FamilyLife Today® Podcast

David Robbins: A Leader at Home: Where Do I start?

with David Robbins | June 16, 2022
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You want to be a leader at home but what's that even look like? FamilyLife President David Robbins helps you step in and lead in the way you're wired.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

You want to be a leader at home but what’s that even look like? FamilyLife President David Robbins helps you step in and lead in the way you’re wired.

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David Robbins: A Leader at Home: Where Do I start?

With David Robbins
June 16, 2022
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David: I think a lot of us, as men, have a hard time leaning into really being the leader we want to be because we get paralyzed. We get these expectations on ourselves—or maybe a spouse or somebody else—or a comparison to another guy, who is just hyper-disciplined. I’m not—hyper-categories-in-a-box; checklists everywhere—I’m not that extra-categorized organized person.

Sometimes, if you are not that hyper-checklist dad or man, you end up getting paralyzed. Subconsciously, you think you’ve got to get your stuff all together in order to lead the family and point them to Jesus; but that is not the gospel. If I am capable of having all my stuff together, and being perfect, then Jesus would not have had to come to take that place on the cross for us; but it is out of that place—the good news of Jesus—that presupposes that I don’t bring much to the table, and I need His grace desperately that allows me to go, “Okay, Lord, how do I, in the way I am uniquely wired, step into that in the way I’m wired to do so?”


Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Alright, honey, let’s talk about one of the major disappointments in our marriage.

Ann: Oh, I don’t even know what that is!

Dave: You know, how you were so disappointed in me in an area of our marriage that you told me many times. [Laughter]

Ann: Oh, you mean the one where I compared you to Dennis Rainey?

Dave: Over and over again—at least, that’s how I remember it—I wasn’t—

Ann: —spiritual leadership

Dave: I wasn’t the spiritual leader in our home that Dennis was in his home, at least, according to Ann Wilson. [Laughter] I thought I was pretty good, but—

Ann: Yes, I’m sorry for that. I was pretty bad; because I had this picture of what a godly spiritual leader would do in their home. This is the bad part that we can do in marriage—is I had expectations of what you should do—then, when you didn’t measure up, I’m like, “Eeehhh!” [Laughter]

Dave: You would say: “Dennis wouldn’t do it that way,” or “Dennis would do it..”

Ann: I don’t think I said that.

Dave: No; but I mean, there was this image, even in my mind—and I think a lot of husbands and a lot of dads—and I’m sure wives and moms struggle with the same thing.

Ann: Yes; exactly.

Dave: But it’s like I felt like I wasn’t measuring up to some standard that I didn’t even know what it looked like. Your vision was a little bit different than my vision.

So today, let’s talk about: “What would spiritual direction look like in a home?—in a marriage?”—in parenting?” We’ve got the guy in the studio that is going to answer this question for us.

Ann: I’m excited.

Dave: Yes, we’ve got David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife Today, coming in here.

David: I thought, Dave, you brought me in specifically: I’m a person who really knows what comparison to Dennis Rainey feels like. [Laughter]

Dave: I was going to say: “You are sitting in the same seat that he sat in. Have you felt that?”

David: Sure, I have; absolutely. There is really a phantom that begins to get on your shoulder—and I think, you know, can get on a lot of men’s shoulder—as they think about leading the home.

Certainly, I’ve experienced that in leading FamilyLife, where I’ve had to have strong mentors and members on our Board, like Crawford Loritts, saying, “Look; God called you. Ride the horse God gave you. You fill the role, not the shoes.” I’ve needed those moments of people speaking truth because, certainly, I’ve felt it.

Dave: Right there, Crawford’s words are what Ann and I—and I had to figure out, over 40-plus years of marriage, that I’m not Dennis; and that’s a good thing—and you’re not Dennis. I mean, again, Dennis would/if he could walk in right now, he’d say, “I wasn’t as perfect as any of you think. It was very exaggerated”; but we are supposed to be who we are.

Ann: Well, I’m going to say, “I was totally guilty of having, not only expectations, but I made assumptions, too, that you would act a certain way/do certain things.” This is the bad part, that I feel like I’m guilty of: I thought you were less spiritual, because it didn’t look a certain way.

I think it is easy to do that in a marriage: when we have expectations of what a spouse should do, and they don’t measure up, we’re disappointed.

