FamilyLife Today®

David Robbins: How to Be the Spiritual Leader of Your Family

with David Robbins | June 17, 2022
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“I want to step up at home—but I have no idea what I’m doing!” FamilyLife President David Robbins talks about how to be the spiritual leader of your family.

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“I want to step up at home—but I have no idea what I’m doing!” FamilyLife President David Robbins talks about how to be the spiritual leader of your family.

David Robbins: How to Be the Spiritual Leader of Your Family

With David Robbins
June 17, 2022
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David: I think one of the things we have to embrace is that the greatest harm we can do, when we are trying to create a spiritual climate of growth in our home—is not participate; quit; and push for control—ultimately, the things we are going to talk about today. Just take a step of faith: “What’s the Holy Spirit going to prompt in you?” Don’t try to do it all—that’s going to push for control—you’re going to try to do way too much: you’re going to burn out; it’s going to last a few days. What is it, that in this season, right now, God is saying, “This is it,”—like—“Step into this”?

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: So one of my biggest questions, 41 years ago, when we got married—do you know what it is?

Ann: No.

Dave: It wasn’t about you; it was about me. It was like: “How do I bring a spiritual climate—environment/atmosphere—to our marriage on a daily basis?”

Ann: Did you ask that question?!

Dave: I never said it out loud; but inside, I was like, “I know I want to do this. I feel called by God to do this. How do I do it?”

Part of it was I never saw it in my parents’ marriage—I never saw it in my home—there was no faith at all, so I had no model. Of course, that could be a victim thing—like: “I can’t do it,”—but I knew: “I want to do this. I want to do it well, and I want Ann to just be like, ‘I married the most spiritual, amazing Apostle Paul-man on the planet.’”

But you—

Ann: This is makes me so happy. Why didn’t you tell me?

Dave: Because you didn’t think you married that guy, because I let you down so much. I just felt like I was not doing a good job of it.

I actually think every man, who is a follower of Christ, has that thought in their mind.

Ann: Wow; that’s cool.

Dave: Don’t you think?

Ann: I don’t know; I’m not a man.

Dave: Well, you didn’t have any sense of that as a wife?

Ann: I was just thinking [as a newly-wed]: “This is going to be so fun; we’re going to do this together. We’re going to walk with Jesus; we’re going to change the world together.” But I didn’t have that heaviness; I didn’t even know that you carried that.

Dave: I carried it; and you might remember I cried on our honeymoon, feeling the weight of that. We’ll talk about that later.

Ann: [Laughter] Okay; okay.

Dave: Seriously, we’ll get into that as we get into this discussion; because we’ve got David Robbins back in the studio with us. The president of FamilyLife is back in the studio in Orlando.

David: Hey, team.

Dave: Glad to have you back.

David: Good to be with you; no doubt.

Ann: David, we love having you with us.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Meg is not here this time. She is with her mom, who just had some surgery; but it’s always good to have you and Meg with us.

David: We love teaming up with you guys.

Dave: Yesterday, we talked about sort of the heart of what spiritual leadership looks like in a home. Today, let’s talk about practicality.

David: Indulge me for a second, before we dive into practicality,—

Dave: Yes.

David: —just to like: “Why is it worth a conversation?”

The fact is that we are not just trying to be good husbands and dads. “As a man, I am serving my wife and kids, seeking to disciple them, and they go to be forces for God’s kingdom out in the world,”—like that’s the goal. I may get to disciple a college student or a young couple we are mentoring for a season. I get 18 years, plus some adult-kid dynamics after that, with a kid [of my own]: “How can we do that?” And in our own home, with our own spouse: “How can I keep honoring the image of God in my wife, of whom she is uniquely made?” and “How can I be the best student of her, and lift up who she is, and give her the opportunities to live that out?”

I don’t do that perfectly—we’re having to fight for that—but yet, it is worth fighting for.

Dave: By the way, let me add—because you just reminded me as you said that—often, I think, I have found myself trying to make disciples outside my home.

David: Yes.

Dave: Even as a pastor and a spiritual leader, it is like: “That’s my job. I’m called by God”—the Great Commission in Matthew 28—“I’m going to make disciples.” And I would just study and go to conferences—“How do you do this?”—and then, do it.

I think I sometimes forgot: “Wait, wait; the most important disciples I am making are in my home.”

