Leadership in the Home is About Empowering Others

I have written in many places about the Scriptural principle of male headship in the home. I have also written about the ways in which this principle is misunderstood and misapplied. It is often explored through the lens of authority, of right to rule, or the “final word.” The Bible, however, does not view leadership in the home in terms of who get’s the final say, but rather who is going to die to self. That theological understanding of male leadership is key to right application of the principle in the context of the home. A proper theological understanding leads naturally to a leadership model that seeks to empower others.

There are two ways that we can understand power: Power over and power under. Power over seeks to elevate self, and personal agenda, by oppressing others. It seeks to push people down, to make them and their strengths subservient to our desires. So, someone who uses power over may be physically harmful, abusive in that classic sense of the word, or they may simply be dismissive of others. Someone who manifests power over may be critical, insulting, harsh, and manipulative. Power under, on the other hand, seeks to elevate others and serve their needs, concerns, and desires. Someone who uses power under will identify the strengths of others and help them cultivate those strengths, and will desire to help them flourish. Someone who manifest power under will serve others, will listen their concerns, will consider their interests, and will make decisions based on benefiting others, not simply benefiting self.

Jesus illustrates this contrast in power when he speaks to the apostles about the type of leadership they are to utilize. In Luke 22 we read:

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (v. 24-27)

Here Jesus contrasts the leadership style of the Gentiles and the style of leadership he wants to commend to the apostles. The Gentile leaders use power over – they literally “lord over” those they lead. Jesus states plainly, however, that it is not to be so among the apostles. Their leadership style should look dramatically different! They are not to lead with power over, but with power under. Jesus spells out specifically what that looks like: serve others. He uses himself as the example – he has come as one who serves.

Jesus is of course the one with obvious right to power and authority and one who could justly use power over. He has no equal and no one has authority or right to resist his rule. Yet Jesus came to this earth as one who serves. He came specifically “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). He did this throughout his earthly life in many ways, most notably in his service to the disciples as he washed their feet (John 13). He used this leadership style by empowering the disciples for mission and entrusting them to do it (Matt. 10). But he did this most profoundly in his dying for sinners. His service was to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Husbands must clearly compare their style of leadership with that of their Lord Jesus Christ? Do we serve in the way that Jesus served? Do we model his leadership style? Do we emulate power under instead of power over? Would Jesus lead His home the same way I am leading mine? Would you want Jesus to treat you the way you treat your spouse and children?

Of course many husbands and fathers may contend that they are leading as servants. That they are loving their spouses “as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). But in reality their “service” seems always to correspond to their own personal interests too. Their sacrifice somehow seems less like sacrifice and more like self-gratification. Or worse, they may sacrifice for their family but they do so begrudgingly and often with a corresponding consequence. They give up their desires but the pout about it and make their family pay with passive aggressive comments. This does not emulate the leadership of our Lord. It is not truly a display of power under.

Godly leadership in the home seeks to take the initiative in helping others grow, succeed, and flourish. Godly husbands will seek to learn the strengths of their wives and help them to grow in those areas, use those strengths for God’s glory, and find outlets to serve God’s people through the exercise of their gifts and talents. They will support and encourage their development. They will listen carefully the concerns, burdens, desires, and dreams of their wives and seek to honor their emotions. They will live in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). Does your wife feel supported and understood?

Godly leadership in the home will care personally about the development of godly children. Godly fathers will seek to identify the strengths of their children and encourage them in the development of skills that will serve them, others, and the Lord throughout life. They will be patient and understanding even as they discipline, not embittering their children towards parents or towards the Lord (Col. 3:21; Eph. 6:4). Do your children resent your or your faith? Do they feel encouraged and supported?

Godly leadership in the home seeks to emulate the leadership of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He was not interested in being served, but in serving. He did not use power over, though he legitimately could have, but used power under to grow his church. Do you lead your home like Jesus? The way you lead is not just about caring for your family, though that is significant in and of itself. Rather the way you lead is part of your spiritual worship to the Lord. We lead the way we do in the home because our homes, and marriages in particular, are meant to point to the gospel (Eph. 5:25). Men, does your home life, and the way you lead your family, help people see the love of God in Christ accurately? If not, then today is the day to begin making dramatic changes!

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