Leadership starts at home. The Scriptures certainly describe leadership that way, especially when it comes to determining who is and is not qualified to lead in the context of the local church. From the earliest days of Christianity, leaders have been called upon to fill a variety of job descriptions, including teachers, deacons, pastors, and elders. The skills and abilities needed for each role vary depending upon the assignment. But every “applicant” has to demonstrate the capacity to lead. How? By earning a reputation as one who has effectively led at home.

Consider the job qualifications detailed by the apostle Paul in letters written to a couple of first-century hiring supervisors. Timothy and Titus were both trying to appoint church leaders. Paul listed several items every applicant’s resume had to include, such as being “the husband of one wife” and “rul[ing] his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence” (1 Timothy 3:2–4, NKJV).

Why? Because, in Paul’s words, “if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5, NKJV).

Paul even told Pastor Timothy to meddle in marriages by expecting leaders’ wives to be “reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11, NKJV).

Did the early church actually hold husbands and wives accountable for the behavior of their spouses? Not exactly. It did, however, understand the home as the primary context for spiritual formation.The church wanted leaders who could model with integrity God’s intent for marriage and family life. Great leaders embody, not merely teach, what they believe.

As we understand these passages, Paul recognized that “two become one” when married and that both enter into a leadership role as a single, united team. Both man and wife were expected to model godly character and to uphold the priority of home if either was going to effectively lead.

A bit extreme? Not really. If McDonalds requires employees to wear uniforms before they can sell burgers, isn’t it reasonable to expect those leading Christ’s bride to model the beauty of marriage?

Raising the bar further still, Paul advised Titus to seek those who had “faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination” (Titus 1:6, NKJV). So not only were husband and wife taken as a single unit, the kids also got lumped into the “qualifications” package.

It is important to say that God’s grace is the epicenter of the gospel. The early church did not expect a solid home in order to alienate or condemn those with imperfect families. Quite the opposite. They wanted to redeem troubled homes.

How would an orphaned world understand a loving heavenly Father if they never saw an earthly father laying down his life for his wife and children? How could they grasp what it meant to be the pure bride of Christ if they’d only known the mutual shame of temple prostitution? Church leadership meant more than describing the gospel. It also meant allowing the Word to become flesh and blood in the context of one’s marriage and family, in the process restoring a lost masterpiece intended to reveal the very heart and character of God. No wonder the primary qualification for leading at church was leading well at home.

We can take a lesson from the early church. They understood something we too quickly forget, that leading at home is an essential means of maturing and refining men and women for wider influence. Home is the first and most consistent context in which we prove ourselves worthy and make ourselves ready. That’s why we call leading at home the proving ground of success.

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