Manage Your Household Well
The Tragedy of Distracted Dads and Pastors
The gratuitously distracted, and often unexamined, lives of modern unmarried men can be concerning enough. Then the seriousness of the problem rises higher when we say, “I do.” And even more when we bring children into the world.
One of the greatest needs wives and children have — and all the more in our relentlessly distracting age — is dad’s countercultural attentiveness. Perhaps human attention never has been more valuable. Today the largest corporations in the world no longer compete for oil, but for human attention. And when attention is short and scarce, one of the greatest emerging tragedies of this new era is distracted dads.
And in the church, its digital-age analog: distracted pastors.
Qualification for Christian Men
“He must manage his own household well.” The risen Christ, through his apostle Paul, requires as much of any officer in the church, whether pastor or deacon (1 Timothy 3:4–5, 12). As is plain from the rest of the leadership qualifications, however, these traits aren’t meant to set leaders apart from the congregation, but to make them “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3) of every Christian’s calling. Christ means for these attributes to be true of us all, and so it is essential that they be modeled, at minimum, in the leadership. By extension, Christ means for every dad to “manage his own household well.”
“Before and beneath God’s call that we care for our households, and for his church, is his care for us.”
This qualification to “manage his own household well” forges a special relationship, among the other requirements, between church leadership and domestic husbanding and fathering. Why must a pastor be one who manages his household well? “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household,” Paul reasons, “how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5). Such caring attentiveness is at the heart of pastoring — keeping watch (1 Timothy 4:16; Hebrews 13:17) and paying careful attention (Acts 20:28) — and at the heart of fathering.
Learning to be a Christian man goes in both directions: pastors first learn to lead at home, and fathers learn from the pastors to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:2) of their own household. On-duty lifeguards shouldn’t be hypnotized by a smartphone. Nor shepherds watching over their flocks. And if such is the case for sheep, how much more should a father keep watch, and fight distraction, for the sake of his wife and children?
His Own Household
Twice in 1 Timothy 3:4–5 Paul says “his own household,” not just “household.” In doing so, he implies a distinction between the man’s household and the church, which is God’s household (1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 2:19; 1 Peter 4:17). Pastors are household managers of God’s household, and being called to such, they must manage their own households ably as a prerequisite.
Our families, then, are our first pastorates. If our families are being led poorly — exposing certain deep faults in our leadership, whether inattentiveness or simple inability — it doesn’t make sense to make us leaders in the church and multiply the effects of those same faults in God’s family. Glaring gaps in domestic leadership need not extend to the church. Besides, if our family already needs more of us, better not to take even more of dad’s attention away from the home.
Even on the other side of ordination, as Thabiti Anyabwile comments, “Paul warns against men who could be too preoccupied with the affairs of the church and too little occupied with what’s going on under their own roof.” One’s own household, then, is a testing ground, and an ongoing test, for leading in the church.
How Does He ‘Manage’?
What, then, does it mean for a man to “manage his household well”? Elsewhere in the New Testament “manage” (proistēmi) can be translated “lead” (Romans 12:8) or “rule over” (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17). Such leading, for one, requires attentiveness, and rules out negligence. God calls fathers and pastors alike to be, at minimum, responsive to the needs of those in their charge.
“Our families are our first pastorates.”
But “leading” also implies more than mere responsiveness. Leadership involves a measure (indeed, increasing measures) of initiative and proactivity. Good initiative progresses over time, rather than regresses, on the spectrum from mere responsiveness toward proactivity. Leadership entails “being out ahead” mentally and emotionally: thinking ahead, planning ahead, taking initiative.
Christian leadership, then, is formed and shaped by the example of Christ, who did not “lord it over” his people but gave his own life for their eternal good (Mark 10:42–45). So also we fathers and pastors must not be domineering with our God-given authority, but gentle. We use it for building up, not tearing down (2 Corinthians 13:10). Not for selfish, private ends but self-sacrificially, for the good of the whole household.
