This video segment is one of six lessons in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations” seminar.

The GCM series are marriage preparation and marriage enrichment level resources. If your marriage needs restoration level care consider one of the other options available at, or visit for help finding a counselor near you.

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There are few things more pathetic than media portrayals of a husband/father—weak, incompetent, lazy, disinterested, selfish, juvenile, distant, uninvolved, greedy, cold, and anything else that is the antithesis of Jesus. We laugh when we should cry. We are being desensitized to the abolition and abdication of manhood that is occurring all around us.

A true husband/father is one who loves and leads his family well. Any married man who fails in loving and leading his family is less than masculine; regardless of his strength, influence, charisma, income, intelligence, sexual prowess, or appearance. These attributes have become a counterfeit ideal for masculinity, replacing the biblical ideal.

In this chapter, we will look at the three key qualities of a Christian husband/father.

  1. Servant Leader
  2. Shepherd of the Family
  3. Man of Understanding

Quality One: Servant Leader

Read Matthew 20:25-28. Being a Christian husband starts here. Christ said he came to serve rather than be served. A husband who loves his wife like Christ loves the church must have the same attitude. Any view of leadership that does not grow from this soil of servanthood is a weed, a distortion of God’s design, and is undeserving of the label “Christian.” A servant-hearted view of leadership is meant to protect husbands from the temptation to abuse the authority of headship.

The term servant leader combines two terms that are often viewed as opposites. In reality, they are two qualities that must be held in proper balance. With that in mind, it can be most helpful to think of these two terms existing on a spectrum where Christlikeness exists when both qualities are present in equal measure.

Servant Only: A servant-only husband merely funds, and facilitates the desires of his household. The agenda for the family is created exclusively by the “wants” of each family member. Little moral or biblical instruction is given, and consequences are not frequently enforced. Pouting or guilt are his primary tools for influencing behavior. A servant-only husband is more loved than respected; usually in the form of appreciation which can devolve into entitlement.

Leader Only: A leader-only husband is often a micro-manager who makes most of the decisions in his household and measures family members by how they respond to his directives. If the idol of the servant-only husband is his family (people pleasing), then the idol of the leader only husband is himself (mistaking his preferences for God’s will). A leader-only husband is more respected than loved; usually in the form of fear which can devolve into dread.

Absent: Some husbands are not on the scale, because they are either not at home or not engaged. This husband may be selfishly absent (doing what he likes best) or fearfully absent (afraid he’ll mess up if involved). Regardless of how or why a husband is absent, the best way for him to get involved is to focus on areas one through three of the husband’s job description. It is difficult, even unhealthy, to go directly from absent to servant-leader. Going from absent to leader results in decisions becoming arbitrary and a disjointedness makes for short-lived change. However, if the husband emphasizes personal character, friendship with his wife, and a functional approach to living, then servant-leadership will develop and be a blessing to his family.

Servant Leader: A balanced servant leader is highly invested in the dreams of his family. He is as committed to seeing his family’s aspirations become reality as he is his own. This commitment is tangibly expressed in time, energy, finances, private thought, conversation, and personal sacrifice. A balanced servant-leader is not merely orchestrating a collection of “me’s” but shepherding a family “we.” Therefore, the husband not only sets the example of investing in the aspirations of each family member, but also (a) examines how his family’s gifts and abilities complement one another, and with that assessment (b) calls on the family to follow his example by sacrificing for one another.

After reading the descriptions above, mark where you currently fall on the servant-leader spectrum.

Other examples of how a husband can be a servant leader for his family are:

  • Initiating important conversations and not waiting for someone else to break the awkward silence.
  • Discussing the family schedule and prioritizing to make sure it fairly represents each family member and is realistic.
  • Being the first to sacrifice when life requires and doing so with a loving, joyful attitude.
  • Accepting spiritual responsibility for the health of the family.

Quality Two: Shepherd of the Family

Read 1 Timothy 3:1-7. This is not just a passage for pastors. It is a description of mature manhood and Christian leadership, which is a good aspiration for every man (v. 1). Notice how verses 2-3 correlate with Area #1 (maturity) and #2 (friendship) of a husband’s job description and verses 4-5 correlate with Area #3 (good life manager). Because the primary qualification for a pastor is how he cares for and leads his family, a husband should shepherd his family in similar ways to how a pastor shepherds a church.

A theme verse for every husband should be I Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The first rule of shepherding is to walk in the direction your family should go. It is both hypocritical and ineffective to do otherwise. Read Psalm 23 and John 10. Ask yourself the question, “What does it look like to be a godly and Christ-like shepherd for my family?”

