He must manage his household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5).
In your church, my church, and indeed most churches, there is a crying need for trained, humble, and passionate leaders. But where do we find these leaders? How does God develop them? How do we?
After planting and pastoring a church in New England for the past twenty-five years and watching other well-known leaders rise and fall, I am convinced that a biblical principle is overlooked by many: Leadership training begins in the home.
In 1 Timothy 3:4-5, Paul explicitly connects how a leader shepherds his own household with how he will shepherd God’s household. While some organizational principles can certainly help a church leader, the deepest lessons are learned between a husband and wife and between parents and their children.
Yet, too many church leaders do not see the connection between leadership at home and leadership in the church. At best, home is often seen as disconnected from the church, and at worst, it is perceived as a distraction from leading God’s people.
Paul makes clear that the family is meant by God to be the first context in which we learn leadership skills.
If you have a family, you can readily inculcate the following four lessons in your life to grow as a leader. If you are single, many of these principles will apply to your interaction with your roommates and others closest to you.
1. God has given me a family to teach me how to make disciples.
As I have stated in The Disciple-Making Parent, the Great Commission means I am called to make disciples across the oceans, across the street in my neighborhood, and across the dinner table in my home. Realizing that my family is God’s smallest discipleship unit, I learn lessons with my children that will transfer to others in the church. Parenting is discipleship in its purest form.
2. God has given me a family to learn personal holiness.
Child training is really a misnomer; it should be called parent training. My children and my spouse are given by God to shine a floodlight on my need to grow. No relationship causes me to die to self-interest more than my family. As Martin Luther said, “Marriage is a better school for character than any monastery; for it’s here that your corners are rubbed off.”
Whatever your spouse is mentioning to you as a problem at home, others in the church have noticed. They just haven’t said anything. Paul told Timothy to, “Watch your life and your doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Don’t rush past the former to focus on the latter.
Learning to die to myself, asking forgiveness, serving when I don’t feel like it, and working through conflict in my home are all training me to be a more godly leader in the church.
3. God has given me a family to teach me to lead with encouragement and authority.
Our families, as a reflection of the Trinity, are to be places of love, joy, encouragement, and honor. But our families, because of sin, also need to have times of correction and discipline. As a leader in the home, I give encouragement as well as correction. I set the atmosphere of the home.
The church is no different. Even as we cast a vision for loving one another to reflect Christ (John 13:34-35), we need to correct when this is not happening. Many church leaders err by focusing predominantly on either love or correction. There needs to be a balance, and God gives us families to learn both on a small scale.
4. God has given me a family to become a better communicator.
Most of us don’t realize it, but we are poor communicators. Just as “bad breath offends all but the host,” so terrible communicators offend without even realizing it. We undertalk or overtalk; we interrupt, nitpick, or are easily angered.
As a spiritual leader, your words are your main tools. God says the tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). The more skillful and godly we grow in our communication, the more we can influence others to follow the Lord. Our family will give us instant feedback on our communication strengths and weakness. As I have written in The Disciple-Making Parent, home provides the perfect context for you to practice your conflict resolution skills and hone your listening skills.
Live out the Gospel at Home
God’s plan is that his household should be led by those who have lived out the gospel in their homes. They are learning leadership lessons in the daily home life. Being a parent should make you a better Christian leader; and being a Christian leader should make you a better parent.
In your desire to lead, family is by no means a distraction from God’s call on you to lead. Rather, God’s intent is that home would be your first and safest testing ground.
This is a guest post by Chap Bettis, the author of The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ. He is also a frequent conference speaker and executive director of The Apollos Project, a ministry dedicated to helping families pass the gospel to their children. For 25 years previous, he was lead pastor of a New England church plant. He and his wife, Sharon, have four children and reside in Rhode Island. You can find him on Twitter or blogging at TheApollosProject.com.