Influence

 the shape of leadership

Spiritual Parents Never Give Up

A conversation with Sam Huddleston

Chris Colvin on February 9, 2019

Pastor, educator, minister, assistant district superintendent, executive presbyter. Dr. Sam Huddleston has had many different titles. But one he holds close to his heart is that of father. He fills that role not just with his own children and grandchildren, but also with those he has nurtured in the faith.

He hasn’t always seen himself as a spiritual parent, though. In fact, it took finally agreeing to a missions trip to open his eyes.

“I didn’t recognize it until I started traveling overseas,” Huddleston says. “Young men would stop me between classes and look at me. ‘You know,’ they’d say to me, ‘you’re like a father. You really are.’ They were pulling things out of me that I hadn’t seen before.”

Huddleston says his relationship with his dad helped shape his spiritual parenting.

“My dad was tough, and my dad was tender,” Huddleston says. “When he spoke, you listened. But there was no one who would cry with you quicker than him.”

Huddleston also had a spiritual father, a man he met years ago when he desperately needed someone to speak the truth to him in love. Huddleston was incarcerated at a California penitentiary when he met Pastor G. Lee Thomas of Sonora, California. Huddleston gave his life to Christ in that prison, and developed a lasting relationship with Thomas.

Sam Huddleston’s investment has helped foster many spiritual parenting relationships that have changed countless lives for eternity.

“G. Lee Thomas was my spiritual father, and he taught me so much about God,” Huddleston says. “He would tell me that you can never, ever do this without the power of the Holy Spirit. He taught me the impact of diversity — not just ethnic diversity but surrounding yourself with people who think differently than you or do things you had never thought to do.”

After Thomas recently died, Huddleston shared a video at the memorial service showing the late pastor praying over Huddleston’s grandsons. Huddleston says this captures the essence of a true spiritual relationship, which reaches beyond ministry and mentoring to shape lives in ways that can influence generations.

The responsibility of this kind of spiritual relationship goes both ways. Just as biological parents are imperfect, spiritual parents have human frailties and can benefit from the encouragement and prayers of those to whom they minister.

What’s the ideal model for spiritual parenting? There may not be one, but Huddleston’s example comes close. For him, it’s about dedication and commitment — no matter what happens in the relationship.

“My daughter put it this way: She said that I love everyone, and I think anyone can change,” Huddleston says. “And that’s true! I never give up on them. I might disagree with you, but I won’t cut you loose.”

For Huddleston, that tenacity began in a prison cell when a local pastor visited him and didn’t give up on him. Never forgetting where he came from, Huddleston has led ministries over the years that connect inmates with spiritual mothers and fathers on the outside.

Those efforts have been successful in keeping parolees from returning to prison. But even more importantly, Huddleston’s investment has helped foster many spiritual parenting relationships that have changed countless lives for eternity.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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