Some facets of life in our modern world are made more difficult than they really need to be. They have been debated and written about to such a degree that they’ve become almost impossibly complicated. I’m convinced that one such area is leadership, and especially leadership in the home and family. What should be clear has become woefully muddied.
Meanwhile, our world is crying out for leadership—good leadership, confident leadership, humble leadership, the kind of leadership that uses authority to bless rather than curse, to give rather than take. If you are a husband or a father, you are called to that kind of leadership. Husband, God calls you to lead your wife. Dad, God calls you to lead your children. As we consider together what it means to live a life that honors God, we come to an indispensable truth: If you are going to run to win, you need to accept your leadership.
Why Men Don’t Lead
Leadership is not easy. Leadership does not come naturally to many people, and truly biblical leadership does not come naturally to anyone at all. It is such a rare quality that few of us have been able to learn from godly examples. It is such a precious quality that we treasure the few examples we do have. Thankfully, God has given us all we need in his Word to learn how to lead.
Before we turn there to learn from God together, perhaps it is first worth considering why so many men do not lead their families. I suggest the following four reasons.
Ignorance. Some men simply do not understand that they are called to lead. They have not read the appropriate Bible passages or have never grappled with them enough to understand their implications. Many attend churches that have not faithfully taught their members that God calls men to accept and embrace their role as leaders in the home.
Uncertainty. Some men know what God calls them to, but suffer from self-doubt. They wonder if and how they could ever be leaders. Some know their wives are smarter, godlier, more knowledgeable, or more mature than they are, and they allow these factors to keep them from embracing their role. Others have tried and met resistance, tried and given up, or tried and blown it. Their confidence is shot, and they live in a place of uncertainty.
Fear. Some men succumb to fear. They may be intimidated by the responsibility bound up in leadership or silenced by the many voices that disparage it. Leadership sometimes involves leading people who do not wish to be led and making unpopular decisions. Both can be scary! Equally scary are the voices around us mocking Christians for such old-fashioned notions as a division of roles within the family. Fear causes many men to back down from their God-given role.
Apathy. Some men are simply apathetic. They know they ought to lead but just don’t care enough to do it. They know what the Bible says, they know the expectations upon them, but they find it too difficult or too demanding. So they sit back and do nothing at all.
How Men Should Lead
Today we are drowning in books about leadership. Husbands, fathers, pastors, and employers have an endless catalog to consult if they wish to grow in their ability and confidence. At the same time, society is trending toward a kind of egalitarianism that disparages so many forms of leadership. It is a perplexing place to be. Yet, as we’d expect, the Bible offers timeless clarity.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addresses both husbands and wives and does so, at least in part, to ensure each understands the unique role God has given them. To wives he says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:22-24). This affirms a pattern that God has built into the very structure of his creation—that husbands are to lead their families and that wives are to joyfully and willingly place themselves under their husband’s leadership.
Since Paul has told wives to “submit to your own husbands,” we would naturally assume that as he turns his attention to husbands he will tell them, “Husbands, lead your wives.” But he doesn’t. He assumes a husband will lead but is aware that without further instruction this leadership will be harsh, selfish, or inadequate. To counter this, he carefully defines the quality of a husband’s leadership. Such leadership is to be gentle and tender, to imitate the love of Jesus Christ for his church. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. … In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25, 28)
In God’s world, the roles of husbands and wives are complementary, not identical or interchangeable. Peter expresses it in similar terms: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands…” and “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:1, 7). To the husband falls the role of leadership—leadership defined by gentleness, love, respect, and understanding. Of all we could say about leadership, this must remain preeminent: The foremost call in leadership is love. Christian leadership is not first charting vision or giving orders, but modeling and expressing godly character. Christian leadership is not concerned first with the leader but with the one being led. Ninety-nine percent of a husband’s leadership is leadership in character. His call is to surge in holiness, to be obsessed with godliness, to stop at nothing to grow in righteousness. He is to be gentle toward his wife but brutal toward his sin. He is to treasure his bride but cast off his depravity. He ought to clearly demonstrate in his leadership that he loves his wife more than he loves himself.
And, of course, he is to behave in much the same way toward his children. After Paul has spoken to husbands and wives, he turns to children, then fathers. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The fact that he speaks to fathers and not mothers emphasizes the man’s leadership within the home, and perhaps also his tendency to ignore his responsibilities and defer child-raising to his wife. Yet God lays the responsibility on the father to be gentle with his children, to treat them with dignity, and to take responsibility for their spiritual growth.
There is so much more we could say. We could discuss the ins and outs of leadership. We could talk about providing vision, direction, and all of that. But instead, I want to call you once more to focus on character, because here’s the thing: If you do well here, direction and decision-making will be far simpler. The husband who dwells in depravity will find his family distrusts and resists his direction and decisions. Of course they will, because he’s proven himself unsuited for leadership. But the husband who pursues holiness and grows in character will typically find his family trusts him and joyfully embraces his decisions. Lead in character, and the rest will fall into place; fail to lead in character, and the rest will be chaos.
Do It Now!
Here are some practical pointers on getting started in leading with love.
Prioritize devotion. Be a man of the Word and a man of prayer. Nothing you do will so shape your family as your personal walk with God. Commit to reading the Bible and praying. Come up with a plan and follow it. Tell your family what you’ve been learning and share with them how you’ve been praying for them.
Lead family devotions. With your personal devotional life in place, also lead your family in devotions. Find a time in the morning or evening where you can build a habit of gathering the family to read a short passage of the Bible and to pray together.
Lead your family to church. Also lead your family in their church attendance and commitment. Be the one who is most excited to be at church, be the one who sings most fervently and listens most carefully. Be the one who speaks to the family afterward to ask what they’ve learned and to share how God worked in and through you.
Embrace your leadership. Consider the four reasons I offered that men tend not to lead and whether any of them apply to you. Repent of your failures to lead and determine that you will be the leader your wife and children need you to be.
Run to Win!
Your family needs to be led. Your wife and children need you to be the leader God calls you to be. He calls you to lead in love, to study the life and character of Jesus Christ, and to imitate him. Do that and God will be pleased. Do that and your family will be blessed. Run to win by accepting and embracing your leadership.
More in Run to Win!:
- Run To Win! The Lifelong Pursuits of a Godly Man
- Embrace Your Purpose
- Renew Your Mind
- Know Your Doctrine