Dave: Yes; we sort of joked earlier, but I felt that. I mean, every once in a while, Ann would say it; but I just felt like I was not meeting her expectations.

David, talk about that. I mean, you’re/you’ve been married how many years?

David: Almost 20 years.

Dave: I mean, like, coming up?

David: It’s here.

Dave: It’s like a big deal.

David: It’s a big deal. We had plans to go back overseas for our anniversary; and with COVID, we’re going to pause them; but we’ll do what we need to do at some point. It will be fun.

Dave: How many kids?

David: We have four kids—15 to 5.

Dave: So you’re busy; you were at the orthodontist this morning.

David: That’s right; we pushed back this time. Thank you, guys, for flexing.

Ann: You’re a good dad.

David: She [orthodontist]  needed the next step—I didn’t know it would take 45 minutes instead of 30—so you know, flexing. Meg’s away right now. She would love to be here for this conversation; that is for sure—she’s away, helping her mom in Memphis—so here I am, by myself, running solo.

Dave: You’re going to be doing Ibuprofen® tonight for her [orthodontist] because—

David: That’s right.

Dave: —I’ve had braces—they are sore, to say the least.

But anyway, talk about spiritual leadership/spiritual direction in your home as a husband and as a dad. Have you felt like a weight?—like I felt—like I think a lot of men and women feel.

David: I think a lot of us, as men, have a hard time leaning into really being the leader we want to be because we get paralyzed. We get these expectations on ourselves—or maybe a spouse or somebody else—or a comparison to another guy, who is just hyper-disciplined. I’m not—hyper-categories-in-a-box; checklists everywhere—I’m not that extra-categorized organized person.

Dave: Wait; wait. You seem like you are. Don’t you think that, Ann? He’s like/he’s better than me at that. I know that. [Laughter]

Ann: I think he is—and you have the appearance of being all that, David—but I do know you are artistic—

David: That’s right, so there’s this creative side.

Ann: —and you are creative.

David: And there is the fact that, in the home, Meg’s personality carries part of the weight, which she is hyper-adaptable. Meg is: “No list ever,”—unless it’s me, on a Sunday afternoon, going, “We’ve got to get a big sticky note out, and make a list of our chores for the kids so they can come check it off; or it will never get done,”—it comes in every now and then. Our personality, together, makes our home really adaptable.

But out of that—sometimes, if you’re not that hyper-checklist dad or man—you end up getting paralyzed. Subconsciously, you think you’ve got to get your stuff all together in order to lead the family, and point them to Jesus; but that is not the gospel at all.

Dave: Let me ask you this: “Have you ever felt, from Meg, any pressure like I felt from Ann?”

David: Sure; just this month, there was: “Hey, we’ve got two-and-a-half years left with our 15-year-old. I see: ‘Breakfast with Ford,’ every Thursday on your calendar; but we’re skipping a lot these days.” That’s an appropriate challenge. She is seeking to set me up to lead. Yet, you better believe, my initial response is to kind of shrink back.

I have to go through my own process of: “Okay, that’s not the gospel.” If I am capable of having all my stuff together, and being perfect, then Jesus would not have had to come and take that place on the cross for us; but it is out of that place—the good news of Jesus—that presupposes that I don’t bring much to the table, and I need His grace desperately that allows me to go: “Okay, Lord, yes, there is some truth in what Meg is saying. How do I, in the way that I am uniquely wired, begin to lead Ford? We’ve got two-and-a-half years left with him. Let’s step into that in the way that I’m wired to do so.”

Dave: So when you think about spiritual leadership—and leading Ford or leading Meg/leading your home—how do you approach it? What comes to your mind? There is a sense of: “It’s weighty.”

One of the things we teach at the Weekend to Remember® is 1 Corinthians 11—I’ll read it to you—we teach this: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ,”—and that’s no problem: we’re like, “Yes! I bow to that; I submit to that,”—“The head of a wife is her husband; and the head of Christ is God.”

There is this aspect that we carry this weight of—“If I am the head of my wife,”—which, again, there are some interpretations that could mean “source,” that we come from Christ; our wives come from man—or it could mean we are supposed to lead. There is a sense that we carry this: “Oh, my goodness! It is on me to lead her and to lead our sons,”—not that it isn’t on them; it’s on them as well—but there is that sense that there needs to be some leadership in the home. We are called, by God, to do that.

