There are several definitions for spiritual leader, and the term brings to mind different things to different people. Some think of a spiritual leader as a sort of guru. Others think of him/her as a life coach, one who can guide others through the problems and trials of life. The Bible describes a spiritual leader as one who possesses the spiritual gift of leadership, the ability to lead others as a direct result of the gifting received from, and performed by the power of, the Holy Spirit.
The biblical spiritual leader understands that his/her leadership is one of servanthood. The spiritual leader leads by example, as Jesus did, who said He came to serve others, not to be served by them (Matthew 20:25–28). The spiritual leader recognizes that he is first and foremost a servant. Jesus modeled the true servant style of leadership, when He, the Lord incarnate, bent down and washed the feet of His disciples, teaching them that the true measure of a leader is his willingness to first serve others (John 13:12–17).
The spiritual leader also recognizes that his role is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), and he concerns himself with doing just that. Spiritual leaders know that their main task is to sanctify the people of God, and their prayer is the same as Jesus’ prayer to the Father: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Like Jesus, the spiritual leader knows that the Word of God is the food of the soul and that it alone sanctifies. Rather than acquiescing to the “felt needs” of the people he leads, he shepherds others to maturity in the faith by speaking the truth in love so that those he leads “will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Finally, the spiritual leader is concerned with the souls of those he leads. This is not to say that he cares nothing for the physical needs of his people. But his primarily responsibility is leading them to spiritual maturity so that they will be fully equipped and “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;”Ephesians 4:14
Although males and females are equal in relationship to Christ, the Scriptures give specific roles to each in marriage. The husband is to assume leadership in the home. “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Corinthians 11:3
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” Ephesians 5:23
This leadership should not be dictatorial, condescending, or patronizing to the wife, but should be in accordance with the example of Christ leading the church. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,” Ephesians 5:25–26
Christ loved the church (His people) with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, respect, and selflessness. In this same way husbands are to love their wives. Wives are to submit to the authority of their husbands.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Ephesians 5:22–24
Although women should submit to their husbands, the Bible also tells men several times how they are supposed to treat their wives. The husband is not to take on the role of the dictator, but should show respect for his wife and her opinions. In fact, Ephesians 5:28–29 exhorts men to love their wives in the same way that they love their own bodies, feeding and caring for them. A man’s love for his wife should be the same as Christ’s love for His body, the church.
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” Colossians 3:18–19
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7
Love and respect characterize the roles of both husbands and wives. If these are present, then authority, headship, love, and submission should abound for either partner.
In regard to the division of responsibilities in the home, the Bible instructs husbands to provide for their families. This means he works and makes enough money to sufficiently provide all the necessities of life for his wife and children. To fail to do so has spiritual consequences.
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” 1 Timothy 5:8
So, a man who makes no effort to provide for his family cannot rightly call himself a Christian. This does not mean that the wife cannot assist in supporting the family — Proverbs 31 demonstrates that a godly wife may surely do so — but providing for the family is not primarily her responsibility; it is her husband’s. While a husband should help with the children and with household chores (thereby fulfilling his duty to love his wife), Proverbs 31 also makes it clear that the home is to be the woman’s primary area of influence and responsibility. Even if she must stay up late and rise up early, her family is well cared for. This is not an easy lifestyle for many women — especially in affluent Western nations. However, far too many women are stressed out and stretched to the breaking point. To prevent such stress, both husband and wife should prayerfully reorder their priorities and follow the Bible’s instructions on their roles.
Conflicts regarding the division of labor in a marriage are bound to occur, but if both partners are submitted to Christ, these conflicts will be minimal. If a couple finds arguments over this issue are frequent and vehement, or if arguments seem to characterize the marriage, the problem is a spiritual one. In such an instance, the partners should recommit themselves to prayer and submission to Christ first, then to one another in an attitude of love and respect.
Ephesians 5 assumes a married couple, with the husband as leader and the wife as supporter; however, many modern households do not fit that model. Some are headed by a single parent, others by a grandparent or an older sibling, and still others have some other construct. With that in mind, how do we define who should be at the head? Scripture is consistent in teaching the chain of command. The elder member of a household should be the head whenever possible. In Old Testament times, the eldest son received a double inheritance, called the birthright, upon his father’s death. But he was also held responsible for the welfare of the entire household (Genesis 27:19; Deuteronomy 21:17).
Children are commanded to obey both parents, not just the head of the household (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20). An undisciplined child brings shame and disgrace to his mother, not just his father (Proverbs 10:1; 29:15). Wise parents agree on rules and discipline in front of the children. Any disagreements should be held behind closed doors so that parents can present a united front. As far as the children are concerned, a mother and father working together are the heads of the household.
Here are some principles relating to what it means to be the head of a household:
1. A head goes first. Godly leadership is servant leadership (Mark 10:44). The head of a household is to be the role model for everyone else. If he/she wants the family to speak kindly and respectfully, he/she must model that type of speech. If a husband wants his wife to honor him, he must honor her. If a single mom wants her children to have a good work ethic, she must demonstrate what that looks like to them. Headship is not a dictatorship. The head of a household seeks wisdom, prays through issues, and then gently instructs the rest of the body in the direction it should go. If the senior member of a household is not functioning as a healthy head, the entire family suffers.
2. A head takes responsibility. When God handed out roles for the family, He placed the heaviest burden on the men. Headship may sound like superiority until we actually read God’s expectations. The head of a household is responsible before God for the spiritual and emotional well-being of the family. God judged Eli for not restraining his wicked sons. Eli knew about their evil actions but did nothing about it, so God held Eli responsible as the head of the household (1 Samuel 3:13).
3. A head receives 51 percent of the vote. Two people will not agree on everything, no matter how closely aligned they are, and when there is a stand-off, who gets the deciding vote? God has decreed that it should be the head of the household, the husband if he is present. Of course, a wise head will consult his wife. Heads do not know everything, even though they carry the weight of responsibility for the decisions. So it is only smart to seek counsel and advice from the woman he pledged his life to. And, if she is a godly woman, she will share her studied opinion but then let her husband bear the weight of the decision on his own.
God designed the family, and He knows best how it functions. When we apply His standards of love, submission, responsibility, and servant leadership, the family thrives (Ephesians 5:21–33; Colossians 3:18–20; 1 Peter 3:1–7). When a husband steps up and assumes the mantle of responsibility God has placed on him, the rest of the family finds it much easier to fulfill their own roles so that the family is a testament to God’s design.