Question: What does it mean to be the "spiritual leader" in the family?

Answer: 

While the Bible clearly affirms the equality of men and women (see Galatians 3:28), it also tells us plainly that God has assigned the responsibility of spiritual leadership in the home to husbands: "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them" (Colossians 3:18-19).

Naturally, there is a great deal of controversy in the church today surrounding the precise meaning of these words. Some husbands wonder, "What am I supposed to do – act like a preacher?" Some wives ask, "Why is he supposed to be the only spiritual leader? Why can’t we both do it?" In the end, it all comes down to a very simple and fundamental truth: families need leaders. The buck has to stop somewhere if the household is to function smoothly and efficiently.

Understanding the importance of equality

It’s important to remember here that a difference in roles doesn’t necessarily imply "unequal." God doesn’t consider wives inferior, inadequate, less important or less responsible than husbands. Besides, only an unwise man would reject his wife’s opinions and assistance. After all, the Lord has created her to be his best earthly resource.

Christians have varying opinions concerning the practical mechanics of spiritual leadership in the home. Generally speaking, if a husband and wife have a healthy relationship, they make decisions together as equals, looking to Christ as the ultimate Head of the household. They compare their individual aptitudes and assume tasks based on their individual strengths. In some areas of service they share tasks. But they also recognize that, in the final analysis, the husband carries the greater responsibility for leadership.

If we are looking to Jesus Christ as our model, this can only mean one thing: the man is supposed to follow the path of a servant-leader. Jesus put it this way: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28).

The role of a spiritual servant-leader

A spiritual servant-leader, then, imitates Christ. He’s attuned to his family’s needs and concerned for its spiritual welfare. He looks for ways to help its members grow in their relationship with God. He provides physical support, grace, and encouragement. He is ready to protect, help and defend. In hard times and good times, in season and out of season, he is ready to lay down his life for those who have been entrusted to his care.

What kinds of qualities are required in a husband who desires to fulfill this high and holy calling? In the first place, he must have a strong connection with his Heavenly Father, finding his happiness in Christ first, realizing that he can lead effectively only if he maintains an intimate relationship with the Lord. He must be balanced in his commitments and nurturing in his concern for the mental and emotional needs of each family member. He must be proactive, spotting potential challenges to the welfare of his wife and children and coming up with workable solutions to problems. And he must be characterized by integrity, seeking to be the safest, wisest and most respected man his family has ever known.

Much more could be said on this subject. We hope these few suggestions have helped you get your thoughts moving in the right direction. If you have further questions, we’d like to invite you to call and speak with one of our staff counsellors.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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