Too often, especially in the church, our idea of male leadership is wrapped up in certain cultural norms that, in many cases, no longer apply. For a man to be the leader in his family doesn’t necessarily mean that his wife stays home and has a freshly cooked meal ready for him when he returns from work.
If this is the way your home functions, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. But that’s not the ultimate standard for what leadership in the home looks like. These aspects of your home life are preferential—a personal choice made between you and your spouse about what works best for you. But leadership is so much more than bread winning.
I am married to a strong, independent woman who loves working and pursuing her career. We share the household duties like cooking and cleaning. But just because my cultural norms are different from others doesn’t mean that I’m no less called to lead in my home.
These two different home dynamics, and the spectrum that lies between them, shouldn’t distract us from the heart of what it really means for a man to lead. Jesus is calling us to rise above these superficial differences so that men can lead their families into spiritual maturity and a thriving life.
Here are 5 aspects of what it means, and doesn’t mean, for a man to be a leader at home.
1. Leadership is casting a vision for your family.
Leaders inspire. They cast a vision. They set goals for a group and then seek to motivate everyone around that vision.
This is an important part of a man’s leadership at home, and it’s especially important when it comes to the faith of his wife and children.
Research shows that children are far more likely to stay connected to a church community into adulthood if their father is a regular church attender. To put it differently, if Dad isn’t passionate about his faith, then it’s far more likely that his kids won’t be either—even if their mother steps up to be a spiritual leader in the home. (Sorry, Mom.)
No one is more influential in a family’s faith journey than the man of the house. The numbers show it. And as a former youth pastor who spent a lot of time working with parents and their children, my experience confirms it. If Dad doesn’t cast a vision for Jesus-following, it’s far less likely that his children will follow Jesus.
That sounds scary. But here’s the good news. Your family is watching and listening to you. If you follow Jesus with all your heart and cast a vision for the entire family to do the same, your passion will catch fire in your home.
You have the power to change the world, starting with the members of your household. You are uniquely called and equipped. This is what it means to be a leader.
As John Maxwell has famously said, “Leadership is influence.” You have influence in your family. Use it to cast a vision for following Jesus.
2. Leadership is not controlling your family.
While leadership is influence, leadership is not control—that’s dictatorship.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, here’s what Paul says to husbands about how they should treat their wives:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
He goes on to talk about how fathers should treat their children.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
Paul defines leadership quality by love rather than control. And love can be so much harder than control.
Ruling with an iron fist might create the quiet that you’re looking for. But quiet isn’t the same thing as peace. And it doesn’t cultivate the hearts of those in your family.
Love is messy. But leadership requires love.
3. Leadership is including the whole family in the decision-making process.
As a leader, some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made were the decisions I made on my own. While husbands and fathers carry a great deal of responsibility in the family, they aren’t the only ones at home with wisdom and insight to share.
When it comes to a big decision that affects the entire family, the entire family should be involved. And the man should facilitate the conversation, genuinely seeking to listen to the dreams, fears, expectations, and desires of his family.
With children, their involvement in and knowledge of pressing matters that affect the family should certainly be age-appropriate. But they should be a part of the conversation, nonetheless.
These conversations bring a family closer together and create a shared vision for what the family will do next. It may be a new job, a big move, or an exciting venture that will take the support of the whole family.
Everyone can share the vision when everyone has a hand in shaping it. This is what leaders do.
4. Leadership is not abdicating responsibility for family decisions.
Listening to other voices for direction is not the same thing as giving up your leadership role.
We see the dangers of abdicating responsibility as far back as Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were living in paradise, and everything was fantastic. That is, until Eve had a conversation with a serpent in the garden. The serpent questioned God’s motive in forbidding them to eat the fruit of one tree. Through the course of their conversation, Eve was deceived by the serpent, and she ate the fruit. She also gave some to Adam and he ate it too. And thus the fallenness of the world ensued.
What’s striking about this narrative is that Adam doesn’t have any speaking lines. He’s not an active character. He passively allows all of this to take place, and then simply goes along with it. In that moment, he abdicated his leadership and left his wife alone with a predator.
Men must not abdicate their role as the spiritual leader in their home. We’re tempted to do it because leadership is hard. It’s tiring. It’s easier to simply take the path of least resistance. But the path of least resistance and the path of faithfulness never arrive at the same destination.
Men must pray for the family, over the decisions the family makes and the direction the family takes. Sometimes, that means making a tough decision, even when everyone isn’t necessarily on board.
5. Leadership is self-sacrifice.
If we want to know what a leader looks like, we need look no further than Jesus. Jesus lived his life for the good of others. He was constantly healing, feeding, and teaching others. He told them the truth, even when it meant hardship for him.
Ultimately, Jesus laid down his life so that those who believe in him might have life. It wasn’t easy. Jesus poured himself out to God in prayer for hours, asking for the Father to make another way. But in the end, he knew what he had to do. And he did it willingly.
This is what leadership at home looks like. It means sacrificing your very self to see those whom you love come fully alive.
Leadership at home is:
- Giving up the things you want in order to see your wife and children thriving.
- Having less leisure time than you would like in order to serve your family.
- Having difficult conversations with your children so that they can learn to walk with Jesus more closely.
- Giving up some of your dreams only to realize that you had the wrong dreams to begin with.
When you’re a leader in your home, your life isn’t just about you. But when your life is about more than just you, the blessings you experience are far greater than you ever could have imagined.
Dale Chamberlain (M.Div) and his wife, Tamara, are authors and speakers who are passionate about loving and serving Jesus together. They love having conversations and creating community around the abundant life that Jesus promised us. You can connect with Dale and Tamara at herandhymn.com.
Photo Credit: GettyImages/evgenyatamanenko