Being spiritual leaders can be very difficult. What does it look like? Consist of? How do we do it? What are some fundamental principles that constitute good biblical leadership?
The basic idea of discipling anyone, in the biblical model, is to explain and model proper behavior and then allow the student to attempt to imitate it, giving correction as needed.
If you were teaching your child how to throw a baseball, you would show them how to hold the ball and rotate the arm. Then you would have them demonstrate the proper technique. Once they tried it, you would praise proper throwing while instructing them in the details that need correction. Think about how you learned to drive. Learned to dance. Learn to read. It was always instruction, modeling and imitation followed by correction.
Spiritual leadership is the same. Let your wife and children see you reading the scriptures. Let them see you quoting it and discussing it. Let them see you praying. Let them see you giving thanks, singing, confessing, etc. Under duress let them see joy. Let them see virtue. Let them hear you speaking well of your wife, your masters and authorities. Let them hear you explain your fears. Let them hear you discussing the sermon from Sunday with your wife and asking your wife questions about what she is reading or listening to. When you watch a movie, let them hear you judge it.
Then have them imitate you. Have them read the bible aloud and say the family prayers. Let them repent and praise. Correct as they go. Let them comment on movies. Let them explain their fears, ask questions and judge.
Its ok to give a child feedback on their prayers – when is it OK to pray about the Seahawks and Christmas presents? Don’t teach them not to pray about the things that they are really concerned about, instead instruct them in how to do it properly in a Godly way.
Over spiritualizing our spiritual life leads to hypocrisy. God is concerned with the care of sparrows, how much more the free safety on the Seahawks D? And if that is what your son is concerned with, how should they pray about it? How might God be using a pulled hamstring? or the Second string guy? Don’t tell your children not to pray about the things that matter to them, even if those things don’t seem very spiritual – teach them how!! If your daughter is concerned about what she is dreaming about, then let that be on the agenda. What causes bad dreams? What does praying for the protection of her imagination sound like?
Never turn your kids down when they request you to pray. Never. When you hear a siren, pray for the first responders and person who summoned the sirens – God knows the details even if you don’t – this encourages your children in their trust over His overwhelming sovereignty. When you see a policeman, pray for him. Let your children hear you giving thanks to God for them in prayer.
In homes where male leadership is emphasized, the overreaction is that the man does everything, or sons do everything. And sometimes we fail to lead because it’s a lot to do all by ourselves. But how will your wife know how to lead the children in prayer when you’re not there? How do you know she is doing it right? Or how will your daughter lead her children, if she doesn’t start to see how a mommy or even Christians, for that matter, pray regularly?
If your children are not participating in their own faith at 8, they won’t at 18. Leading is not micromanaging.
One reason we don’t want to read the bible aloud together, if we are honest, are the questions. “Daddy, what existed before God made the world?” “What does it mean that ‘Adam knew his wife?” “Daddy, why do Christians in the OT have more than one wife?”
Don’t avoid this. Bad spiritual leader is the result, partially, of avoiding the necessary and hard work of figuring out the answers to these questions. Embrace it. Find out the answer. And when you don’t know, tell them that. Pretending or giving them smoke creates hypocrisy.
Furthermore, allow them to not believe. If your 7 year old child demonstrates skepticism about Jonah and the whale or Jesus’ walking on water or struggles to believe in the resurrection, allow that. Who believes perfectly? Who doesn’t struggle with the truth? Allow your kids to express their unbelief. The alternative is that they hide it in shame and fear. Where might that lead? If they don’t feel safe to express their doubts at 8, they won’t when they are 18.
The other form of spiritual leadership that we should consider is storytelling. There are two things to think about here. Jesus used parables to instruct God’s children. Parables about motivations. Parables about the law, heaven, ethics, fellowship and Himself. Because stories help you see your circumstances from a fresh set of eyes.
Consider how the prophet Nathan used a story to bring King David to repentance in 2ndSamuel 12:1-14. Story and poetry are how God communicates to us throughout scripture. It’s how your father communicates with you, so why aren’t you imitating him?
If you read through the book of Jonah, how might you put it in your own words? Don’t over think it. It’s a good story and remember my sermon, the point isn’t precision and detail. Don’t lose the forest for the trees.
Stories allow us to see what ethics look like in real life, just the way story problems give practical application to math. Ethics and truth cease to be metaphysical and become physical through the incarnation of story. What does nobility look like? What does bravery? Cowardice? Contempt? Reverence? Awe? Show them with story.
So, if you need to improve in your spiritual leadership, there are three simple things you can do.
- Read the bible out loud as a family. A chapter or less. Or a story from the OT or Acts. Take turns; dad, mom and kids.
- Pray. Take requests and make lists, then discuss them. Take turns; dad, mom and kids.
- Tell stories from either your own imagination or from a book of good fairy talesor from the book of virtue from William Bennett. If they are older, than read them Narnia alongside your reading: What I learned in Narnia. Then apply the lessons you’ve learned to what you are reading as a family. Or try the Prydain Chronicles, The Mistmantle Chronicles, LOTR or Beatrix Potter.
Stories are soul food. The bible is soul food. Gratitude for both is best expressed through prayer. Your job is to show them the Christian life. Jesus said follow me. Jesus gave you a wife and kids so that they would follow you. Following Jesus is how you lead your family. Show them. Watch them. Praise them. Correct them.
And remember to give thanks.