He was a smiling young pastor, fresh out of seminary with vision and ideas. His preaching was clear, true to Scripture, and practical. The church felt blessed to have him. There was one problem. His children were out of control, and everybody knew it. A few of the elders tried to say something, but he wouldn’t listen to any suggestions. “Kids will be kids,” he said. The church realized they’d never examined his home life. They regretted this oversight when other leadership issues inevitably came to light.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul lists qualities for church leaders. He doesn’t focus on talents but on character qualities. In the list, we find these words: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4–5). This same quality is necessary for deacons (1 Tim. 3:12), and when we look at the elder qualities in Titus 1, household management is prominent.
However, when I survey young pastors and ask, “Do you manage your household well?” I hear answers like, “I don’t know” or “I hope so.” Why this disconnect between what Scripture clearly prescribes and our own understanding? Would we tolerate the same fuzziness on other qualities like being argumentative, a drunkard, or greedy? Recovering the importance of these passages will elevate our homes and our churches.
Challenge from the Beginning
It’s easy to skip over 1 Timothy 3 if you’re not a pastor or aspiring pastor. Yet these qualities are for everyone.
It’s easy to skip over the passage if you’re not a pastor. Yet these qualities are for everyone.
Every Christian should pursue each character quality Paul outlines. That includes managing our households well. Current leaders, aspiring leaders, and even young women (1 Tim. 5:14) are to keep a watchful eye over their families. Why would Paul make home leadership an aspect of godliness?
The idea of ruling well was inaugurated at the beginning of time. Adam and Eve were created to manage and rule over creation (Gen. 1:28). We, as their offspring and God’s image-bearers, are also given that mandate. This ruling and oversight will not stop but continue for all eternity in the new creation: the redeemed “will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). From the first chapter of the Bible to the last, God made men and women to rule and manage. Part of our sanctification is growing in that ability.
The first domain we’re to oversee is our homes.
What Managing Well Doesn’t Mean
Let’s be clear on what managing our households well doesn’t imply.
This phrase doesn’t mean our homes are always serene and problem free. Anyone who manages people should expect complications. Sinners leading sinners always have issues.
It also doesn’t mean a leader’s children must all be believers. Many have argued this based on a misunderstanding of Titus 1:6, but this wrong understanding adds salt to the wound of the parent with a prodigal, and it should be rejected. Titus 1:6 is a restatement of 1 Timothy 3:4–5; the best translation is not believing children but faithful children. The power to change hearts belongs to the Holy Spirit, and no parent can grant saving faith to their child.
What Managing Well Does Mean
Now let’s turn our attention to what the qualification does mean. Paul focuses on one aspect of parenting: “With all dignity keeping his children submissive.”
Keep your children submissive? That’s certainly offensive to 21st-century ears. Should we gloss over Paul’s unenlightened and backward view of parenting?
On the contrary, it’s we who have it backward. In Ephesians 6:1–3, God commands children to obey and honor their parents. Training for obedience doesn’t suppress our children, rather it pleases the Lord (Col. 3:20) and will result in life going well with them. Titus 1:6 states the same principle in different words. The overseer is to have faithful children who aren’t wild and disobedient. Unlike Eli or David, he takes action to correct his children (1 Sam. 3:13; 1 Kings 1:6).
But Paul states not only the result of leadership but also the manner: “with all dignity.” Perhaps this is better translated “without losing your dignity.” Or as the NIV translates it, “worthy of full respect.” In other words, the father-overseer has submissive children without losing his cool. He’s comfortable exercising his authority but isn’t an oppressive dictator using fear to control his children. He leads with authority and affection.
He isn’t an oppressive dictator using fear to control his children. He leads with authority and affection.
As John Stott writes, “Although pastoral ministry is a servant ministry characterized by gentleness, a certain authority is also attached to it. One cannot expect discipline in a local church if pastors have not learned to exercise discipline in their home.”
A dad who leads this way is obvious. His children love being with him and he loves being with them. And yet he’s still their dad. Appropriate to his kids’ ages, he is mindful he’s been charged by God to train them and instruct them to maturity. He takes the lead to make sure they’re obedient to their parents’ directives.
Grow Your Skills
How can we grow in this aspect of our sanctification?
1. Ask your wife. Start by bringing your colaborer into the picture. Does she think you’re leading well? Does she wish you’d be less passive? Or does she worry that you’re overbearing and micromanaging?
2. Ask your children. Older children can be brutally honest. They observe and have opinions. Ask them if there are ways you can grow.
3. Don’t expect perfection. Instead, assess if your children are on a trajectory toward obedience. As the leaders, we’re responsible for the atmosphere of the home. We should expect our children to obey us because God commands it. But we aren’t surprised when our children disobey us because they’re sinful. Since there’s sin in every heart, a godly father will receive problems in the home as personal training assignments from the Lord.
If we recover the importance of this qualification, we’ll recover the priority of godly living in the home. But just as important, we’ll be developing ministry leaders with a vital quality that’s sorely missing—experiential wisdom. How many young pastors graduate from seminary with a load of biblical knowledge but only a little relational wisdom? Both are needed to lead God’s household. The home is where we learn relational leadership wisdom, and it’s the first place we display it to the glory of God.