Good fathers, and good pastors, habitually choose to inconvenience themselves for the sake of their flocks, rather than presuming on what feels most personally convenient. They bear the cost themselves for the gain of the household, rather than angle for personal gain, whatever it might cost the family.
Take Care of Your Home
We do have another verb in 1 Timothy 3:5 that helps explain what Paul has in mind by “manage” in this context: “care” (epimedeomai). “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” God calls fathers and pastors to care for their flocks, which confirms the Christ-shaped vision of Mark 10:42–45.
The only other place in the New Testament where this verb for “care” appears is (twice) in the parable of the good Samaritan:
He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” (Luke 10:34–35)
This kind of taking care of others — with energy and gentleness, strength and compassion, diligence and love — is at the heart of what it means for dads and pastors to manage their households. Not just as the Good Samaritan did in the parable, but as the one to whom the parable points (Jesus) did in his life and leadership.
What Does ‘Well’ Mean?
What, then, does it mean for a man to manage the household well? Oh, the apostolic brilliance of that qualifier! To some, it may sound like a low bar. Just “well!” To some, “well” may seem like welcome leniency. To others, however, it’s a glimpse of grace, and a reason for hope.
“One of the greatest needs wives and children have, and all the more in our relentlessly distracting age, is dad’s attentiveness.”
While the qualifier “well” does provide a gracious subjective element, the objective facet must not be lost on us: overall fruitfulness, not failure, in leading at home. “Well” emphatically does not mean perfection, but it does mean something. The man’s leading should be fruitful and improving. Not perfect, but not floundering either. Of course, overall healthy and productive households have their moments, even days on end, of chaos and floundering and failure, rather than perceived fruitfulness. Those who lead well, though, recognize the strain, renew their attentiveness, make a plan, and respond by giving more of themselves to relieve burdens and patiently restore harmony.
However low of a bar “well” may sound to some ears, the wise and godly man (as with the other elder attributes) will not take a minimalist approach to his own household but regularly evaluate what can be better. Leading at home, or in the church, is not something any man gets on top of for good. Busy households, when unkept, tend toward disorder. Active households, like living sheep, incline toward chaos and need the regular attention and investment of the shepherd, not semi-regular checkups.
And with the addition of children — and growth of children into more and more activities and levels of awareness and responsibility — the kind of energy and attention that were adequate in previous seasons no longer proves sufficient. Over time, especially in young adulthood, the demands of fathering increase, not decrease. Managing a household well is not static but ever changing, and changing in such a way that it demands more, not less, from dad.
Managing Different Relationships
Typical households include wife and children (and sometimes others), as well as material possessions. Taking care of the inanimate stuff is the easiest aspect of managing. Caring well for people is the most challenging. However, managing the materials is important, and not to be neglected. Certain men gravitate toward or away from dealing adequately with the stuff, or from caring well for the people. We each have personal penchants to identify and necessary adjustments to make.
But leading a household is first and foremost about taking care of people.
For (and with) His Wife
The first and most important person in a man’s household is his wife — and he feels a unique tension (and privilege) in caring well for her. On the one hand, she is a member of the household and deserving of his greatest attention and care and emotional provision and investment. On the other hand, she is his co-manager. According to Paul, a Christian man is not the lone master of his domain. Married women also “manage their households” (1 Timothy 5:14).
Dad has an associate, “a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18), for whom he thinks and cares in fundamentally different ways than the children. A good manager treats his co-manager differently than the other workers under his leadership. God did not design Christian households to be mini-monarchies where the husband rules as king, with his wife as his subject. Rather, she is the queen, and together they “manage” the household, even as he carries a unique burden of leadership and owes his co-manager a special kind of care.
