What does it mean to be a man?

In the last article (March 1, 2018), I began to answer that question by pointing out the differences between men and women and identifying the things that make men unique. I ended by saying that God calls men to be leaders.

I showed, briefly, that this idea of men as leaders is biblical. I pointed to the fact that, in the beginning, God made the man first. He created Adam to be the head of the human race and the king of the creation. The woman was created after the man, out of the man, and for the man (I Cor. 11:8-9). I also pointed to passages that show that the man is to be the head and leader of his wife (Eph. 5:23) and a leader in the church (I Cor. 14:34-35; I Tim. 2:11-14).

In this article I want to spell out in detail the idea of male leadership. I want to answer the question, “What does the Bible say about being a leader?”

Dangerous ditches

If, like me, you live in an area blanketed by snow for a quarter of the year, you probably know a thing or two about ditches. The likelihood is pretty high that at some point you have slid off the road and into one of these deep trenches that line the road. When the snow is flying, the wind is blowing, and the temperature hovers in the single digits, the ditch is not a place you want to be.

Such is the case spiritually as well. Lurking on either side of the straight and narrow way are dangerous ditches that must be avoided. The area of male leadership is no exception.

On one side of the road there is what we can call the ditch of indifference. Resting there are weak, lazy men who have no interest in being real leaders. They are more than happy to allow the women in their lives to take the steering wheel, provide direction, and assume the role of leader. Being a leader requires too much energy and puts them out of their comfort zone, so at best they make a feeble attempt at leadership and at worst do not give it a moment’s notice. This kind of man has a Slinky for a spiritual spinal cord.

God save us from the ditch of indifference!

But there is another ditch on the other side of the road that must be avoided as well. We can call this the ditch of domineering. Far from being weak and indifferent, the men in this ditch are proud, controlling, heavy-handed dictators. Their philosophy of leadership is simple: “I’m the boss, and you’re not. You do what I say, and don’t give me any lip. When I tell you to jump, you say, ‘How high?’” The steel rod that they have for a backbone serves also as the scepter clenched in their iron fist.

This second theory of leadership is what is commonly promoted in the world. Today people seem to have a fixation on the subject of leadership. There is no end of self-help books, websites, and blog posts devoted to turning you into a leader. And the ideal leader, in their mind, is a strong, assertive individual. This man has big dreams, and is not going to let anyone stand in the way of his attaining them.

Sadly, a similar line of thought can be found in the church. Some wrongly interpret the biblical idea of headship as meaning a man has supreme authority to do whatever he wants. He has a dim view of women as weak, emotional creatures whose sole purpose is to serve his needs and desires.

This thinking might be due in part to a wrong understanding of Genesis 3:16: “Unto the woman [God] said…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” What God is saying here is that now after the Fall the woman will have to deal with a sinful husband who at times will abuse his headship and be cruel and unloving and domineering. While the passage acknowledges that this will happen after the Fall, this in no way gives men the license to abuse their headship. Any appeal to this passage in support of a domineering man is wrong.

God save us from the ditch of domineering!

The road less traveled

Having identified the ditches into which so many fall, we can now lay out the path of biblical male leadership. There are two main things we can say about genuine leadership.

First, and obviously, leaders lead.

A spiritual leader is someone who charts the course for others. Think of a sergeant in the army. He gives direction to the troops under him and makes important decisions in the heat of battle. Or think of the captain of a basketball team. The rest of the team looks to him for direction when key decisions have to be made.

The calling to be a spiritual leader involves instructing. The Reformed “Marriage Form” says that the calling of a husband is to “lead [his wife] with discretion” and this includes “instructing.” To be a leader, a man must be a teacher. He does not have to have a teaching degree and does not even have to go to college, but he must be concerned about helping others grow. This might happen in more formal settings, but usually this will be in informal situations. A leader does not want those who look up to him to follow blindly and mindlessly, but he wants them to do so knowledgably.

