This post is a testimony of a father’s experience with the pressures of male leadership as a Christian man, told through his daughter’s eyes. In light of the theme for this month, “Headship” and Father’s Day, this column provides a much-needed snapshot of the consequences of “headship” and masculinity expectations on Christian men whose gifts lie outside of leadership.
Growing up, I watched both of my parents exercise their gifts, alternatively flourishing and struggling with the expectations of society and the church for husbands, wives, and parents. My mom would be considered the spiritual leader of the family—she is always quick to share what God is teaching her with the rest of us. My dad, on the other hand, is supportive, more inclined to listen to others than speak out himself. He is quiet and more comfortable following than leading. As a child, I thought this was perfectly normal. All that mattered to me was that my parents positively influenced me, loved me, and cared for me.
I didn’t realize until much later that both of my parents had struggled with their gifts or lack thereof. They were both told that they were doing something that they weren’t supposed to or that they weren’t fulfilling the expectations of their gender. My father told me that he felt guilty about not being the spiritual leader in our family. He believed that he had failed his wife and children in letting my mom take on that role and not doing it himself.
When my family discovered the freedom of biblical equality, everything changed. We learned from Scripture that God created husbands and wives to enjoy equal partnerships in marriage and family—and that gender doesn’t dictate giftedness for leadership. As a result, God healed my dad from the guilt he experienced because he did not possess a gift for leadership.
Spiritual gifts are not gender specific. Both men and women can exercise and flourish in many diverse gifts. Because my dad stepped outside of the box of male leadership, he was able to cultivate the God-given abilities that made him valuable and unique. He can now be confident that in Christ, men and women are more than the boxes that society and the church tries to put them in.
I have watched my dad grow from a person striving hopelessly for a gift he simply did not have, to a man who fully embraced the amazing gifts that he was given.
My dad is a really good listener. He is always willing to listen to whatever I have to say on any given subject and will be interested in it, just because I am. He never interrupts or tries to fix me or my situation. Instead, he offers gentle correction and comfort when it’s needed.
My dad is an unfailing supporter. He emboldens me to do whatever I am interested in and supports all of my endeavors. He recently shared his own college experience with me. He had wanted to study environmental science, because he loves nature, the environment, and being outdoors. However, he was advised by teachers not to go into that field, because it would be unprofitable. So, he decided to study ornamental horticulture instead, because it still involved being outdoors, but was a more profitable business. Looking back, he wishes he had stuck with what he wanted to do even though people pressured him to pursue other gifts.
My dad is also a gifted teacher. Using his gift for teaching and passion for science, he fostered a spirit of curiosity in his children. Without his passion for science, I would not love, enjoy, and appreciate science and nature as much as I do now. Nor would I find pleasure in knowing random facts: tomatoes and eggplants are true berries and strawberries and raspberries are aggregate fruits (fun fact). I also wouldn’t know that that the Norfolk Island pine really isn’t a pine tree at all, and it’s only relation is a tree called the Monkey Puzzle. I learned these things because my dad takes such joy in teaching. His passion for knowledge and teaching others demonstrates the spirit’s true intention for gifts—that they be used and cultivated, regardless of gender.
The idea that a man always has to be the spiritual leader in the family is proven false by my own life experience. My father may not have a gift for leadership, but he serves God faithfully as a listener, teacher, and supporter. Truly, God is best served by a family that follows him in faith and humility, offering up their very best gifts for kingdom work. I have never experienced any deprivation of spiritual teaching, support, or love by my family. Both of my parents have learned to use their God-given gifts to glorify God. I am so thankful today that they disregarded the limitations placed on them to pursue God and their own gifts freely.