David: Yes; yes.

Dave: My wife and my children are disciples—number one—not that the others don’t matter; they matter. But you talk about priority: it should be our home.

Ann: You know, it’s a source of contention for us; because I said to you: “That guy—who goes out and disciples, and does all of that, and pours into men—I want him in our home.” That was so/you felt the critique of that; but man, I watched you do that. I think you felt ill-equipped; you weren’t real sure of what that looked like at home.

Dave: Yes, but what you just said, David, you just articulated that. That’s our role—as a mom, as a wife, as a husband/a dad—to love and serve in our home to lead our home to Christ.

David: Yes, easier said than done. I say it so passionately, because I need to hear it first; you know? Like it’s hard. It’s—they know the full me—they get me 24/7. People out there see me for little segments of time and get to, maybe—I don’t know how impressed people get—[Laughter]—but yet, it feels better; you know? Inside the home, they see it all—the dignity and the depravity—it’s harder.

Dave: One of these days, we’re going to have your kids on.

David: There you go. [Laughter] That will be good.

Dave: That will be a good show.

David: That’s awesome; I love that.

But getting toward the—“Okay, what steps can we take?”—I think one of the things we have to embrace is that the greatest harm we can do, when we are trying to create a spiritual climate of growth in our home, is—not participate; quit; and push for control—ultimately, the things we are going to talk about today. Just take a step of faith: “What’s the Holy Spirit going to prompt in you?” Don’t try to do it all—that’s going to push for control—you’re going to try to do way too much: you’re going to burn out; it’s going to last a few days.

What is it that in this season, right now, God is saying: “This is it,”—like—“Step into this”? I’m praying as we talk through—the three of us together—some ideas of things that have been good for us to step into that God would actually/and the Holy Spirit would actually speak to you things that we don’t even say; but yet, He knows your family, and He knows your wiring and who you uniquely have been made to be. He is going to prompt things in you that are uniquely crafted for you and your home. That’s what I’m praying happens today with some things that have, perhaps, worked for us or that we’ve done in seasons.

But as a man—which again, going back to where you started us, you do feel that extra responsibility—and a shift for me that helped was, not just focusing on all the things I’m not doing, or what I hoped to be true or not true—and just simplify it to: “What can I go, first, at?”—like to simplify and boil it down to—“Alright, if I were to take a step of faith to be first…” We sometimes super-spiritualize it—which is beautiful to make grand plans—sometimes, in busy seasons, be the first to laugh at yourself: “Do I have the security and humility, and my identity in the source of Jesus, to just die out laughing at myself when my sin goes just out?”

I remember we were moving to Orlando, just a year ago. We came in from our ten-hour drive. We/our home—let’s just call it/it’s not the dream home—it’s the home God provided for us, and we’re making it home. It has these weird 20-foot ceilings and a weird angle, lots of echoing with no furniture. [Laughter]

We come in, and I’m just at the end of myself. I go on to raise my voice, to the place where I scared myself; I certainly scared my kids. [Laughter] It echoes, three-fold, out of typical; there is no carpet on the floor.

Dave: I mean, you’re like angry?—raising your voice.

David: Yes; I mean, I was just maxed. We’re moving; it’s so stressful. Sin and anger just comes lashing out at the kids being too crazy. Ultimately, everyone kind of goes silent and moves their different ways.

I just start laughing at myself, going, “Okay, that’s what’s going on inside of me.” We had a little gathering together, where I just go, “You guys, I am so sorry. Can we just laugh together at how bad Dad’s sin just was?—like it just came out, and my sin came out on you. That could hurt you if I can’t, right now, be humble enough to say, ‘I’m not doing well. I’m stressed. I am: “This is our home; are you kidding me?!”’—I’m not doing well, and I want to invite you into that.’”

Ann: That is beautiful.

David: Well, it wasn’t! [Laughter]

Ann: No, but—I mean, that is life—that really is life. It’s just a little piece of what our daily lives and our yearly lives look like. We’re plagued with hard moments like that; and when you can laugh—and here is the thing that I’ve seen—our kids are watching.

David: That’s right.

Ann: When we respond or we react, they are watching like, “Oh!” There is a little fear in them, too, like, “Oh no! Dad’s mad.” Then, for you to flip it and just start laughing at yourself, I bet—I would have loved to have seen their faces—the relief and the modeling—of like: “Oh, well, Dad’s not perfect; and he knows it.” Guys, it’s good that he knows he’s not perfect, and he can laugh at himself.

