Godly Leaders Go First

by Joe Fant

silhouette of people walking on a hill with one leading the way

Life is filled with paradoxes. For instance, in this current fad of minimalism perhaps you have heard the anecdote, less is more. Or perhaps while reading Tolkien’s masterpiece, “The Return of the King,” you are struck with Frodo’s statement after throwing the ring into Mount Doom, “Well, this is the end, Sam Gamgee,” only to realize it was in fact the beginning of the end because the book still had 250 pages to go. If you are a fan of poetry, you will know the paradoxical statements, “I can resist anything but temptation,” and, “men work together whether they work together or apart,” by Wilde and Frost respectively.

The title of this article may seem to be a paradoxical statement as well: godly leaders should go first. If you know the Scriptures or were raised in church, this statement seems incredulous. As parents seeking to follow Scripture we strive to teach our children to serve and prefer others first.

This reveals itself in our house whenever one of our children is running late to a get into the line for ice cream or some sort of treat. More often than not the Scripture quotation from Matthew 20 resounds in the house, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last!”

As a dad who also serves as a pastor, my first inclination is to correct their errant interpretation of this phrase and help them understand that, in context, this is not referring to being in line for ice cream bars. Matthew 20:16 is Jesus contrasting earthly privileges and Kingdom privileges.

As a result of my Bible lesson, I receive blank and confused stares from my four precious hermeneuticians.

Even though their Scripture quoting was out of context, my kids weren’t wrong in principle. Other passages of Scripture clearly teach that biblical leadership should seek to serve others, prefer others, and outdo each other in showing brotherly love and affection (Philippians 2:1–4, Romans 12:10, I Corinthians 10:24, etc.). This often entails letting others go first or allowing someone else to be in the preferred place.

Godly leadership often involves being last. For years on end, I watched my dad be the last one at church as he chose to be the one to lock up the building and turn off the lights so others in the congregation could go directly home for lunch or beat the Methodists and Presbyterians to the buffet. I watched my parents provide what we needed as their children before even thinking about their own needs.

As a father who is seeking to grow more like Jesus every day, my goal would be to emulate the testimony of Christ and look to others’ interest and not just my own (Philippians 2:4). However, I am convinced of several areas in which, if I desire to be a godly leader, I must always go first:

1. Godly leaders should be the first to serve.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” (Mark 10:45)

As the leader of my home, I should set the example of being the first to step up to the sink after dinner and begin washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen. I should be the first to offer to be the calming influence when a child calls out in the night after waking up from a nightmare. I should be the first to serve others rather than reluctantly serving after all other options have been exhausted.

Lead your family by being the first to serve.

2. Godly leaders should be the first to forgive and resolve conflict.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

We all have been there. Your relationship with your spouse, your parents, or your children is on the fritz. Maybe you are the cause, or maybe they are the ones who have sinned against you. You know the signs…conversations are awkward, eye contact is nonexistent, text messages are short and insensitive…avoid personal contact at all costs!

What do you do? Do you wade into the waters of conflict and kindly take the first step to pursue reconciliation, or do you wait for someone else to step out first?

One of your children comes home from school and you can feel the tension in the air. Do you lean into that situation and pursue your child’s heart or do you keep your distance and hope everything will be better in an hour?

You can tell your wife has had a hard day…do you keep your distance or do you lovingly lean into the hurt with a hug and a question?

Lead your family by being the first one to pursue reconciliation and resolve conflict.

3. Godly leaders should be the first to talk about God.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)

The drive for a consistent and simple family devotion time should come from the father. He should provide this example of leadership in his home by being the one to keep the Bible time a priority.

The husband should be the first to initiate spiritual conversations with his wife. This doesn’t mean that they have to read a book together or must share their own personal worship time, but conversations about what personal spiritual struggles and growth should be the norm.

In general, the dad needs to lead his family by being the initiator of the spiritual activities of your home. Lead your family by being the tuning fork for the spiritual tone of the family.

4. Godly leaders should be the first to get out of bed

Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:2–3)

I know you may not see this as an overtly spiritual activity, but I believe that the father should set the expectation in the house that early morning times are Bible reading times. They should demonstrate a desperate need for God and His Word with the start of each new day.

About ten years ago my wife and I made the decision to become morning people. We invested in a good coffee maker, identified a specific place in our house where we wanted to park ourselves in the morning, then made a habit of getting up early to read and study the Bible. Of all the habits we have formed as a couple, this has been the most life changing.

Fathers need to set the example of what personal discipline looks like. On a regular basis, he needs to be the model of self-control and discipline by getting out of bed and into the Word. You need the Word. Your family knows you need the Word, so lead them effectively by getting out of bed early to be in the Word. This reveals to them your spiritual priority.

5. Godly leaders should be the first to say “I love you”.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)

This past year I was challenged by a dear friend and mentor to go out of my way to say to my family members, “I love you.” Even further, the challenge was to include the name of the person at the end. I was used to saying the phrase, “I love you,” but it is amazing how much more personal this statement becomes when I say to my wife, “I love you, Becky.”

I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face when I knelt down, for no apparent reason, and said, “I love you, Shiloh.” His eyes immediately locked onto mine and he gave me the biggest smile. He had heard me say, “I love you,” thousands of times before, but this time was different. Including his name made all the difference. Including his name made it personal.

Words matter. The words of godly leaders can make or break someone’s day. Be the first one to use your words to build up.

Kingdom priorities require all dads to pursue being godly leaders. Will you be first in these areas? Will you take leadership?

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