I have a question about leadership in the family. I understand that husbands are supposed to be heads of the home and be the spiritual leaders of the house too. My question is: how do you account for different personality types in this God-given mandate?
Being a leader and assertive and taking initiative comes naturally to some people. But an equal number of men are more passive by nature. They are good men, they mean well, but they’re happier to ‘follow’.
I’ve seen so many homes in which the wife/mother is the primary spiritual influence just because she may have had more exposure or is more easily given to leadership because of her personality.
What is the solution here? Can leadership look like different things? Or does it have to fit in this one box of “he must be the one to do/teach/instruct/discipline”?
The question comes with premises on what “spiritual leadership” in the family should look like. Among them:
I will address some of these premises in the course of answering the question. However, first, let’s go back to the Biblical principle.
What exactly does the Bible teach about the headship or leadership of the husband in the context of family? Let’s look at a few passages from which we draw this principle:
Ephesians 5:22-24 – “Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church… just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”
This verse indicates the husband’s role as the leader of the family. The model of this leadership or headship is the headship of Christ over His church.
Ephesians 5:25-27 – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word…”
The implication is that loving your wife as Christ loved the church requires the husband to ensure the wife is progressing in her journey of sanctification.
Genesis 18:19 – “For I have known him (Abraham), in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice…”
The implication in this verse is that God held Abraham accountable for the spiritual direction of his household.
The Biblical principle is clear: the husband is the spiritual leader of the family. He is to exercise this leadership in sacrificial love with Christ as the model. When God gives principles, they apply to all who are believers regardless of their personality types or natural inclinations.
When God gives principles, they apply to all who are believers regardless of their personality types
To answer the question, it is important to understand what exactly it means to be the spiritual leader of the home. We often apply our own ideas, mostly influenced by worldly thinking, to the concept of leadership. Let me first address this by looking at what being the spiritual leader of the family does not mean.
Spiritual leadership of the family does not mean that only the husband makes every decision. It does not mean that all the spiritual teaching, instruction and discipline is done only by the husband.
It does not mean that the wife/mother does not have a voice or any influence, especially in matters involving the children. Scripture clearly implies the important role of mothers in teaching children (Proverbs 1:8, 6:20, 31:1).
It does not mean that every initiative has to originate from the husband. A key reason God instituted marriage was so that the wife would be a suitable helper to the husband in fulfilling God’s purposes for the family. Marriage is to be a partnership where both husband and wife are aligned around a mission for their family and both are involved in taking actions to achieve this mission.
So, what then does spiritual leadership of the family mean? It is primarily about setting the direction and goals, continually evaluating if the goals are being met, and then initiating course corrections as needed. Even in setting the direction and goals, both the husband and wife should discuss this together.
Spiritual leadership of the family does not mean that only the husband makes every decision
As the husband sets the direction for the family, he should give due weight to the input of his wife. God has given him a helper who comes to the marriage with her own personal relationship with Him, a set of life experiences and learnings, and spiritual insights, which the husband would be unwise to ignore in the name of establishing his “spiritual leadership”.
Once the direction is established, the wife has the latitude to take the initiative in various actions that align with the direction. Where there are doubts or questions, these should be discussed between husband and wife and resolved with prayer.
Christ is the model for the husband’s leadership of the family. Christ modelled for us selfless servant leadership grounded in humility (Mark 10:42-45). The husband’s leadership is to be guided by a sacrificial love, just like Christ loved the church and gave His life for the church.
While the husband is responsible for setting the direction for the family, he is also to be a humble servant to his wife and family and lead by example. He does this by the example of his own spiritual life and by his actions on behalf of the family.
This type of spiritual leadership of the family can be exercised regardless of personality type.
The reason men do not exercise their spiritual leadership in the family has less to do with personality and more to do with the lack of personal spiritual growth. To blame personality is just an excuse. Being a Christian husband is a serious responsibility. It requires cultivating godliness.
Being a Christian husband is a serious responsibility. It requires cultivating godliness
Psalm 128:1 gives us the characteristics of a godly man: he fears the Lord and he walks in the ways of the Lord. To fear the Lord requires one to know God. To walk in the Lord’s ways requires one to know the commandments, standards and principles of God’s Word. This can only happen if one takes the time and effort to study the Word.
Regardless of personality, any man who builds himself up spiritually will be more than capable of properly exercising his spiritual leadership in the family — not as a despot, but as a loving, caring and godly servant leader.
In the cases described in the question, where a man is not being the spiritual leader, rather than attributing this to personality traits, evaluate the spiritual maturity of the person. If he is spiritually stagnant, not growing in maturity, then this is the core problem which he needs to address.
When he progresses in spiritual maturity, he will find it easier to be the spiritual leader of his family. Men who blame personality for this situation are copping out and essentially saying they don’t desire to grow in spiritual maturity, which is something all believers are called to do.
Finally, I acknowledge there are cases where a wife may be more spiritually mature than a husband at the time of marriage. In such cases, the wife must still acknowledge and submit to the leadership of the husband in the family, even as she prayerfully seeks to encourage her husband towards growing spiritually in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:1-2.
The husband, in such cases, must recognise that, in order to be an effective spiritual leader of the family, he must commit to building himself up spiritually. I have personally witnessed such situations where, as a result of their wives’ example, husbands who were less spiritually mature at the start of the marriage have grown over time and the marriage has been strengthened.
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