Spiritual Orphans

‘The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”’ (Rom 8:15)

As Christian believers, our Heavenly Father is constantly present with us by His Spirit. (John 14:18)

Not only is He always with us, but He also loves us passionately and unconditionally. The value God the Father places upon us is such that He paid the price of the life of His Son Jesus to restore us to His family. (John 3:16)
We are not spiritual orphans, but loved daughters and sons.

What is an Orphan Spirit?

The ‘orphan spirit’ refers to a spiritual condition in which some Christians profess outwardly to know God as Father, but experience an internal contradiction to that belief.

Deep down they struggle to comprehend that God loves them. They may harbor feelings of abandonment, fear, unworthiness, or rejection. This may be due to unhealed hurts from painful past experiences.

How do I know? I have been there.

I am grateful for the revelation of God as my loving Heavenly Father that has changed my life.

4 Signs of the Orphan Spirit in Church Life

God called and designed us to be a part of His church family—brothers and sisters in one body together. (Gal 6:10, 1 Cor 12) However, having an orphan perspective can affect our relationships in the church. [1] This includes ministry teams and our response to Christian leadership.

Here are 4 symptoms of the orphan spirit in church life, along with the Father’s corresponding invitation to healing:

1. Competing and Needing to Stand Out

Spiritual orphans do not feel accepted and feel the need to prove their worth.

This may result in:

  • Seeking to hide their own limitations
  • Perceiving the strengths of others as competition
  • Secretly taking satisfaction in the weaknesses of others
  • Needing and seeking attention.

Our Father’s invitation is to a place of unconditional acceptance and to rest in our unique, God-given identity. (1 Cor 12:18)

Sons and daughters embrace both their strengths and weaknesses—comfortable both with who they are and Whose they are. They cover each other’s weaknesses and joyfully add their combined strengths to the family.

2. Isolation or Independence

Deep down the orphan does not feel as though he or she belongs in the family. Suffering a sense of abandonment, the instinct of an orphan is to go it alone.

This may result in:

  • Withdrawal, physically or emotionally from others.
  • An attitude of independence.

Our Father’s invitation is one of welcome embrace, to a place of belonging in His family. (Eph 1:5)

Sons and daughters embrace interdependence—the need of each other. Brothers and sisters celebrate being joined together as a family and working as a team.

3. Fear and Insecurity

The spiritual orphan is unsure of his or her place in the family. Orphans also feel uncovered and unprotected—therefore their instinct is to protect themselves and their position.

This may result in:

  • A constant need for reassurance by leaders [2]
  • Lack of confidence in their spiritual gifts, and any ministry position they have been given.
  • They need to prove themselves.
  • Being protective and territorial about their ministry areas

Our Father’s invitation is to a place of security in His love, care, and constant oversight. (Matt 10:29-31)

Sons and daughters have nothing to fear, already secure in their Father’s love and place in the family. They can trust in Father’s faithfulness even when changes or trials occur in church life.

4. Performance-Orientation

The spiritual orphan feels rejected—therefore believing that he or she must compensate by working hard or performing well in order to be recognized.

This may result in:

  • A constant drive to perform well
  • Judging the weaknesses or performance of other team members or leaders
  • Having feelings of mistrust towards others—feeling they are going to be ‘punished’ at any time

Our Father’s invitation is to experience the fullness of His undeserved grace and favor. (Eph 1:6)

Sons and daughters generously extend grace to others’ failure to measure up to actual or perceived standards. This is because they know the fullness of the Father’s grace towards them.

Sons and daughters respond well to measurements or reviews in work or ministry, knowing that they exist to call forth the best from the team.

The Father’s Invitation

‘Yet to all who did receive [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (John 1:12)

Here is the good news of the Gospel: the Father freely receives us as His beloved children! If you can relate to having the perspective of a spiritual orphan, I encourage you to make use of the suggested articles and resources below.

Even those of us who know the Father’s personal love for us may occasionally slip back into an orphan mentalityThis can be a temptation when we are weary, under stress, or have been through a difficult time.

When this happens, the Holy Spirit, our ‘Spirit of Adoption’ will quickly alert us to it. And at that very moment, we can respond to His invitation to step back and rest in our Father’s love.


[1] The same dynamics may also be seen in families, friendships, and non-church teams.

[2] The challenge of leaders is to continue to move in the opposite spirit—acting as true spiritual parents, and representing the Father’s love, even when they themselves are not being perceived as such.