Dave: And really, the opposite of that is what we often do: is we cover. We feel embarrassed; we don’t admit that we saw what we did was wrong. We—

David: We go get space.

Dave: Exactly. And we do what you said earlier: we don’t participate. You just said that would be one of the worst things you could do—is don’t participate—I think that is what a lot of us do. We just think: “Well, it’s her job; she’s better at it,”—if it’s spiritual leadership of the kids, and we back out. Our wives hate when we do that. Like you said, David, I think it’s one of the worst things that you can do: don’t participate. Even if you are not good, even if you don’t know what you are doing, be in the game.

Like you said—maybe, it’s going to be—I’m going/I can’t imagine. I can just see you, standing there in your family room—I’ve never been there—but I can see you laughing at yourself, and the whole room is just like, “What just happened?”

David: That was so ugly; you know?

Dave: That draws people in.

David: Yes.

Dave: It drew you back.

David: That’s good.

Dave: Way to go!

David: Well, it—there are many other moments and opportunities to practice it—because the fact is: everyday life/things are going to come out sideways.

There was a study done in one of the—this is a scary stat, and I’m forgetting the exact stat—but the general principle is: “One of the key indicators for our own kids’ source of security and safety—that leads to thriving, long term—is how their parents handled stress.” Isn’t that kind of scary? [Laughter]

Ann: So scary.

David: I know; you’re like: “Wait. There are all sorts of intentional things that we can lead in the home,”—how we’re—I mean, and talk about a stressful time; we’re all living in one.

Dave: Yes.

David: These layers keep coming that are adding to complexity and stress in our lives.

“How are we doing?” One of the best ways we can lead our families—actually, lead ourselves in processing and ensuring: “Okay, that’s coming out sideways. I’m going to name it, and take it to the Lord, and bring it out into the open, even if it means laughing at myself.”

Dave: Well, that is an interesting angle that you just took: like how to lead is be the first to laugh at yourself.

David: Well, what’s one of the first for you, Dave?

Dave: I mean, when I heard you say that, I literally thought of a Weekend to Remember® conference. And I’ll tell you this story before I’ll tell you the point. You’ll know what the point is as soon as you hear it.

I’m sitting in the back as my co-speaker, Jim Keller—who actually lives here in Florida—was speaking on the podium. I’m in the back. Ann was not at that conference with me, so I’m the other speaker.

David: It may be helpful to know that Jim Keller is a counselor, who can like pierce into your soul. Yes, go ahead.

Dave: He is a good friend; we’ve known each other for years. I’m sitting at the back table, and beside me is his wife Renee. Jim says, from the podium: “I have made a commitment in my marriage that every time there is a conflict or a need to reconcile, I will be the first; I will not wait for Renee. I will always be the first. That is”—and he goes—“I’ve done that for 20 years,”—whatever.

I turned to Renee—because I’m thinking, “Okay, seriously, in 20 years, is he just being speaker talk?”—you know: “This sounds good that I should say this.” I just turned to Renee, and I go, “Is that true? Is he really the first?” She goes, “Every single time, Jim comes to me, apologizes; says, ‘I’m sorry. How do we make this right?’ I’ve never been the first; he lives what he just said.”

David: Wow.

Dave: I remember going home, thinking, “That’s leadership. Maybe, I wasn’t wrong; maybe, I think I’m right; but we have a broken relationship right now. I’m going to make it right.”

That is a great way to model for your kids/to model for your wife what it looks like to be Christ in your home/is: “I’m going to come to you, and we’re going to make this right.”

David: I mean, you nailed where I was thinking.

Dave: Really?

David: Talk about reflecting Christ to your wife/to your kids, like being the first to take the initiative to go there. That is what He did for us: He came to this earth, took the initiative/consistently takes the initiative as we keep messing up in life. You’re living out Jesus into your home; I love that.

I also think of the first person I ever heard say something very similar. It was more in a leadership context. I was leading my first-ever team; I was doing a campus ministry at the University of Georgia. I so respected this guy named Bill, who was leading/long-term leader at Auburn University. We were at this conference for all the campus leaders, and I am getting to ask Bill questions.