So again: “How would you say it looks, to you, to be the leader?”

David: I mean, we can get really practical in just a minute—and we can all share the way it looks for each one of us, differently, since we’re wired differently—but first and foremost—and I don’t mean to over-simplify it—but I really believe, with all my heart, soul, mind that this is where it roots in and has to stay—is that it roots in our own encounter with Jesus, as a man/like: “That’s it.”

If we are going to love our wife and our kids, and serve them, sacrificially—like Christ has loved His church and loved us—then, not only does that mean dying daily; I mean, really, that’s the call: “We get to die to ourselves daily,”—that’s, ultimately, part of leading. We actually have to keep falling in love with Jesus over and over again. As He relentlessly pursues us—out of experiencing that—we can relentlessly pursue and lead our wife, and our kids, and our family.

There are no secret formulas; there are no hidden tactics. Sure, there are good suggestions and tips—and those are tangible; and they meet us in seasons, which are helpful, because we all know adult kids are different than toddlers; there are real practical tips that we need—ultimately, though, it is about our own encounter with Jesus.

I remember learning this—kind of in-my-face and God bringing me to my knees—when we were in Italy, serving together. Meg and I had been married three years, and it was the first place where my world just kind of collapsed. I was just languishing, when Meg was flourishing in this culture that was very different. She was adaptable and go-with-the-flow. I was pretty uptight, especially back then. [Laughter] I didn’t know the language; I was languishing. I’m like, “How do I even lead in our home, in this space?” It boiled down to: “David, it’s about you, not just being a believer of God, but a lover of God; because lovers are going to show and tell the things they love.”

I love sports—in particular, my alma mater Ole Miss sports—I can’t help but pass that down and talk about it. We were just talking about it; because it’s in me, and I love it. I can’t help but experience it and want other people to experience it. In the same way, is that my current experience with Jesus?—not just that I’m a believer of Him, but that I am, right now, in a present-tense way, experiencing Him and able to pass that on.

Sometimes, it’s kind of simple, I think, what leadership looks like is—“To what extent am I experiencing Jesus in a present tense, ongoing way?—when we do, we become lovers, not just believers of Jesus, and we pass it on. We pass it on, because we are able to talk about it as fresh bread.

Ann: Let me just hit this; because I love what you are saying, David. Every woman, who is a listener, is saying: “Yes, yes,” and “Amen; I long for this in my husband, but my husband is not there,”—maybe, he is chasing his career; maybe, he isn’t interested in the church-thing and the God-thing—and she’s longing for this.

So guys, just for a practical second: “How do we encourage our husbands?” Because let’s just be honest, as women, we’ve all put the book there [for husband to see]; we’ve all said: “I’m going to send this podcast,” or “Make sure my husband listens to this.” Is that motivating? What’s our best move?

Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife president David Robbins on FamilyLife Today. We’re going to hear both Dave and David’s answers to Ann’s question in just a minute; but first, if this topic has brought about deeper thoughts about fatherhood, or if any of the topics here on FamilyLife Today have touched you, would you consider joining in our mission for godly homes?

We can only continue to bring content like today’s topic because of our dedicated financial Partners. Now, with that said, Father’s Day is coming up this weekend; but you already knew that; right? We wanted to send you a copy of Bryan Loritts’ book called The Dad Difference: The 4 Most Important Gifts You Can Give Your Kids. It’s our gift to you when you make a donation of any amount this week to support the work of FamilyLife Today. You can give securely online at, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. That can be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Alright; now, back to Dave Wilson answering Ann’s question about what a wife can do to encourage her husband to lead spiritually.

Dave: Well, David is looking at me to answer that one. [Laughter]

David: Ann was looking at you, so I just joined her. [Laughter]

Dave: There are a lot of answers; you know?—there really are. But I think/what I experienced in our marriage—and I’ve said this many times here; we wrote about it in Vertical Marriage—was, when you critiqued me and said: “I wish you were more this…” or “I wish you’d do more of this…” or “…do less of this…” it demotivated me. You were thinking it was motivating me. I found myself pulling back rather than jumping forward.