Being a shepherd involves at least two functions (provision and protection) expressed in at least two areas (physical needs and spiritual development). The chart below lists some of the actions that fit in each of these areas.

  • Works hard at his vocation
  • Does not spend excessively or selfishly
  • Ensures family finances are managed well
  • Expresses healthy affection
See “Husband as Shepherd-Protector” Below
  • Prays for his family
  • Leads in family Bible study
  • Identifies resources in areas of each family member’s struggle or interest
  • Leads in selecting a healthy church
  • Invites and seeks answers to family’s questions
  • Leads in healthy conflict resolution within the family

Husband as Shepherd-Protector (Read Colossians 3:19). Scripture continually reminds us that the greatest dangers we face are not from the outside world, but from within (sin). This is true in marriage as well. That is why Paul warns husbands not to be harsh with his wife. All dangers are relevant to husband-as-protector, but damage created by a husband’s harshness can be the most prevalent. The reality is, if nothing brings more joy to a wife than a husband’s love, nothing brings more pain than a husband’s harshness. The power of love must be stewarded well in order to be a blessing.

We will consider four types of protection a husband should provide for his wife and family.

1. Physical Danger: While this is the rarest opportunity to protect, a wife should have no doubts that her husband would sacrifice his own safety and life if hers were in danger.

2. Relational Danger: Parents, children, nor anyone else should be allowed to dishonor your wife without you engaging in a respectful but firm confrontation. A wife should have every confidence that her husband will speak with self-control (2 Timothy 2:24-26). A husband’s response in protecting his wife should not become a reason to fear.

3. Redemptive Safety: How a husband responds to his wife’s sin and non-moral failures is also part of his protective role. Shame and condemnation are not acceptable tools for a Christian husband to use. A wife should feel like she is interacting with Jesus when she talks to her husband. That is the whole point of Ephesians 5:25-33.

“The Bible does not permit men to be uninvolved, disinterested, intentionally deaf, or selfishly blind. Headship requires the husband actively (and graciously) to work for the physical and spiritual well-being of each person in the family. A husband’s passivity can lead to cycles of abuse. A common pattern in abusive marriages is long periods of male passivity interspersed with brief episodes of rage (p. 31).” Bryan Chappell in Each for the Other

4. Atmosphere of Safety: A husband protects his family when he leads in establishing a positive, uplifting tone for his household. Protecting is about more than how we respond to danger or failure. Protection also includes creating an atmosphere of rest and encouragement that strengthens one’s family.

Other examples of how a husband serves as shepherd of his family:

  • Invite your wife and children to really know you and your struggles to serve as a model of a growing disciple.
  • Be the example of saying “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” to your family and modeling patient repentance.
  • Be quick to forgive and evidence a restored relationship when your family asks for forgiveness.
  • Initiate meaningful family traditions that teach and reinforce family values and identity.

Quality Three: Man of Understanding

Read I Peter 3:7. Peter is clear that if you won’t honor your wife by lovingly listening to her, God won’t listen to you. Your access to the strength necessary to do what God calls a husband to do will be blocked. God is that serious about husbands understanding their wives – because husbands represent God’s concern for the church to the world. Practically, it is impossible to fulfill the other aspects of headship when you are not continually learning your wife.

The mission of every husband is to be the Ph.D.-level expert on his wife. As you seek to serve your wife, you need to know what is most meaningful to her. As you seek to shepherd your wife, you need to know her areas of gifting and struggle. As you seek to serve as protector, you need to know your wife’s fears and insecurities. A Christian husband must know (i.e., be continually learning) his wife!

Examples of being a man of understanding:

  • Asking questions to understand your wife’s emotions and responses to events; never mocking these emotions.
  • Knowing and acting upon how your wife best receives love.
  • Observing what other people draw out in your wife.
  • Paying attention to your wife’s schedule and life demands.


What summarizes these three responsibilities of a husband? Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Servant-leading, shepherding, and understanding are different angles of considering what it means to love your wife like Jesus loves the church.

The danger of discussing the role of a husband in terms of a job description is that it comes across as a to-do list instead of a person to-be. Remember, being a husband is not a skill set to master, but Christlikeness to embrace. When we forget this, we start keeping track of our “streak” or how long we’ve “been good.”

This leads to pride (“My streak is longer than my spouse’s streak”) or despair (“I’ll never be able to keep this up”). We are a good husband in the same way that we are a good Christian – moment by moment dependence upon Christ. The law (or, in this case, job description) is meant to remind us of our dependence upon Christ, not train us to be independent from Christ. Husbands, we lead our family not only by what we do, but by the example of whose strength we do it in!