I remember asking him: “Okay, what’s”—all the typical things—“what’s the best strategy? What’s—team leading—what’s the best thing to do?” The only thing he said was: “Apologize every chance you get. You’ll build the trust of your team, and it will keep you humble. Spiritual vitality will reign in your ministry if the leader is apologizing every chance he is convicted to do so.”

I was like, “Oh my goodness!” And it rings in my head; yet, taking that to the home is really good.

Ann: Dave, I feel like you’ve done that. I mean, you are way better at that than I am.

Dave: I’m glad you just said that. [Laughter]

Ann: I feel like I’ve learned from you and our kids, too, because—I think because of my pride, and because I came into marriage, thinking I had to win at conflict—to apologize is saying, “You didn’t win.” That was my brokenness and the insecurity that I had. But you always modeled that; you would come and say, “Hey, you know what? I shouldn’t have said that. I’m so sorry,” “…I’m sorry this happened,” “…I’m sorry I did this,” —over and over to the point, where I finally apologized; and you wrote it down.

Dave: Yes, I wrote down the date. [Laughter]

David: Wow; oh, that’s hilarious.

Dave: I mean, it was like in the first year of our marriage; but—

Ann: But I’m really glad that you did because, as parents, we’re continually apologizing. You’ve really led in that for our whole family that/like it takes strength to be able to apologize, and security, I think.

Dave: Yes; another thing that comes to my mind is—and we talked about this a little earlier—but being willing, before your family, to admit fault/take ownership from it—and then model for them what you do with it.

I remember/boy, I can see it in my mind’s eye right now—I don’t know, Ann, if you will remember this—but sort of confessing to one of my adult sons, who was living with us at the time, I think, before he got married—and Ann, just a struggle I was having that he was having. We are sitting there in the family room—and we both just sort of shared: “Yes, we’re struggling in this area,”—we all three got on our knees. Do you remember this?

Ann: No.

Dave: Well, it probably happened many times; but we just got on our knees and prayed for God’s strength in that area of our lives. Again, you wouldn’t pull back and go, “Let me show you a video of leadership.” That was a video of leadership, in a way that you don’t always think, because you—like we said earlier—think it’s strength. Sometimes, it’s weakness and saying, “Man, I need to lead dependence on Jesus and His power to be the man that He has called me to be. I can’t do it without Him.”

Sometimes, that means I need to say to my wife or to my kids—or your wife says to her husband or the kids—“I’m struggling right here, and I need to get on my knees and ask God for power. Do you want to join me?” Often, they’ll be like, “Yes, I need help, too, in a different area. I’m going to join you.” That’s a home that has spiritual leadership all over it.

David: I love it, like being the first to go to your knees. I’m picturing you guys in that living room, getting to your knees together; and nowhere in your mind, earlier in the day, would: “We’re going to be—

Dave: Yes.

David: —“crying out to the Lord, together, on our knees.”

I do feel like there is a spiritual stronghold, sometimes, that the enemy can go: “Eh, praying together,”—like—“Getting on your knees: ‘Are you kidding me?!’—just do it in the night on your bed. That’s sufficient,”—which it is; I mean, that is a great place to pray at the end of the day.

Yet, okay, look for an opportunity this week to initiate getting on your knees together—that, for some of you, may feel so weird and so strange—but yet, going before your God, the Creator, to go, “Lord, we need You in this place. We declare our dependence—we are finite—we can’t control it. In this area of life, we’re going to get on our knees for this.”

Dave: Yes; and I’ll add this—I just thought of this—I can/you talk about spiritual leadership. I watched Ann do this—it’s got to be a thousand-plus times with our little, tiny toddler boys—car seats—praying in the car, as she is driving, all the time!

Ann: Yes.

Dave: I mean, as simple as that is—out loud, modeling for these little toddlers—“This is what a follower of Christ does, all day long.” I remember—

David: “We talk to Jesus all day long,”—yes; right.

Dave: Exactly; I mean, for little things like—

Ann: It was because I was so broken; I needed Him desperately.

Dave: I mean, for a parking spot or for anything—you name it.

I remember our oldest/I mean, our youngest son was on a mission trip in college. He makes this comment about—they are walking through some street somewhere—[Cody] says, “Hey, we need to pray about that.” As they are walking down the sidewalk—remember Cody said this—they are praying out loud. After they pray, one of the girls says, “Wow! Never done that in my whole life! That was so cool!” Cody was like, “Thanks, Mom.