One of the main ways that he teaches is by his own example. Think again of the army sergeant. He is not a general locked away in his office moving pieces around on a map, but he is down in the trenches leading by his own example. Or the team captain. He leads by example: diving on the floor for loose balls, being the first one to practice, and staying late to get in extra shots. A strong leader is willing to go where he wants his followers to go.

Being a leader also involves the responsibility of protection. Again, the “Marriage Form” includes in the calling to lead the importance of “protecting.” A man leads others by protecting them. When another person is physically threatened, he does not shy away but steps forward to protect. He protects the name of others from being slandered and dragged through the mud. He also is concerned about protecting others spiritually from sin and temptation. He does not want to lead others into temptation, but wants to do all in his power to keep them from sin and encourage them in their walk with God.

Included with being a leader is the necessity of being a decision-maker. Making important decisions can be a terrifying thing, and it is so easy to freeze in that moment. But a leader knows that he is ultimately responsible for making wise decisions for those under his care. This does not mean that he makes every decision and always does what he wants.

A good leader values the input and advice of others and will allow others the freedom to make decisions. But he knows that ultimately he must bear the responsibility for those decisions. A good leader is also someone who recognizes the gifts in others. He does not despise those who are under him, or belittle them to assert his superiority. He sees their gifts and values them. As a leader, he wants to encourage them to see their gifts and to put those gifts to good use. He wants to mobilize the strength of others.

I hope you can see that these ideas will apply to different men in different circumstances in different ways. The relationship between a single man and his female friends will be different from the relationship between a married man and his wife. The specific responsibility of a man toward the women in his life will differ according to the nature of their relationship. What I am laying out here is the general pattern of leadership. I hope in future articles to see how this applies in different situations. For now, the general point is this: Leaders first must lead.

In the second place, a leader must be a servant.

I can imagine you are thinking, “Hang on! Did I read that right? Leaders must be servants? That doesn’t make any sense!”

The idea of leaders being servants certainly is a radical idea. It goes against the grain of the natural mind. When the world talks about being a leader, they paint a picture of someone who is self-seeking, pushy, and aggressive. If you suggest that a leader is a servant, they would laugh you out of the room.

But this road less-traveled, this radical, counter-cultural idea of leadership is what God clearly teaches us in His Word.

Jesus taught this to His disciples on a number of occasions. He had to correct their thinking about leadership too. On one occasion, the mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom” (Matt. 20:21). When the other disciples heard about what she did, they were angry with James and John. Jesus saw this and called them all together and said, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (vv. 25-27).

A similar thing happened when Jesus was gathered with His disciples in the upper room for the last Passover. Before they ate, they were supposed to wash their feet. Since they wore open sandals and walked on dirty, unpaved roads, their feet were usually in need of a good scrub. And this was typically the work of the lowliest servant in the house. But when the disciples were gathered together, there was no servant to wash their feet. And they were not about to get down on their knees and take the smelly feet of another in their hands. But when Jesus saw this, He took the bowl of water and a towel, stooped down, took the dirty feet of His disciples in His hands, and performed the work of a servant in washing their feet. When He was done, He rebuked them, “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:12-15).

Jesus is our example here. He “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). He who is God “made himself of no reputation,” “took upon him the form of a servant,” and “humbled himself” (Phil. 2:6-8). And the calling to us is: “Let this mind be in you” (v. 5).

If our Lord came to serve, then all in positions of leadership must see themselves as servants. As a leader, a man is not concerned first and foremost with himself. Life does not revolve around him and his desires. But he views himself as a servant whose first concern is for others and their well-being. He always has the best interests of others in his heart.

He exercises all the responsibilities entrusted to him as a servant. He instructs others, as a servant. He leads by example, as a servant. He protects, as a servant. He makes important decisions, as a servant. He mobilizes the strengths of others, as a servant.

This point cannot be stressed enough: Leaders are servants!

This is what the church so urgently needs: Mature men who are servant-leaders!

God, give us men who lead! As servants!