What is Healthy Spiritual Leadership?
There is great controversy among Christians surrounding the verses about wives submitting to their husbands, as well as great misunderstanding about what healthy masculinity looks like.
And while I will do my best to answer the why and the how when it comes to what healthy spiritual leadership looks like, I want to first make it clear that just because someone is the “leader” of the home, does not make them better, more valuable, or more loved by God.
When you look at any group of people—a team, a workplace, a family, a country—in order for them to function healthily and productively, they need a leader.
Leadership doesn’t give men the right to dominate their families—as extreme misunderstandings of scripture has led some men to do.
God assigned a specific role to the man as stated in Colossians 3:18. But just because someone acquires a specific role within a family, does not mean the other members of the family aren’t equal—scripture is very clear about God showing no partiality.
If leadership isn’t domination, then what is it?
Man has long misunderstood what this means—and in todays world, the lines are getting more blurred as the word leadership gets continually painted in a bad light, possibly because of our world leaders and the term leadership in general.
The characteristics of healthy spiritual leadership in a marriage/family
Imitator of Christ
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. - Eph 5:1-2
When God called us to imitate Christ, is was not a suggestion but a commandment—to walk in love, as best described in 1 Cor. 13—patient, kind, self-sacrificial, etc.
Being an imitator of Christ is most profoundly understood by the fact that He was a servant leader, which brings me to the next characteristic of a leader.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” - Mark 10:45
When we understand from scripture that Christ came to serve, we also see the beauty of his perfect humility in which we are suppose to emulate as leader of our family.
Humility is best describes as becoming low; the least of importance. From this we see that when God made the man the leader, it was to be the last and not the first—does that sound like it gives men the right to dominate his family?
Can you imagine yourself telling your wife that God asks her to be a self-sacrificial servant, overflowing with humility, giving everything up for the family? It’s with this leadership role that a heavy responsibility of protecting our family through sacrifice is expected by God.
The beauty in this is tainted by our world, mostly because of the very word leadership’s definition being something it’s not. The worlds definition of a leader is compared to political rulers, kings, and so forth.
Christ was made low to exemplify the true meaning of the perfect leader—a self-sacrificial, humble, loving God, who has given us everything we need in Him.
Don’t exasperate your children
Parenting out of domination and not servanthood will not only cause your kids to resent you, you won’t be able to experience the joys of parenthood.
When God asks us in Ephesians not to exasperate our children, he meant this: Protect your children; guide your children in the way he should go, but don’t set them up for failure. In other words, don’t expect children to make adult decisions.
Discipline in love, hoping the best for your child. Parenting with domination will cause your children to want to please you and not God. This is bad for a couple of reasons.
When they get to an age that they can start making adult decisions, they might be inclined to start doing whatever they want, knowing they aren’t ruled by you anymore, instead of wanting to make decisions based on what God wants.
Loving with AGAPE love
Many of you know that love is not only defined by passion and desire, but by choice. There are four different scriptural meanings of the word love.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
The Agape definition of love is used here, which means this is a very conscious choice of love. We weren’t commanded to love our wives only when we feel like it, but to choose to love through the good and the bad.
Whether you like it or not, God has appointed you a responsibility to love your family—it’s an action; a choice.
The definition of this kind of love is as follows from 1 Corinthians 13.
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails…”
We cannot spiritually lead if we ourselves are not being spiritually fed, growing with intentionality. In the same way, we cannot expect to learn a craft without first studying and learning it for ourselves.
We cannot grow in relationship with Christ if we aren’t seeking him, learning about him, and nurturing our personal growth through Him.
Leave and cleave
I can’t tell you how many times we have struggled personally, as well as heard of others struggling with the aspect of a male leaving his family (as in his mother and father, siblings) and cleaving to his wife.
If you’re allowing your extended family to dictate your relationship, then you are not properly leading your family. More marriages have been ruined by external family members than I would care to know.
This commandment that God asks us to adhere to, is again, not a suggestion. Your wife, your kids are your first priority in spiritually leading a healthy family, no matter what.
The responsibility we have as men to spiritually lead our families is not summed up in reading daily devotionals to our kids, making decisions for our family, or even checking off our own '“quiet time” with Jesus.
It’s caring, loving, protecting, admiring, and nurturing the relationships in our family.
From our leadership stems the health of our family. If we are not spiritually leading in the way that God asks us, then we are doing a great disservice to not only ourselves, but our families.
Be ever so careful with the amazing privilege God has given you.
If you want to know what healthy masculinity looks like—as was inspired by Jesus—then lead your family without domination, and with all of the beautiful aspects that stem from humility and unconditional love.