David: That’s cool.

Dave: “I saw that modeled every day of my life.” This woman was like, “I’ve never seen that done.”

I thought, “That was a great moment where—you wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, I was a great spiritual leader,’”—that’s modeling.

Ann: It’s so interesting, too, with adult kids. You think they are going to remember these great things you’ve said, like, “Remember when I taught you this?” “No, I remember none of that,”—but the thing they will remember is—“But I remember seeing you on your knees. I remember I couldn’t even hear your prayers; but I remember seeing your face, and seeing you on your knees,—

Dave: —“or in the Word.”

Ann: Yes, and those are the things that they remember. I think, especially for a man—because we just picture men as strong, and they can do it themselves—but when you see a reliance on Jesus, that’s a beautiful mark of leadership.

David: Yes.

Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife president David Robbins on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear more from David in 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.

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Alright; now, back to the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, and how a husband needs to be his wife’s biggest cheerleader.

David: You know, another one—of going first—that I have seen you do, Dave, often—I think Meg and I have really benefitted from it, and I seek to model—is that you celebrate Ann’s wins. When you see her thrive, you call it out.

Ann: He does.

David: You ensure that she knows that you saw it.

In the busyness of young kids, leading the ministry, I can sometimes get so caught up in my world—and it’s the principle I teach my five-year-old—of: “The world does not revolve around you”; right? [Laughter]

Dave: Yes!

David: But in my own life, I can just start living in: “The world revolves around me,”—where I stop taking notice of when, who Meg is, is coming alive; and I don’t call it out. It just becomes part of our routine instead of looking for that opportunity to be the first to call it out and go: “Look! Look at you! This is who you are.”

Like, right now, she is kind of with a team, planning family mission excursions for FamilyLife—and kind of doing a beta test trip, and more to come—and, hopefully, we’ll be sharing about that sometime soon. That is who she is: she has a gift of evangelism and a heart for evangelism for the world. And she is getting to dive into it some, and pave the pathway for others to do that with their children—for moms and dads to go with their kids—and go share Christ together, and serve people together, around the world.

I certainly championed it in some ways; but I can get so caught up in my world, where I am not truly cheering for her in the ways I want to.

Dave: Yes, I would wrap this up, saying: “I think there are two ways to live—as a man/as a woman; a husband/wife; mom/dad—

  • You can live passive.
  • You can live active.”

I’m serious; we would teach this to our kids. I often would be in a moment—and I would realize in that moment in my home/in the kitchen—watching something happen. I could be—and you said it earlier—I could participate or not participate. There were moments where I didn’t participate—I didn’t engage; I didn’t step in—and later, I regretted it.

Now, I’m a grandfather. I realize those moments come; and if you don’t jump in, they are gone; and they are gone forever. So you can be passive, and let somebody else do the work; or you can say, “You know what? I’m going to engage; I’m going to step in. I’m going to say something,” “…I’m going to pray,” “…I’m going to laugh,”—whatever—“I’m not going to miss this moment”; because I’m telling you: we’re old enough now to know, “You’re going to regret if you miss that moment.”

Don’t be the passive man or woman; be the active one—say: “God, what do You want me to do?” “What do You want me to say?” “How do You want me to respond?”—and then jump. That moment will be caught in eternity; it’s worth it.

David: Yes; I just hear that, and I go, “Leaders in a home do uncomfortable things. They step into it.” I love it.

Ann: Let’s not forget—we said this earlier—but to pray for our husbands, to pray for our kids, to pray for our sons and our daughters. It makes a world of difference.

Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, on FamilyLife Today. If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations 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. While you’re there, it’d really help us out if you’d rate and review us.

There is Weekend to Remember® event happening this weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona. We’d love it if you’d take a sec and join us in prayer for all the couples who will be attending.

Next week, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking with, well, me—Shelby Abbott—about the brand-new podcast and weekend radio program for 18- to 28-year-olds, coming out from FamilyLife called Real Life Loading. I’ll share about how I plan to become a trusted friend to help guide young people toward the life-changing power of Jesus in a constantly-shifting culture. That’s next week.

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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Episodes in this Series

David Robbins: A Leader at Home: Where Do I start?
with David Robbins June 16, 2022
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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