All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV)
Now — more than at any time in the recent history of the western church — there’s a need for Christian men to recognize that they’ve failed to be the leaders the Lord has called them to be. They’ve failed to lead their wives, they’ve failed to lead their children, and they’ve failed to lead too many churches. If you’re a Christian man, do you understand that the Lord has made you to be a leader? Do you understand how to lead the people in your life over whom the Lord has given you charge? If you can’t answer “yes” to either of these questions, then please let me explain to you what Scripture says about your ability and responsibility to lead.
This, however, isn’t the only characteristic of a godly man. I’ve found at least eight essential ones in Scripture, which I’ve formed into the acronym BUILDERS:
Leading men need to personify each of these other characteristics. They ought to be bold by speaking the truth clearly and plainly. They ought to have an understanding of who Christ is, who they are in Him, how the world works, and what the Lord’s will is for people. They should be industrious, or diligent and hard-working at pleasing the Lord. They should strive for excellence in all that they do. They should honor others, and treat others with respect and consideration, so they are worthy of respect. They must be strong in their faith, thinking, feelings, and decision-making, so they’re able to fight against the evil forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Finally, a man who leads needs to be about the business of making disciples of Christ, and helping them to become more like Christ.
In this article, however, we’ll look at the most important reasons that men are the leaders in the church and family. Then, we’ll examine the ways in which men are called to lead in these spheres. Finally, we’ll study important characteristics of good leading men, so we can compare ourselves to them, and find out how we need to improve in this area.
Why Do Men Need to Lead?
First, we need to consider the reasons that the Lord has given for why men, and not women, are the image-bearers of God to whom the Lord has given the role of leadership in the church and home. The first reason is that the first man was created before the first woman, and avoided being deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In his first letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, Paul describes these reasons when he explains why women ought not to exercise authority over men:
12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.1 Timothy 2:12-14
First, Paul — speaking on behalf of the Lord Jesus as one of His apostles — expressly forbids women from teaching or having authority over men. Both of these activities are the responsibilities of the men, and leaders, of the church.
But why doesn’t Paul allow women to undertake these masculine roles? The first reason Paul gives, and the most important one, is that “Adam was formed first, then Eve”. What does this have to do with leadership? Well, if you read Genesis 2, you’ll find that there was a significant amount of time between Adam’s creation, and Eve’s. This means that when Eve was created, Adam had already experienced his Creator, and the Garden, and was in the role of teacher for Eve. It was his responsibility to teach Eve how to live and work in the Garden, and thus, he was naturally Eve’s leader — by God’s design. The second reason women aren’t to teach or issue authoritative commands to men is that Eve was the one deceived by the serpent, rather than Adam. What this shows is that Satan targeted the weaker of the two people to tempt through his lies. He knew that Adam was the more experienced of the two, and also the more educated one. Hence, he went to the woman who relied upon the man for teaching, guidance, and wisdom, to take advantage of her inexperience and ignorance. Sadly, it was also Adam’s responsibility to protect Eve, and he failed to do so, but Paul’s point is that, as the leader and teacher of Eve, Adam wasn’t the one deceived by Satan, since he knew better. Therefore, women aren’t allowed to teach or issue authoritative commands to men because God designed them from the beginning to be taught and led by men.
Based on this original hierarchy of the genders, Paul also teaches on the relationship between them in the context of marriage. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses the usurpation of the male leadership role in marriage by a group of Christian women. In doing so, he explains that the hierarchy of husbands and wives is analogous to that of God the Father and Christ His Son. He expresses his desire that the Corinthians understand this by saying,
3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.1 Corinthians 11:3
The idea of being a “head” is that the one who fills that role gives instructions and commands to the one under him. Thus, since Christ is the “head” of “every man”, this means that Christ rules every man through His instructions, commands, and teachings. In the same way, Paul says, the “head” of every wife is her husband. Therefore, Paul is teaching that husbands serve in the ruling capacity in the relationship with their wives. Just as Christ directs, guides, and commands every believer, and God the Father does the same for Christ, so also all husbands are the ones who have the responsibility to guide, direct, instruct, and command their wives.
Paul extends this metaphor in Ephesians 5:22-23 by saying that not only is the husband the head of the wife, but the wife is the body of her husband. Except in this comparison, marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and His church:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Here, Paul clearly says that the outworking of husbands being the heads of their wives requires that wives submit to the instructions of their husbands. Again, the reason for this is that the relationship between a husband and his wife is meant to display the way that Christ and His church treat one another. Christ rules and guides the church, while the church submits to and obeys Christ.
The final proof that men, and not women, are the leaders of the church and household, is that Paul teaches that men are the leaders of the church. The two most common terms given to the official leaders of the church are “overseer” or “bishop”, and “elder”. In describing the qualifications for such leaders, Paul says that such a person must be a man in two of his letters. The first instance is found in 1 Timothy 3:2a, where he says, “. . . an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . .” The Greek term that Paul uses for “the husband of one wife” could be literally translated “one-woman man”. He uses this same term in Titus 1:6, where he tells Titus that he wants him to “appoint elders in every church”, and begins to describe the qualifications as “if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers . . .” Clearly, Paul couldn’t be referring to women with these qualifications, since only men can be “one-woman men”. Besides these texts themselves, there isn’t a single instance in the New Testament where a female elder or overseer (or leader in general) is mentioned.
