and sent his spiritual sons Timothy and Titus (and surely many others) into their own ministries, so did apostle Dick Benjamin, with much resultant fruit wherever those sent ones brought the Gospel. A personal note — Dick and the Abbott Loop elders sent me to plant churches in New York and Oregon. I’m very thankful that Dick’s apostolic vision allowed him to release his “sons” to go forth and fulfill their callings.
Before closing, let me share two brief stories that will help you know my spiritual father better. There are dozens more anecdotes I could share, but I must wrap this up. Once I traveled with him to help troubleshoot one of our eastern USA outreach churches. Dick was always deeply committed to never squandering a penny of the Lord’s money when traveling on church business. So while we visited and ministered at that church, Dick had us save some of “the Lord’s money” by sharing a room at a very economical motel — as he put it, “emphasis on the Econo”!
Another favorite slogan of Dick’s when some of us went out to eat together was (always jokingly): “When Benjamin eats, everybody eats; when Benjamin pays, everybody pays!” That would always draw a laugh from those of us there at the table. However, I know for a fact that if Dick sensed that he was more comfortable financially than others at the table, he would grab the check. There was no “shellout falter” or “impediment in his reach,” to use a couple of his humorous pet phrases for those who would freeze up when the check arrived. Dick was and is a man of great generosity, always watching out for those whose finances might be slim.
And now one last defining emphasis:
From the first sermon I heard Dick Benjamin preach in 1971 to this very day, he has been unswervingly a man of the Word of God. Many times as he would approach the pulpit to preach, he would say to the church, “I solicit your undivided attention. This is the most important thing I do in the work of the Lord.” Dick’s love for and devotion to God’s Word, the Bible, was an inspiration to all who heard him. God’s Word is part of Dick’s spiritual “DNA” and of ours too who grew up under his ministry and godly influence.
There are certainly other men of God in the body of Christ who have been spiritual fathers to many. I have shared about one of them — pastor and apostle Richard C. “Dick” Benjamin, my father in the faith. I trust that many of you have been inspired to seek out mature men of God to “father” you, or for you yourself to become that to others. These are not contrived relationships. They can’t be forced, and they should not be. Father-son relationships in the Lord seem to emerge under the Lord’s direction and without any strain or effort on our parts to “make” it happen.
May God bless you spiritual dads and spiritual sons all throughout the body of Christ. I hope that some of what I’ve shared will help these relationships to become even more fruitful in your lives and your ministries for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Postscript: I have certainly not intended to overlook similar relationships between mature Christian women and younger women who would benefit greatly from the care and input of Christian “mothers in Israel” (Judges 5:7). The things I have shared above are from my own personal experience as a spiritual “son” and from the scriptures that speak of fathers and sons in the faith. The principles spoken of here are surely applicable to similar godly interaction among mature women of God and younger women needing godly role models and teachers (Titus 2:3-5).
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©2018, James H. Feeney.