Spiritual Leadership in the Home
By Arlene Malone, LPC
In my practice, I hear wives talk about how desperately they want their husbands to lead. This desire usually comes as a result of having witnessed their dad or other significant male figure modeling spiritual leadership in the home and/or learning perhaps in church that being a spiritual leader is predominantly the role of the man. But wives aren’t the only ones who want their husbands to lead spiritually, husbands want it too. So what seems to be the problem?
Spouses tend to butt heads over this issue because of a difference in understanding or difference of opinion regarding what it actually means to be a spiritual leader, what it actually looks like in practice. For you, being the spiritual leader may look one way while it may look completely different to your spouse.
In my work with couples, I ask husbands and wives to describe what would be happening in the home when the husband is demonstrating spiritual leadership. The answers tend to range anywhere from “leading the family in prayer” to “making sure the family has what they need.”
So how would you answer the question? What is the responsibility of a spiritual leader? Your upbringing may influence your answer and expectations. For instance, if you observed your dad being the leader, guiding, providing and taking care of the family, you may take your cues from your dad and expect your husband to do the same things. On the other hand, if your dad wasn’t the spiritual leader you may have another set of expectations altogether - you don’t want your husband to do what your dad did. You want something more.
There’s another scenario that plays out as well. For some, the only male spiritual leader is a pastor or other church leader. Although this is a good example to have, it could be problematic for your marriage if your expectation is that your husband act like your pastor whom you only get to observe a couple hours a week when he’s on his “A” game, delivering a sermon. But what if your husband is not a preacher? Then what?
Focus on the Family posted an article entitled “Characteristics of a Spiritual Leader.” The author listed 5 characteristics of a spiritual leader and 5 qualities required in a husband who desires to fulfill his role as spiritual leader. Here is an excerpt:
5 Characteristics of a Spiritual Leader:
1. He is attuned to his family’s needs and concerned for its spiritual welfare.
2. He looks for ways to help its members grow in their relationship with God.
3. He provides physical support, grace, and encouragement.
4. He is ready to protect, help and defend.
5. He is ready to lay down his life for those who have been entrusted to his care.
5 Qualities Required in a Spiritual Leader:
1. He is balanced in his commitments.
2. He is nurturing in his concern for the mental and emotional needs of each family member.
3. He is proactive, spotting potential challenges to the welfare of his wife and children and coming up with workable solutions to problems.
4. He is characterized by integrity, seeking to be the safest, wisest and most respected man his family has ever known.
5. He has 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.
“Thank you” Goes a Long Way
Are some of these characteristics already happening in your family? If so, that’s great! Your husband is leading. Be sure to thank him for what he is already doing. Pinpoint specific acts of his spiritual leadership and tell him how much you appreciate those things. Let him know you notice. This is a sure way to encourage your husband to continue what he is doing and empower him to continue to grow in his role. You may even show him this list and point out the qualities you see in him. Do this, and he will soar!
For some of you, these characteristics are not a part of your family life. Please don’t despair. The most important determination at this point is whether or not you want these characteristics to be a part of your family life and, if so, having the willingness to make the necessary changes to begin to implement them.
The truth is, even if your husband is not leading now, you can begin to thank him for the things he is doing in other areas. Let him know that you respect how hard he works to provide for the family, how attentive he is to make sure that your vehicle is in tip-top shape and safe to drive, that you feel cared for when he looks after the children so you can rest and recharge. If you begin to acknowledge what he is doing, he may feel encouraged to do other things to please you as well. There’s no harm in trying, right? And praying!
If you want to make the necessary changes to put your husband in position to lead, a good place to start is with yourself. Take an honest assessment of yourself and ask God to reveal any areas in your life or any behaviors that could be a hindrance to your husband’s confidence in being the spiritual leader.
For instance, when he prays, do you critique him? When he talks about biblical things, do you turn it into a teaching moment, correcting what he’s said? Or when he is guiding the family through devotions, do you sigh? Roll your eyes? Yawn? What about when he makes a decision for the family? Do you debate with him to get him to see things your way and make the decision you want him to make? These are examples of behaviors to eliminate because these types of behaviors will discourage your husband from wanting to engage in these spiritual activities with you.
It’s important for you, husband, to also do some self-evaluation to identify any behaviors that would hinder your wife’s ability to joyfully support your leadership position. For instance, do you make major decisions that impact your wife without her input? Do you tend to drop the ball instead of following through? Do you have to be coerced to pray? Read the Bible? Go to church? These are examples of behaviors that would be equally discouraging for your wife and make it difficult for her to trust and support your leadership.
You both have two choices. You can make it easier for your spouse or you can make it harder. Commit to eliminating behaviors that make it harder, and know that God is honored by your desire to rid yourself of anything that would stand in the way of either of you fulling the tasks that He has given you.
Don’t Grow Weary in Doing Good
Be sure to keep a healthy dose of humility, grace and patience as you work through your stuff and allow your spouse to work through theirs. The changes that need to take place may not happen as quickly as you’d like, but as you focus on your relationship with Christ and patiently allow him to do His work in you, you will begin to see the fruit. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).
If your husband doesn’t show an interest for the things of God, you can use the list of characteristics as a guide to remove any unrealistic expectations and to help cultivate an atmosphere where your husband is more likely to function as spiritual leader. One way to do this is to gently remind him of times where he did do something that had a positive impact on your family, and then express a desire that the two of you do that again. For example, you might say something like, “Honey, remember when we used to pray together before going to bed? I really miss that. I loved it when you prayed for us. Do you think we could start doing that again?”
But She’s More Spiritually Mature
It is not uncommon in some homes that the wife functions as spiritual leader by default because she is seen as the more spiritually mature. However, this was not God’s plan. When God created the marital relationship he gave the leadership responsibility to the husband. For this reason, the husband - not the wife - is accountable to God for the proper functioning of the family given to his care.
The wife has an extremely important part to play as well – to ensure that she is a support and encourager to her husband as he takes on this critical assignment. A wife who understands her husband’s accountability to God is determined to not make it harder for him, but instead encourages him to do what God has given him to do. Where the woman leads, the man won’t!
Finding Strength in the Lord
Husbands, I pray that after reading the list of characteristics and qualities required of a spiritual leader that you feel empowered and want to embrace the role God has given you. To be sure, it is quite a lengthy list, but know that God has already “equipped you with everything good for doing his will” (Heb. 13:21).
If you are not already a part of a local body of believers, I would strongly suggest that you make this a priority, to regularly go to church and fellowship with the body of Christ for encouragement and accountability. A man who desires to be the spiritual leader “has a strong connection with his Heavenly Father, realizing that he can lead effectively only if he maintains an intimate relationship with the Lord.” Simply put, you can’t do this in your own strength, but “with God, all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
You Can Do This
If you are not functioning in your role as spiritual leader, if you are feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by it all, or just want some additional help in applying what you’re learning, here is a quick video with helpful tips for leading your family. I recommend viewing this video alone first, and then viewing it a second time together with your wife. Be encouraged and “be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).