In What Ways Do Men Lead?
Since we’ve established that men are the leaders in the church and in the household, we need to look at the specific ways in which Scripture says that men are to lead. In other words, in what activities do they fulfill this role?
As we’ve already seen, the most important way in which men lead is by ruling their wives. This doesn’t mean that they control their wives, but that they guide, instruct, teach, and command their wives in the same way that the Lord does these things to His people. Paul teaches this Christlike leadership in Ephesians 5:25-27:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
In this instruction, Paul describes various ways in which Christ loved the “church”, or gathering of saints, and His purposes for doing so. These acts of loving service to the church also give us ways in which husbands can lead their wives. First, Paul says that Christ “gave himself up” for His people. This is essential for a husband to love his wife. He must deny his own preferences, rights, and pleasures in order to care for his wife. Why? So that he can “sanctify her”, or enable her to become more like Christ, so she’ll “be holy and without blemish”. One way in which he does this is exactly how Christ cleansed His people — “by the washing of water with the word”. This “word” is the gospel. In order to help his wife to become more like Christ, he ought to regularly remind his wife of the gospel and its teaching by both word and deed. Most of all, he should set his wife an example of how to imitate and obey the Lord.
In the context of marriage, the husband should also be the leader of household management, and child-rearing. Paul makes this clear with the qualification that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Ti. 3:4). And since husbands are the primary managers of their households, it only makes sense that they ought to lead their wives in teaching their children as well.
The second most important way in which men lead is in overseeing churches. Peter the apostle describes this noble task in the last chapter of his first letter:
“. . . 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.1 Peter 5:1-3
The first way that Peter commands elders to oversee the church is by “shepherding” their congregations. This is a common metaphor in the New Testament taken from one of the most common occupations in Israel at that time. It describes the elder’s, or pastor’s, duty of leading, feeding, and protecting the congregation under his care. This is mainly done, of course, by teaching God’s Word to them, since this is the way in which Jesus led His disciples.
Peter next gives another way in which elders are to shepherd their congregations. He calls it “exercising oversight”. This means to “pay careful attention” to the people under their care, and to pray, teach, speak, and act accordingly. Finally, he forbids elders from abusing their authority by “domineering” or “lording” over their congregations. Instead, one of the most important ways they must lead is by “being examples to the flock”.
This example-setting is accomplished by imitating Christ, so another way in which men lead their brothers and sisters is by doing this very thing. Paul charges both of his pastoral disciples Timothy and Titus to be examples for the people they lead. In 1 Timothy 4:12, he urges Timothy to,
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
All of these areas in which Timothy is to be an example encompass every area of life. Paul almost says the same thing in his charge to Titus in his letter to him:
7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned . . .Titus 2:7-8a
The third major area in which Scripture teaches men must lead is in congregational prayer. Paul clearly gives this responsibility to the men of the church when he expresses his God-pleasing desires for men and women in the gathering of the church:
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel . . .1 Timothy 2:8-9a
In the transition of verse 9, we see that Paul clearly shifts to the proper behavior of women in the church gathering, distinguishing it from the specific role of “the men” in the gathering. In other words, in verse 8, he describes the responsibilities of “the men”, and in verse 9, those of “women”. He’s obviously not forbidding women from praying, but is teaching that men should be the ones who lead corporate prayer among Christians. This stems from the fact that men are in the position of headship and leadership in the church.
A little further in that same letter, Paul sets forth the requirement that men are the ones who authoritatively teach in the church gathering:
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.1 Timothy 2:11-12
By instructing Timothy to teach that women need to “learn quietly”, and ought not to “teach or to exercise authority over a man”, he’s implying that men are the people who are authorized to teach in the church gathering.
To review the ways in which Christian men lead, they love and teach their wives and children; they oversee and shepherd the congregations under their care; they show others how to imitate Christ; they lead in the church’s corporate prayer; and they teach in the church.
What is a Leading Christian Man Like?
Now that we’ve seen the reasons for male leadership among Christians, and the various capacities in which they lead, we need to consider the characteristics that every Christian leader should have. There are at least five essential qualities: activity, maturity, love, self-discipline, and biblical knowledge.
The first requirement for being a Christian leader is that you have to actually be leading other Christians toward greater Christlikeness in some way. To flip it on its head, a leader has to have at least one follower — otherwise he’s not leading anyone. Because Paul had followers in the Corinthian church, he commanded them:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.1 Corinthians 11:1
This teaches us that the first requirement of being a Christian leader is to follow Christ. This was Paul’s main reason for his desire that the Corinthians imitate him. The only reason he was worthy of imitation was that he imitated Christ. And as an experienced and mature imitator of Christ, he urged them to imitate him, so they would learn how to live more like Christ.
