family-40370_1280Many of you know that for several years I’ve taught a weekly parenting class at Bridgehaven.  I love exploring effective parenting principles and techniques with these delightful moms and dads, many of whom are first-time parents!

This past Monday we talked about two of the most foundational questions pertaining to family life — Who’s in charge of the home? and How is leadership expressed?

Note: this post is long because it represents an hour-long classroom discussion.  But I post it here because it sets a paradigm for good parental leadership…

There are essentially three ways to lead families.  Let’s consider the realities, the problems, and the long-term outcomes of each, for parents as well as kids.


The Authoritarian style of parenting is where the parents act as dictators, controlling everything in the family.  Its mantras are “Because I said so!” and “It’s my way or the high way.”  It uses the Bible verse: “Children obey your parents” as a club.

The Problem.  These parents have abused their God-given responsibility for leading their household.  Although the parents are being decisive and fully engaged, this style of parenting represents an abuse of power.  It devalues the rest of the family and makes them subservient — the will of the parents is all that matters.  Children have no voice and are made to comply with whatever the parents say must happen.  Kids are never allowed to weigh in regarding the reasonableness of rules, their ideas are never heard, nor are they asked about how decisions might affect them.  They’re not allowed to think or feel — they are simply told what they must do.  There is no negotiating whatsoever.  To the children, it feels as if they are treated like property or cattle to be herded.

The Outcome.  This style of parenting produces a variety of problems in kids.  Compliant children develop a low sense of self-worth because they were never allowed to share an opinion or have any input in the family decisions.  They don’t learn how to think or make decisions because they are never allowed to.  They feel unimportant and unworthy of having a say in things.  This sets them up for a potential life of mistreatment by other power abusers.  For others, it evokes resentment and a lack of respect and trust.  I talked to a teen recently who was so resentful toward her authoritarian parent that she was literally counting the days until she could leave home.  For strong-willed children, it results in kids who constantly battle with parents, who hate authority, and who rebel.

Sadly, this parenting style creates children who will likely abandon the home at the first opportunity and then avoid their parents for the rest of their lives.  Nobody wins.


The Permissive style of parenting is the exact opposite of the Authoritarian style.  This style represents passive and disengaged household leadership.  To a large degree the children are allowed to do as they please.  The kids primarily determine the climate of the home in terms of attitude, language, rules, and decisions.  They normally get their way — usurping any parental rules or expectations — by using whatever tactics they can:  manipulation, guilt trips, explosive anger, or simply wearing down the parents.

The Problem.  These parents have abdicated their God-given responsibility for leading their households.  They are more concerned about keeping their kids happy or off their backs than they are about their well-being.  By making the kids’ wishes preeminent, they put the will of the kids ahead of the will of God — and their own better judgment.  It is parental negligence.

The Outcome.  The absence of rules and restrictions sets these kids up to make reckless, foolish, impulsive choices which often bring damaging results.  These kids also develop an attitude of entitlement and a disregard for authority.  Though they may enjoy being in charge of their lives, they lack the feelings of security, protection and care that comes from parents who set limits.  When the kids eventually come to regret the baggage gained during their youthful excesses they will recognize how much of this pain was caused by their parents’ neglect.  Kids with permissive parents lose their respect for them. In fact they see their parents as weak, unable to stand up even to a kid.

Sadly, this parenting style creates entitled children who will likely treat their parents as pushovers for the rest of their lives, and in some cases it even leads to parental abuse.  Nobody wins.

SERVANT LEADERSHIP PARENTING  (i.e. leading like Jesus).

This final style of parenting avoids the pitfalls of the other two.  It maintains the authority of parents, but not in a way that dehumanizes or abuses the children.  It also allows the kids to have a voice and to participate in the decision-making, but in a way that neither idolizes them nor cowers to their demands.

The Solution.  These parents have embraced their God-given responsibility for leading their households.  It’s a concept that our former pastor Ray Barrett taught me years ago — Servant Leadership.  It means to lead like Jesus.   I’ll never forget the animated way that Ray would share about the conversation Jesus had with His disciples as recorded in Mark 10:42-45…

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   

Though Jesus wasn’t specifically talking about parenting in the passage above, the principles apply to leadership at all levels, including the home!  And these servant leader principles are found throughout scripture.  Consider these two examples:  Ephesians 5 tells each husband to “Love your wife as Christ loved the church…with a willingness to lay down your life for her.”  Ephesians 6 tells fathers to “Not exasperate your children.”   Biblical leadership in the home is neither a dictatorship nor a relinquishment of responsibility.

The Outcome. The Servant Leadership that Jesus taught is one that serves all the members of the family.  Everyone feels valued and cared for and listened to and consulted.  Problems are identified and discussed as a family.  Solutions worked out together.  Feelings are heard and validated.  There is a spirit of transparency and togetherness.  It’s the parents who make the final decisions, but this is done based on their assessment of what is for the good of all, and based on everyone’s input.  These parents understand that they will answer to God for how they love their families and run their home. The kids may not agree with all the rules or decisions, but they understand that rules and decisions have been set in place by a servant leader, not by a dictator or pushover.  And the kids know that their parents care how they feel about things.  The parents are always interested in receiving respectfully-delivered feedback and are willing to reconsider decisions and negotiate changes.

Happily, this parenting style creates children who will likely treat their parents and themselves and their world with lifelong respect and servanthood.