I have spent a lot of time recently trying to define how a husband should lead his wife and family. It is very easy for us to say that a husband should be the leader of his family, but it is really difficult to describe what that leadership should really look like. From a Christian perspective too often our definitions of leadership fall into two extremes: either a dominant leadership position, where the family is micromanaged completely by the husband; or a passive leadership position, where the husband is a total servant to the family. Today, I would like to try to define servant-leadership, which I think is a great model for a Christian husband.

Jesus’ disciples assumed that Christ was going to be a king on Earth and that this meant that there would be power and glory to be had if they followed Him. Two even asked for authority positions on Jesus’ left and right. Jesus had to explain that his role was not for earthly power but to be a servant.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” Mark 10:45

In the early 1970s, Robert Greenleaf noticed large scale dissatisfaction with traditional command-and-control leadership. He proposed a new kind of leadership that placed greater value on autonomy and human dignity. His desire was to create a working environment with self-initiating and self-responsible leaders and followers. This leadership philosophy eventually came to be known as “servant-leadership.”

Greenleaf defined servant-leadership as involving interdependent governance by team of peers who reach shared decisions based on agreed-upon values. Servant-leaders transform independence into interdependence, so that working on small responsibilities allowed one to work toward interdisciplinary environments. Servant-leaders try to promote trust and utilize appropriate intimacy to spur synergy and inspiration. It quickly became a very common model used in many organizations.

It was no mistake that this style worked well. It had actually worked pretty well in families throughout time. The Christian community quickly grabbed on to this phrase of “servant-leadership.” It was easy to see the correlations to Christ’s own style of leadership, but often misunderstood. Within the Christian community, there is often a mistake to leave off the hyphen in the phrase and causes a change to the use of “servant” as a noun to an adjective. This is where the confusion over dominant and passive leadership creeps in.

When we leave the hyphen in, we can look at servant-leadership with equal emphasis on “servant” and “leadership.” This way servant-leadership becomes a belief that invites relationships, community interdependence, caring, and risk-taking. Servant-leadership can be more than an attitude. It can be a form of discipleship, a way that we live our lives for Christ, and a way that we treat others. It can be a mindset that guides one in all aspects of their life.

So, what does husband servant-leadership look like? Husband servant-leaders investigate, listen, and guide their families. They promote commitment within the family and stress family values of the past, present, and future. A husband servant-leader provides an environment that is warm and inclusive. If the family accepts a husband’s servant-leadership role, the family also serves servant-leadership positions that promote responsibility and accountability. All family members are able to communicate in open and honest dialogue and gain understanding with each other. The family structure will have conflict and this is necessary for personal and family growth.

All of that sounds good, but that type of leadership could be in any family, social, or business setting. How does this help the Christian family? Within the Christian family, a husband servant-leader works to equip the family with the message of Christ to build up the Church. So that Christ, the head of the Church, and the entire family is served in the act of providing leadership. (Ephesians 4:12)

Servant-leadership takes into account that everyone in the family stands at a level place at the foot of the cross. A husband servant-leader must provide leadership that does not abuse power, is not coerced, and is based on a mutual respect for his family.

The husband servant-leader does not view his role as the one with all the answers, but rather has the ability to ask thought-provoking questions, and evaluate the family’s best interests prior to acting in a role of headship.

Husband servant-leaders cannot demand compliance or motivate through guilt. They model service in the family and they aim to practice kindness and patience as they motivate and encourage the family. Husband servant-leaders recognize that they are entrusted with the authority by Christ and by the church, and that this authority can be removed if it is used for personal benefit or in a way that harms the family.

The husband servant-leader seeks to invest himself into the lives of his family by providing mentoring to them, discipling them, and educating them. Another identifier of a husband servant-leader is that their goals and agendas are not concerned about personal gain, success, notoriety, or public recognition.

Does a husband’s servant-leadership look the same from family to family? Not at all. A husband’s servant-leadership will vary according to how it is practiced, the husband’s personality, the husband’s experience, the husband’s spirituality, and the needs of the family.