Other Articles and Resources:

  • 1 Father, 2 Sons, 3 Positions. This post on the Prodigal Son describes my own ‘internal contradiction’ and how I was set free by coming home to the Father.

Join the Enliven Prophetic School

  • Would you like clear and easy to understand, Biblical teaching on the prophetic gift and ministry?
  • Do you need some straightforward keys to get you on track as you learn and develop in prophecy?

I warmly invite you to join me at the Enliven Prophetic School.

Can you think of other signs of the orphan spirit in church life? Leave a comment in the comments box.

© Helen Calder Enliven Blog – Prophetic Teaching

Enliven Ministries: in the David McCracken Ministries family

15 thoughts on “4 Symptoms of the Orphan Spirit in Church Life”

  1. Hi Helen. Thank you for the article.
    I think the spirit of adoption is so important and sadly often missing from our local communities both inside and outside the church.
    Today more than ever people feel very isolated and are left without much face to face contact. Many feel cut off from most community now days.
    From my perspective, your article seemed to focus on the personal responsibility on the Christian with only one note about the responsibility of the church leadership. It seems like your article only addresses a percentage of the problem facing the church. I hope that you will cover this issue in depth in future articles. I find that your article fails to account for a spirit of rebellion. After reading your article, I am left with the impression that all people suffering from an orphan mindset are also in constant rebellion, which from my experience in ministry is inaccurate. Many leaders suffer from a rebellious spirit while failing to feed their lambs the loving, nurturing milk God has entrusted to them. Some even leave their sheep starving for sound doctrine and discipleship sadly leaving them wide open to hungry wolves and the dangers of false doctrines.
    Many times churches put people into places of authority that may be well meaning but unfortunately are legitimately abusive to those under them. Also many churches today ignore the emotional turmoil of their sheep passing all emotional pain off as not in their job description. This only furthers the likelihood of suffering and abuse in the church and paints the false picture that God only cares exclusively for our spiritual needs. There are many great church leaders out there who really love people both inside and outside of the church, yet sadly there are also many who create converts only. Some churches are just buildings and not families, others are also cliques deeply wounding anyone who they don’t want around their inner circles. I understand where your heart was when you wrote this article. You want to help set people free and that is great and I pray that is the result of your article.
    However, the article seems very one sided. People have left the church in droves due to the unloving nature the current church is known for. Many churches are so afraid of being seen as pushy for Jesus that they sadly forget all about the call to love others into the family of God. The bible says that it is by our love that the world will know us as children of God. Most people today sadly know the church for a cold indifference at best. Many people refuse to donate to churches and instead donate to more ” loving” secular nonprofits. And while I know that is not entirely the church’s fault, I also know that if we were loving people like the church of Acts did then people would be turning to us to help them rather than viewing us as largely irrelevant to a hurting world.
    Most spiritual and physical orphans have a lot of love to give and are desperate to be a part of a loving family, but when they are introduced to loveless churches and abusive leadership, it makes God appear unloving. It misrepresents him.
    Again, I understand where you are coming from, however, your article seems to place all the responsibility of many internal church problems on hurting broken converts many of whom have never been reached out to by the church in any real biblical connection and many whom have never even known any love at all. Many churches are fine with the less than popular members simply showing up and never reaching out to them to build a relationship. Real ministry to people is messy and requires sacrifice and many people sadly don’t like the idea of such things getting in the way of their Christian social clubs. In the ancient church, they met in homes and ate together, they built community and family. John become the spiritual son of Jesus’ earthly mother Mary and Paul become the spiritual father of Timothy. Yet we see a serious lack of this real connection in modern churches. When Jesus called his disciples, he called them to leave behind everything and become his family. Sadly the church doesn’t often do the same. Many churches just want seats filled an hour a week. People who show up to church ready to leave behind everything to follow Jesus the way the disciples did are viewed as unrealistic. They are told “not to quit their day jobs and to be more realistic”.
    Some might even invite people to home church meetings that resemble loveless cliques rather than a home for the blind, the deaf, the possessed, the broken and the outcast. And fewer still actually offer a biblical community and family where the orphan can be loved by the other members of the body of Christ. Without the church showing the real unfailing love of God to the orphans of this world, they are the ones walking out of sonship because it is only by our love that others can see we are the children of God.
    God bless you and I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful response Ed!
      I agree that the article (written a long while back) does not show the whole picture. Your insights will be helpful for anyone who finds themselves here.

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