The leadership in a family is perhaps the most controversial topic in today’s society. There is a natural tendency to think that the person in charge has the most fun. How many of us have thought how different things would be when we become a manager at the office? What child hasn’t thought about the changes he would make when he becomes a parent? What we often forget is that having responsibility also means we have accountability. Being the manager in an office is not all that fun. You have impossible goals and quotas handed to you from the powers on high and somehow you have to motivate a department full of people to accomplish those goals because you cannot do them yourself.
In the family, God has chosen the husband to be head of the family (Ephesians 5:23). It was not an arbitrary choice. God tells us there were several factors considered in this decision.
The man was chosen because he was first created. Since the early days of mankind, the first born son in a family was given special inheritance rights. One of these rights was the right to become head of the extended family when the father passed on. Paul cites this fact when establishing why a woman was not to have authority over a man (I Timothy 2:12-14).
Secondly, the woman was created for the man and not the other way around (Genesis 2:18). Paul cites this reason when establishing the order of leadership and the need to show submission (I Corinthians 11:8-9). Notice that neither the first nor the second reason is restricted to husbands and wives. These are general rules. Even though man is to be the head of woman (I Corinthians 11:3), this does not mean men are better than women, nor does it mean that God favors men over women (I Corinthians 11:11-12). God purposely created men and women to be interdependent on each other. Yet, God has declared that men must assume the responsibility of leadership.
The third reason comes from the fall of man. It was the woman who was deceived by Satan into eating the forbidden fruit (I Timothy 2:14). Notice that Paul said that Adam was not deceived as Eve was when they partook of the fruit. I can’t say this is a complement. Adam knew he was violating God’s law when he decided to take a bite.
We are just coming to admit that men and women approach problems in different ways. Men tend to think logically. They tend to separate themselves from the emotions of the moment to consider the facts in the case. Women tend to think emotionally. They are swayed by their feelings for those involved. Perhaps the difference comes from the stability of the man’s hormones and the monthly fluctuation of the woman’s hormones. A woman’s emotional judgment often allows her to detect things which have no rational basis. We refer to it as a woman’s intuition. Yet, that same marvelous leap to answers can be distracted by the emotions of the moment. Neither method of solving problems or of passing judgment is better than the other, but there are times when one method is preferable to the other. For leadership, we value stability in decision making – even when the decisions are not always the best choice.
Finally, because of the sin of Adam and Eve, God placed a series of consequences on mankind. In the list of things decreed against the woman, not only would pregnancy be uncomfortable and her labor be painful, but God also declared that a woman’s husband would have rule over his wife (Genesis 3:16). The husband being the head of the family is a consequence of Eve biting the forbidden fruit.
Before we go much further, we need to define what is meant by a husband being the head of the family. Far too many people conjure up mental images of a man resting easy while the family jumps to his every whim. But when Paul said the husband was to be the head of the wife he compared the husband’s role to the relation Christ has with the church (Ephesians 5:23). Our Lord never laid around while his disciples waited on him hand-and-foot. Instead we read of Jesus serving his disciples (John 13:3-17). Jesus does not control the church as an iron-fisted dictator. Instead we find him gently guiding the church as a shepherd watches over his flocks (John 10:11-18). Yet we know that Jesus wasn’t a wimp, letting people run over him. He was firm in his beliefs, and his leadership left no doubt about what is required of his followers. He never asked his followers to do anything that he himself did not first show the way. He was loving, understanding, and compassionate to his people. Their needs were his first priority.
The parallel to a shepherd is important. A shepherd cannot drive his sheep. When you push sheep, they scatter in all directions. To get them to water or to move them to a different pasture, the shepherd walks in front and calls his sheep to follow him. This is what it means for a husband to be the head of the family. He goes first! He decides the best path for his family and then shows the way.
In all things, the care of a man’s wife and family is important. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8). Headship does not mean self-gratification, but the acceptance of responsibility for the welfare of others. To fulfill that role, a husband must learn what is needed by those under his care. In every decision he look for the solution that is best for the family. He must not allow himself to be swayed by a solution that only gratifies one member – especially one that only makes him happy.
We can better understand the husband’s role by examining others who hold leading roles. The qualifications for elders within the church require “one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)”(I Timothy 3:4-5). The husband’s management of his household is preparatory work for managing a congregation.
So how does an elder manage a church? First, he leads by example (Hebrews 13:7). Like the shepherd and the husband, an elder goes down the proper path and encourages the members of the congregation to follow him. They cannot push the flock by dictating terms (I Peter 5:1-3). An elder cannot give the rules, he can only encourage others to follow the rules as he himself does in his own life.
An elder cannot bully a congregation into doing his desires, and neither can a husband demand his wife do as he says. When a husband feels he is losing control, there is a temptation to regain ground by bullying the wife or family into submission. Such practices are a violation of God’s teaching of headship.
When searching for a solution to a problem, a husband needs to gather all the information that he can before making a judgment. This means talking to everyone involved to see things from everyone’s viewpoint. Too often men tend to rush to a solution, any solution, so long as the problem ceases to bother them. Without adequate information, men can easily make the wrong decision. We are reminded, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5). And, we are warned, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). What better person to consult than your life’s partner? Take advantage of the fact that your wife does not see things the way you see things. Respect the fact that her intuition might show you an avenue that you did not notice.
Life will go smoother too if you spend time finding agreement with those involved before making the final decision. Now, not all decisions will be popular. Nor can you spend your life trying to please everyone. But, if others can see why you made your decision and why you feel it is to the best interest of all who are involved, you have made it easier for those under your care to follow you.
With any responsibility there is also accountability. Elders who oversee God’s children know they will one day give a detailed accounting of how they carried out their responsibility (Hebrews 13:17). Each husband is also accountable to God for what happens in his family. The father is responsible for the teaching of his children (Ephesians 6:4), even though the actual teaching is shared by the husband and the wife (Proverbs 6:20-23). Mom and Dad give instruction, but it is Dad who stands before God to answer what was taught. As a husband, you are not only responsible for your own salvation, but you are also accountable for the salvation of your wife and children.