Then, when you started affirming who I was, and where I was, and thanking me, I wanted to run faster. It was like, “Oh!” Again, that didn’t happen in one day—it took months and, maybe even, years—but as you began, as we phrased it—you stopped booing me and started cheering me—something happened in the soul of me that I think happens in a lot of men. When they feel respected and affirmed, they do better. Some men are really motivated by critique—you know, my buddy Rob would be like [rough voice], “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,”—I’m not that way. A lot of men are like: “Man, when you affirm what I do, it’s like I want to do better.”

So when I heard you start to say: “You are a good man,”—I remember you saying, “You are a good leader of this home,”—and I’m like/at first, I was like: “No, I’m not! You’ve never told me that before; actually, you’ve told me the opposite.” But I started hearing you say that consistently, and you weren’t just lying. You were actually looking for things I was doing well. I was like, “Oh, I’m a good leader? I’m going to be a better leader!” Again/so that helped me motivate me.

But what David said, I think, is the key—is it has to be an overflow—because every guy is like me. It’s like: “Tell me what to do. I don’t think I’m really good leading my family in the Bible, so how do I do that?” That’s the wrong question; that’s where we go.

The question is: “If you fall in love with Jesus, you’ll be a leader everywhere you go.” You’ll be overflowing that in the office; if you’re a pastor…—whatever—you’ll be overflowing that in the family room; it’s just going to be.

We wrote in our book, No Perfect Parents, the way to lead teenagers, spiritually, is model it. When they see Dad and Mom on fire, as a 15/16-year-old, it’s hard to deny that. You can have your little Bible studies—do whatever you want—but if you are living it, and they see you in the Word or praying—and it’s not like I’m doing this to show them; it is an overflow of who I am—that’s motivating.

So any guy listening, who is thinking, “Man, I’m not measuring up,” I say, “Get on your knees; surrender and say, ‘Jesus, do a work in me.’” By the way, you’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to get in the gym, and you’ve got to pump the weights—if you want to see your body physically change, you do work—if you want to see a spiritual work, it’s the same thing. It’s like: “I’m going to get in there and start doing the workouts.” God is going to meet you and start changing you; that’s going to flow into your family.

Ann: That’s good.

David: Well, the first thing that came to my mind was a peculiar place; because when I heard your question, I go, “Ultimately, a strong man has a soft heart for the things of God; but a woman cannot create a soft heart in a man.” As you [Ann] went there, you [Dave] were like, “Okay, that cultivated a space”—you weren’t that needy; but yet, to get those words from your wife, actually, cultivated a safe space for you to go—“Okay, Lord, I’m going to start depending upon You for more. I can do this.”

In the same way, I just think about Meg, when she has had to come and desire more leadership from me, when there are seasons and times when it’s not everything she wants it to be. I know one of the first things she does is just start praying for the Holy Spirit—

Ann: Yes.

David: —to do work that she can’t do.

Sometimes, I’m so hardened; she has to really come in with some stronger words. I’ve needed her stronger words at times; there is a place for strong words. Yet, I know and I trust in her that she—before there are those strong words that she comes to me with—she has gone to the Lord, over and over, beseeching Him for the Holy Spirit to till the ground in my life that is hard.

You know, I came across this quote this morning. I had not seen this quote in forever, but it kind of relates. It’s by Dan Allender. I think that, for a man, that—especially, a man that a woman is wanting to see more leadership out of—you’ve got help create safe spaces for him to dive into his weakness. Here is the quote; this is by Dan Allender: “To the degree that you face, and name, and deal with your failures and wounds, to that same extent, you will create an environment around you, conducive to growing and retaining deep family and work relationships”; i.e., spiritual leadership.

But here is the thing: “The strange paradox is: ‘To the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weakness, the more you will need to control; the more insecure you will become; and the more rigidity you will impose.” So many times, as men, that is what we end up doing. We get insecure—and then we just go for what feels easy—a checklist. We, at least, feel good about ourselves; but it’s not actually cultivating spiritual leadership in a home that really honors, that really cherishes, that really leads. A woman has a huge role in providing the safety for a man to go to those areas, where he feels weakness, that is required for him to go to and experience Jesus in, in order to lead from strength out of.

Ann: I think we, as women, have so much influence in our homes and over our husbands. Especially, raising three sons, and being married to Dave, like 40 years, I’ve realized guys are insecure, especially in this area—

Dave: Why don’t you just tell the world, honey?!