For the husband, being “head” in his home doesn’t center on his enjoying the greatest privileges, but on shouldering the greatest burdens. Being head means going ahead, in conflict, and being first to apologize. It means taking initiative when no one else wants to. It means treating his co-manager with unrelenting kindness, even when she’s less than kind. It means exercising true strength, by inconveniencing himself to secure her good, rather than serving himself by presuming on her. And, of course, it includes vigilance in being a “one-woman man” utterly committed in mind, heart, and body to his one wife.
For His Children
After his wife, and with her, a Christian man takes care of his children. In 1 Timothy 3:4, the phrase “with all dignity” modifies “keeping his children submissive.” There are dignified and undignified ways to raise submissive children.
Domineering and heavy-handedness are both undignified and ruled out by the nature of Christian management and care-taking. Even if abusive fathering remains hidden from the public eye for years, it will catch up with a man as his children become adults and realize what he was doing. God means for fathers to teach and train his children with dignity — in a respectable way, appropriately engendering respect from his children, and his wife, in how he treats them, even at their worst moments. Paul captures the heart of it in one stunning sentence: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Not only are children different than a wife, but also children have their various stages. In partnership with their mother, dignified fathering will take that into account and adapt accordingly.
Does an Unbelieving Child Disqualify an Elder?
All of this raises a perennial question: How submissive must a pastor’s children be to not disqualify him from office? Or, more to the point, must a pastor’s children be professing believers for the pastor to be qualified for office?
Clearly, 1 Timothy 3:4–5 makes no such requirement, but some (understandably) stumble over the language of Titus 1:6: “his children are believers.” That way of translating the Greek (pista) makes it sound like they must indeed be (at least) professing Christians. However, we should note the same word is translated “faithful” elsewhere, depending on context (to give a sense of the balance, in 45 of the 67 instances in the New Testament, the ESV translates pista as “faithful”). The context in Titus is clear enough. Not only does the companion list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 highlight submission, not regeneration, but what immediately follows in Titus 1:6 also clarifies: “his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.”
“Good fathers, and good pastors, habitually choose to inconvenience themselves for the sake of their flocks.”
Paul also adds further explanation in the next verse: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach” (Titus 1:7). The issue here is not the eternal state of the child’s soul, but the nature of the elder’s fathering. Is he “above reproach”? Does the child’s behavior betray faults in his father’s leadership or not? Quite apart from whether the child is unbelieving or not (something the elder cannot control), is the child “faithful” to his father, in a way that good fathering can, in fact, secure? (For more on this question, Justin Taylor gives five reasons for this view in response to the question, “Does an Unbelieving Child Disqualify an Elder?”)
Child-rearing, done well, requires attending to countless and seemingly ceaseless needs. Often a father has his wife at his side, and together, as they share the burdens, the work becomes lighter and feels freshly doable. But where does a man turn when his wife already carries as much as God means for her to bear? She is his co-manager, but he is the head. And God designed men to bear the final burden and carry the greatest weights, even and especially when they are too great for his wife to shoulder with him.
Who Cares for Dad?
Dads, God means for us to frequently come to the end of ourselves and learn what it means to lean on him and, in faith, keep moving. In the moments when we most soberingly feel the weight of being the buckstopper at home, or in the church, he wants us to know that we ourselves have a Father, and that he does not call us to pretend to be the hero in our own strength, but to ask for his help, lean on him, and roll our burdens onto his shoulders. Both pastor-elders and husband-fathers need the solace and blessing of 1 Peter 5:6–7:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Before and beneath God’s call that we care for our households, and for his church, is his care for us. Before he says to us as fathers and pastors, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), he first is the Good Samaritan to us. He comes to us, binds our wounds, pours out his own precious oil and wine, picks us up off the ground, brings us to the inn, and takes care of us (Luke 10:34), at great cost to himself, and with a promise to return (Luke 10:35).
Rightly was it said about Jesus, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). Surely such is the case with his household, and bride, the church. He has and does manage his household well, and that is our great comfort not just if, but when we feel inadequate, even in our best efforts, to manage our own households well.