I’m a father of two very energetic boys. In my house, shoes tend to smell like dead skunk, wrestling is a love language, and our impromptu dance parties usually end when someone accidentally gets elbowed in the face. Don’t get me wrong. I love being a father of boys. I’ve had my whole life to practice. It’s just that sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on some of the things my friends with daughters take for granted, like snuggling, picking out outfits without holes or stains, and getting to treat a little girl like a lady.

Which is why my heart skipped a beat the day I walked into my office and found an invitation to a father-daughter dance sitting on my desk. It was from Olivia, a 9-year-old girl who attends the church where I pastor. Her parents had recently gotten a divorce and, since I’d been a consistent part of Olivia’s faith community, she apparently felt I would be a worthy substitute. I was overwhelmed by two conflicting emotions: My heart ached that her own daddy wasn’t available to take her, but I was also elated that she would ask me to fill his shoes, if only for a night.

Admittedly, I was more excited for this dance than I was for my own prom. My date for the night was a beautiful, caring little girl whose sense of self-worth was battered and bruised, and I got to show her that she was, in fact, worth celebrating. So I went all out: I dressed in my best suit, got her a fancy corsage, and made sure to open the car door for her throughout the night. When she talked, I gave her my full attention, and when she asked me to dance, I tried not to embarrass her too much in front of her friends.

That was one of the most special evenings of my life. I mean, it’s not every day that I get to nurture a little girl’s heart and show her how valuable she is. Yet as I step back and think about my faith community, I realize that I have far more opportunities to help shape young lives than I realize.

The beauty of a faith community is that it transcends the boundaries of a nuclear family. My boys are surrounded by dozens of “aunties” and “uncles” who love them and help their mom and me shape them into the men God created them to be. And at the same time, I also have the opportunity to help shape the impressionable hearts of dozens of little boys and girls during their most formative years.

At times this means stepping in and helping navigate a heated disagreement. Sometimes it means giving a hug. Often it looks like being a human jungle gym. Then there are the times when it looks like standing in the gap like I did for Olivia when her father wasn’t available.

God created us to do life together, and as a parent I have come to appreciate the value of a strong faith community. In fact, I’m the product of one. I bear the indelible fingerprints of dozens of men and women who invested in me as I grew up. They treated me as one of their own children, put up with my antics, and showed me how valuable I was. I am the man I am today in part because of the patient, intentional love of people like Dave and Lynelle Brooks, Keith and Bonnie Brigman, Glenn and Barbie Rouse, and Papa Don Springer.

As fathers, God has entrusted us with a wonderful responsibility. Our words and actions help shape our kids’ values and self-image. Yet our influence reaches beyond our families to the children within our faith community as well. We can be a source of encouragement in a hyper-critical world, a voice of reason for children who are often driven by emotion. And sometimes we may be called upon to be a father for the fatherless. After all, from a spiritual standpoint, we are all part of the same family, and that makes them all our children.