I was recently invited to speak for a weekend conference for men, discussing our roles in the family and the church. Topics like this kill me. The preparation quickly turned into an exercise in personal conviction and repentance. How to speak on being a good husband and father when at every turn I see my failures?
So to help me get ready, I dutifully worked through the New Testament epistles, looking for any instructions to men. That’s where it got interesting. There aren’t as many passages as you think. I’d love to be corrected but here’s what I found:
• Be ready to answer questions and lead (1 Cor. 14:35).
• Love your wives (Eph. 5:25-33; Col. 3:19).
• Fathers, do not provoke (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).
• Lead the way in prayer (1 Tim 2:8 c.f. 2:1).
• Teach and lead (1 Tim 2:11-14).
• Show exemplary conduct (Titus 2:1-2, 6-8).
• Live with understanding (1 Pet 3:7).
That’s not a ton of information. But trust me I, found plenty of things I need to work on. Conviction and instruction happened in every single New Testament book. They weren’t really directed towards me as a man—just as a human. They were instructions like “count others more significant than yourselves” and “look not only to [your] own interests but also to the interests of others.” They were instructions like the extended description of love in 1 Cor. 13 or the challenge to be “in all respects a model of good works” (Tit. 2:7) or “let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). In short, they were the instructions that really apply to all believers, not just husbands and fathers. They addressed not my masculinity but my humanity.
This is not an idea I came up with by myself. Hannah Anderson’s excellent book “Made for More” challenges women not to look for “pink passages” as though a biblical womanhood is defined more by gender than the more obvious fact that we are people. I am first a person made in God’s image, then a redeemed one, and only further down the list a husband and father.
This implies a certain priority order. Scripture’s instructions for how to be a good Christian are a foundation for biblical manhood in a way that isn’t true in the reverse. To say it differently, I ought to start with the basics of Christian character and then work towards the specifics of my calling as a man. If I thoroughly study the “man” passages and never work through the “all believers” passages (the rest of the NT), I will completely fail in both.
This led me to a few insights:
1) Being a good Dad / husband starts with being more like Jesus.
On some level this might be counterintuitive. After all, Jesus Himself was never a father or a husband. But remember that women work through this all the time. Jesus is the model for all types of roles He never personally fulfilled. That’s because of the basic truth we outlined above—we are Christians first before our other roles. The perfect model of the image of God in man—Jesus the Messiah—applies to all of our various human roles. There is a way to show Christ’s character as a grandmother, a teenage boy, and every other situation we find ourselves in. Just read Titus 2:1-11. Whatever our status in life, “the saving grace of God has appeared to all [kinds of] people.”
2) You go first.
Male leadership is constantly eroded in our culture. In sitcoms, movies and novels, the Dad is the clueless one. Our overreactions might only confirm that lie. Aping true manhood with a loud, aggressive, raw style of leadership isn’t masculinity. It’s all attitude; little substance.*
I would propose that the essence of true manhood is that you go first. Lead the way. Take the hit. Answer the hard questions. Take responsibility. You don’t get to lag behind spiritually and then hope to have the credibility to lead.
So if the family needs to change, you get it started. If someone is going to be more like Jesus, you go first. When the argument stalemates because both sides need to admit they’ve been wrong, you apologize first. When the truth shines brightly and shows that there are flaws, you lead the way by showing what biblical repentance and growth look like.
3) Your most effective tool to lead is your own personal character.
There’s the caricature of leadership—do what I say, not what I do. And then there’s the NT logic that “living with your wife in an understanding way” is the way to win her over and to be a testimony to the world. Authority isn’t fashionable and arguably it never was. But living out the truth of Scripture in a dark world illuminates the power of the gospel and calls others to follow that light.
There’s a very simple place to start if you want to call your family to be more like Jesus. Become more like Him yourself. That’s the essence of leadership and the ultimate way to influence your family to follow God.
* It is, of course, quite possible to overcompensate with this idea. Perhaps we talk so much about gender roles because of the deep confusion in our society and the need to address it.* But in the process, might we be trying to build a superstructure of specific roles without a foundation of basic character? Could this connect to the erosion of male leadership? How compelling is a kind of leadership that seizes position and influence without first working through the fruits of the Spirit?