Ann: No; that does sound terrible. [Laughter]

Dave: You’re not talking about guys; you’re talking about your guy.

Ann: No, women are insecure too. I think we all cover that up—as you are saying, David—we can mask it; we can make it look like something else. So in our marriage, when we can go to that in an empathetic way, of just being a safe place—as you are saying, to give our guys—like man, even saying to your husband tonight, “When you hear “spiritual leadership”/”to become the spiritual leader”—that to me/that would be intimidating to me—do you feel that? Is that intimidating to you?” Just to ask the question would be a great place.

David: Do you know what I love, that you just did there with that question?—because it is such an easy step, and it provides a measure of safety. Obviously, every relationship is at a different place—a man may not be ready to respond well to that yet—but it is a great place to start; because what you did was, not come in with a punch of accountability; you really gave, “Okay, I want access into your heart: ‘What does it feel like?’”

The difference between accountability—which is good and necessary—but then access: what a woman really wants/what their kids really want from a man is a man, who will give them access to their heart, and the places Jesus is meeting them in their heart. The same way—it’s not just being authentic and transparent about things in the past—and you know, that kind of defines transparency; you are willing to be honest about things in the past—but what about what’s vulnerable/the things that are currently happening?—the things that don’t have a bow tied up on it?

That’s where a man, a lot of times, needs a woman to enter into that space and hold it with him; because that vulnerability is sometimes/and leads to the insecurity that prevents him and paralyzes him from stepping out and leading. I love what you did there; because you held the space and the tension and get access into his heart.

Dave: And one of the things—I think/I know I missed, and I think a lot of men miss—I think women actually get it better than we do as men. I know I’m making generalities there; but is we think we need to be strong/we think leadership is strength—and even Dan Allender’s quote, and I think Paul’s words in the New Testament are—“Our strength is when we are weak.” I think our wives long for us to be like you said, David, vulnerable and weak. We think, “No, I don’t want to go there; that’s not leadership.” Actually, it really is.

When you are willing—even as Dan says—if you haven’t dealt with your stuff—

David: Yes.

Dave: —you know, you hide it, you cover it up—but when you are vulnerable enough, before God and your wife; and even, maybe, your kids to say—“I struggle, and I am weak. I’ve got some things in my life I’m managing, but it is hard.” I’ve done that a couple times with my sons, looked them in the eye and said, “I’ve got to tell you where I am struggling.” I didn’t even realize it at the moment, but that was leading.

They were like drawn in: “Wow! Dad’s a man like me—he’s being that vulnerable—but he has got Christ, who is meeting him there.—

David: There you go!

Dave: “I’m going to go on this journey with him.” Your wife is going the same place.

I would say to the dad, or the husband, listening, “Man, put away the strong man,”—I mean, not that you aren’t strong in Christ; because you are—but allow the weakness to be revealed in your home to your wife—maybe, in a vulnerable moment—maybe even to your sons or daughters. Trust me—that is spiritual leadership—they will follow that to the ends of the age.

David: Yes; “His power is made perfect in our weakness.” That is the verse you are quoting, and that is how it ends. There is that reality of we usher in God’s power and His glory when we go into that sacred space and allow Him to fill it. It’s not just exposing it to expose it. It’s going to that place, together, knowing you are secure enough and strong enough to be able to let it be known; and then His power comes in/real strength comes in, and our home experiences the power of Jesus today in our lives.

Dave: Yes, that’s good stuff. If I remember—I should grab the guitar and sing it—but I don’t remember what year it was, but a song had this line it: “If you see me on my knees, it’s not because I’m weak; I’m getting stronger.” It’s that picture, David, you just said: “The best picture tonight of spiritual leadership in your home is to get on your knees and ask God for His strength.” He will meet you right there, and He will make you the leader He wants you to be.

Shelby: That is Dave and Ann Wilson with the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, on FamilyLife Today.

If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations just like the one you heard today, we’d love it if you’d tell them about this station. You can share today’s specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts too.

Tomorrow, Dave and Ann are going to be joined, again, by FamilyLife president David Robbins; and we’re going to be talking about—when it comes to leadership in the home—it’s not always a strength; sometimes, it’s a weakness. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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