One of the most frustrating and defeating aspects of being a young husband and father was knowing that I was supposed to lead my family spiritually while having no clue what that meant.
Somewhere in Christian culture, it is communicated that you should be your family’s spiritual leader, but I find that it’s seldom discussed or taught.
As a newly married man, I knew I was missing the mark but felt as if I was shooting arrows in the fog, aiming at a target that I couldn’t see.
If spiritual leadership is so important, what does it actually mean to lead your family spiritually?
What is leadership?
Leadership, in its most simple form, is influence.
There are effective and efficient ways to influence and there are ineffective and inefficient ways to influence.
I can use fear to influence you to do what I want. It’s effective, but it’s inefficient, because:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”[1 John 4:18]
Fear will only force outward obedience, not a change of heart.
Passivity, I believe, is one of man’s oldest sins. Adam was passive in the garden when he should have stood up to lead Eve. God is not passive. He is patient, but always active and involved. Passivity never leads to change.
Coercion is efficient — do what I want because I said so. But it doesn’t produce long-term desire. Once your kids go to their friend’s home or off to college, your power is no longer present and they will do what they want.
To be truly influential, you must have a relationship (which has a foundation of love) and lead by example.
Your ability to lead yourself is the first step of true influence. It produces desire at the heart level and creates a long-term impact.
What is spiritual leadership?
Spiritual leadership is exercising influence to move people towards God.
And the most effective way to lead your family spiritually is to set an example within a loving relationship.
I’ve heard it said that leadership, at its most basic form, is connecting people with a task. But I think this is actually management, not leadership.
Spiritual leadership is exercising influence to infuse passion or desire into a person or organization to go beyond what it already is.
This takes vision, intentionality, and effort. It’s not something you stumble into. It’s purposeful.
Where to begin the journey of spiritual leadership?
Spiritual leadership starts with taking account of where we are currently and getting a vision for where we need to go from here.
When we lead in business, we start with a problem and aim towards the goal of solving that problem. Maybe it’s creating a solution to a client’s need or serving someone to help them accomplish their goals. Leading a business isn’t easy, but the metrics that define the progress are usually obvious. We can track revenue, compare against our competitors, and find endless resources to analyze our progress and growth.
In spiritual leadership, things are not so clearly defined and trackable.
Yet, if this is one of our primary assignments as fathers and husbands, how do we lead our families spiritually, what is the target and how do we know if we’re making progress?
How do you know if you are growing spiritually?
As Christians, our primary goal is to be more like Christ. We are “mini-Christs”. We aim to live as Christ would live if He were in our shoes. No small challenge.
The problem is that this growth is largely internal and difficult to track the progress of.
In leading your family spiritually, you are attempting to influence your wife and children to love God more, hear His voice, and obey His commands.
When the Spirit of God is living and present in us we will see the fruits of the Spirit in life:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.[Galatians 5:22-34]
The first step to spiritual leadership in your family is to ask God to search your heart for evidence of these fruits in your own life. If you’re not growing in the Christlikeness you don’t have a firm foundation to stand on to lead your family.
Are the fruits of the Spirit self-evident in your life?
I have to regularly ask myself whether I can see the work of the Spirit in my heart. Am I growing in love? Joy? Peace? Patience?
Your vision for what Christlikeness looks like may grow over time, but list out the fruits of the spirit in your journal and humbly rate yourself on a scale. If a particular fruit is not evident, give yourself a 1. If you see the fruit clearly and powerfully, give yourself a 10. This isn’t for self-aggrandizement or chastisement, but just taking an account of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
Once you’ve graded yourself in these areas, pray. Thank God for where you’re winning and ask Him to help you in the areas you are weak. We all have areas to grow. Being honest with ourselves is a starting point.
Extra credit: not sure if you’re growing spiritually? Ask your wife or kids how they see these in your life. If that question scares you, maybe it’s a good litmus test of where you are really at.
Next, ask God to show you how these fruits are revealed in your family. Ask Him to move in your wife and children to increase these and start to encourage them when you see them exemplifying these qualities.
What does it look like to lead your family spiritually?
Once you have taken this simple self-assessment, you need to lean into the power of the Spirit to move into your family.
Spiritual leadership in your family starts with prayer.
As a husband and father, pray for your wife and kids regularly. This is easier said than done. But in reality, we do much harder things every day we go to work and conquer life’s challenges. Start small by setting an alarm to remind you to pray. Get up 15 minutes earlier and pray for your family over your morning cup of coffee or on your way to work. Ask God to reveal to you ways that you can model these fruits and call out the good you see in your kids when they exhibit one of these fruits of the Spirit.
Another way to lead your family spiritually is to pray with them. Before you head out the door in the morning, or perhaps around the dinner table, pray together. Speak words of life to your kids and wife. Encourage them and celebrate the Christlikeness you see in them — even in the small things: sharing a toy with a sibling, taking the worst seat on a car ride, or holding back anger when wronged. These are awesome things to cheer on in your kids.
Make sure to encourage your wife in front of your kids. Point out how she models selflessness in cooking dinner or folding laundry. There are countless daily tasks she does that likely go unnoticed. Be her champion in front of the kids.
Spiritual leadership looks like valuing the things of God. Making it a priority to be at church, because we are encouraged to not neglect the gathering of believers. It looks like genuine worship — in church and at home. Turn on worship music in the car or around the house to foster an attitude of gratitude and give praise back to God.
Spiritual leadership looks like giving faithfully and generously. Tithing to your local church and ministries doing God’s work. Giving of your free time to serve others — especially the poor, single mothers, and widows in your community. These are awesome examples of Christ’s selfless love and generosity.
Spiritual leadership looks like modeling spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are the regular habits that form us into Christlikeness. For example, get into the habit of reading scripture, practicing solitude, simplicity, and service. A great place to start is to read “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster.
Regardless of which example stands out to you, choose one and take a small step towards a life that looks more like Christ.
Closing thoughts on how to be the spiritual leader of your family
As you become more like Christ, you will continue to take small steps towards God and your family will see this. Your example will set the tone in the household and inevitably will influence those around you.
- Don’t try to do it all at once. Just incorporate one new practice this week.
- Push past the awkward. Every new practice feels strange when you start. Just keep practicing.
- Stay humble. You won’t get it right the first time. Admit when you miss the mark and try again.
- Hang out around people that are doing it well. Their example will sharpen you and give vision.
- Keep learning. Choose one of these books as fuel for your growth:
Let me know in the comments what questions you have about leading your family spiritually or how you’re winning in this area!