The second requirement to be a Christian leader is some level of spiritual maturity. This is demonstrated by the qualification for elders that they “manage [their] own household well” (1 Ti. 3:4). In order to be a good manager of one’s household, including one’s wife and children, a man has to have learned how to be a leader. Paul puts it in the negative sense when he says that an elder “must not be a recent convert” (1 Ti. 3:6). Although most men ought to be leading someone in some way — even if only by sharing the gospel — if you’ve just become a Christian, then you shouldn’t be looked up to as a spiritual leader in the ordinary sense, but should seek to learn how to become more like Christ first.
The third essential character trait of a Christian leader is that he’s passionately concerned about the spiritual growth of his followers. Paul explains the resulting actions of such a leader with regard to debatable activities in Romans 15:1-2:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
In the context of this passage, those who are “strong” aren’t necessarily leaders in the church, but every leader ought to be strong. Likewise, those who are “weak” aren’t necessarily people with no leadership role, but ought to grow out of their weakness. The main takeaway of this passage is that Paul urges the Romans to strive to “build up” their brothers and sisters in Christ. In this case, this will require those with strength of conscience to put up with the problems of conscience of “the weak”, and to also please them by living according to their weak consciences. All of this is intended to “build” them up, or to help them become more like Christ.
Paul urges Christians to be motivated by an intense concern for one another in Philippians 2:3-4. These instructions are foundational for how we treat our brothers and sisters:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Here, Paul gives the motivation that all leaders should have for the leading of their brethren. First, we ought to think in this way “in humility”, or recognizing that we are no more important than any of our brethren. On the contrary, we are to think of others as “more significant”, or more important, than us. If we do this, then we’ll naturally be concerned about our neighbors’ interests, rather than our own. This humble and selfless concern for the good of our brethren must drive all that we do in our leading of them.
But selfless concern for our followers isn’t enough to be a Christlike leader. We also have to be concerned about our own Christlikeness. Paul describes this ambition of his own in Philippians 3:12-15:
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
Paul first recognizes that he’s not yet perfectly like Christ. But because he wants to be exactly like the Lord, he diligently makes every effort to do this. He describes it as an athletic run, in which he’s straining every fiber of his being to win the prize of perfect conformity to Christ’s image. In order to do this, he says that he forgets “what lies behind”, or his past sinfulness and immaturity. In other words, he doesn’t dwell on it, but instead focuses on the inevitable experience of being perfectly like Christ, doing all he can to live like Christ now. Notice at the end of this passage, he implies that this is the way that mature believers think. Hence, any Christian leader must think this way to lead other Christians toward greater Christlikeness.
The final quality of a Christian leader is that he must understand the teaching of the apostles found in the New Testament to some basic level. In describing the qualifications for elders to his younger disciple Titus, Paul explains that such a man must have a good handle on the message of the apostles, and gives the main reasons why:
9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.Titus 1:9
The “trustworthy word” consists mainly of the gospel message, and of the basic teachings of the apostles based on the gospel. This would include such information as the Person and work of Christ, His relationship to the Father, His relationship to the Old Testament Scriptures, and the basic teachings of Christ regarding salvation and discipleship.
The reasons Paul gives for why Christian leaders must “hold firm” to this message are both positive and negative. The positive reason is so that an elder can instruct people with “sound”, or “healthy”, doctrine, or teaching. The negative reason is so that he can “rebuke”, or prove wrong anyone who contradicts it. Since a Christian leader’s responsibility includes teaching his followers the basic teaching of Christ, it’s essential that he understand it to such an extent that he can both teach it, and defend it. He must be able to explain it to his followers, as well as to show how contradictory teaching is wrong.
Brothers, Lead Others Toward a Greater Knowledge of Christ
Now we’ve seen from Scripture the reasons that we have the responsibility to lead our brethren and families, the ways that we do this, and the qualities that we need to cultivate to do this. But what are some practical steps that we can take to become better leaders?
First, we need to evaluate our own spiritual maturity. If we don’t demonstrate the character qualities that every seasoned Christian man possesses, then we need to work on gaining those qualities. However, we must always remember that we ourselves can’t make ourselves grow. It’s only by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit given through prayer and faith that we can ever make any progress in our Christlikeness.
If you know that you’re consistently bearing the fruit of a spiritually healthy man, then you need to recognize your failings, and strive to overcome them. We mustn’t ever be satisfied with our current Christlikeness, but try as much as possible to become more like Christ. This, as Paul says in Philippians 3, must be our attitude.
If you’re a growing Christian man who is striving to grow in your Christlikeness, then you must identify the people in your life that you have the responsibility to lead. Make sure that you’re regularly thinking about them, praying for them, and talking to them. As their leader, you must give adequate time and energy to them, and seek to both show them how to follow Christ, and to explain to them how to do it. However, you must take great care in your treatment of them, since they’re following you. If you lead them into temptation or sin, then you will be partly responsible for the harm that comes to their souls, and the shame that they bring to our Lord. Lead them as if their eternal destiny will be impacted, because it most certainly will. That’s why, just as our own growth is dependent on the Lord’s power and wisdom, so also our leading others must be done through the faith, love, power, and wisdom that are only given by the Holy Spirit.
Follow Jesus, and help others to follow Him.
P.S. If you’re planning on going to The Builders Summit, make sure you’re ready to build brothers up, and I’ll be happy to meet you!