Spiritual Leadership

Posted on January 2, 2018


A common complaint I hear from Christian wives is that their husbands are not the “spiritual leader” of the family.  My experience is that the men at whom the complaint is leveled vary a great deal in where they are at in their spiritual journey.  Some are indeed nominal Christians.  Others regularly attend church, go to Bible study, have a regular devotional time, and actively participate in some Christian ministry.

As we head into the new year, I thought I might offer this for wives who long for their husband’s to be the spiritual leader they desire him to be.  First, let me help you avoid a few pitfalls.

Moving Goalposts.  A common complaint from husbands is the “moving goalpost” phenomenon.  If you are not a sports fan, let me help translate.  Moving goalposts means essentially that I am told where the goal is (i.e. what is expected of me), but when I get there, I find that the goal has moved and is further away.  If I push on for the new goal, I find upon arrival that again the goal has moved.  After a while, I come to believe I can never achieve what is expected of me as what is expected continually changes.  One thing to note about the moving goalposts complaint is that it comes from a man who desperately wants to please his wife.  The danger of the moving goalposts is that if it goes on too long, he will give up trying.

Not Good Enough.  I can’t over emphasize this point.  In male culture, we grow up with the constant taunt (spoken or implied), “Are you good enough?  Do you have what it takes?”  This continues into the adult world where there the question is still asked of us daily in subtle (or not so subtle ways).  One of the most painful things for a man is to feel like his wife sees him as deficient.  But as men, we are not allowed to do pain so if you hit on that sore spot, we give you anger or withdrawal.  Every time you give him a message that he is not what he ought to be, it hits him where he is most vulnerable.  Do it enough and his heart will be increasingly closed off to you.

Comparison.  Let me let you in on a little secret.  All men are goofy.  I mean really goofy.  If you had live with whichever Ryan or Chris is the current movie heartthrob, you would actually find that he is just as goofy as your husband.  When it comes to spirituality, everyone has their struggles, their strengths and weaknesses.  If the pastor were your husband, you would find he is not a spiritual giant, but a man with his own struggles that just happens to be called by God to pastor.  Comparison has two facets that can be harmful.  The first is how you talk to yourself about your husband.  Comparing him (in your own mind) with another man who seems more spiritual is not going to be helpful for your happiness in the relationship.  Second, if he knows he is being compared and is losing in that comparison, it is really hurtful to him.  Imagine, if you will, if he were continually checking out your friend, commenting on your friend’s attractiveness and desirability.  You’d be hurt, right?  Even if he were only making the comparison in his own mind and never gave it voice, it would still impact how he sees you and treats you.  Bottom line: don’t compare.  It isn’t helpful to the marriage.

Let’s take a more positive look at the situation.

Grace.  One of the things that really sets Christianity apart from other faiths is the concept of grace.  That is that we are accepted as a gift from God because He is gracious, and not because we deserve it or have earned his acceptance of us.  Scripture reminds us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).  Also it is God’s kindness to us that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).  Applying this in your marriage, you will be much more likely to influence him if he feels loved, accepted, and respected as he is.

Sanctification.  The process by which we become more Christ-like is sanctification.  We cannot do it for ourselves.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit.  We can resist His work in us (1 Thess. 5:19), but ultimately it is His work and not ours.  So if you cannot sanctify yourself, you certainly cannot sanctify your husband.  Your act of faith is to trust that Holy Spirit is working in him as He is in you.

5:1.  The research indicates that relationship health requires five positives for every negative.  If you want to be able to speak into your husband’s life about things you think he should do differently, you need to be communicating enough positive affirmations that he can hear that from you without the relationship being damaged in the process.

Criticism vs. Request.  Criticism is one of those patterns that is so damaging to relationships that it has been called one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  It generally involves talking to your husband about what is wrong with him.  If pointing out where he falls short is your pattern, it not only will not get you what you want, but it is damaging to the marriage relationship.  If there is something that you would like him to do, it is much healthier to learn to make requests.  We, men, tend to be pretty concrete so you need to be specific with us.  If spiritual leadership means that you would really like him to pray with the kids at bedtime, ask him if he would be willing to do that.  If there are things that you would like to be part of your relationship as a couple, you might also make the request in the form of something like “I would like for us to do” (as opposed to something he needs to fix about him).  With regard to requests, you husband could say, “yes,” “no,” or negotiate.  This is healthy and, done well, will add to your intimacy.

Edification.  Build him up.  A man will slay dragons for a woman who thinks he is wonderful, amazing, capable, talented, and who is delighted to be married to him.  As Grandma Wood used to say, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  Or as those one hit wonders, The Foundations, once sang, “Build me up, Buttercup.  Don’t break my heart.”

Repentance.  If much of this discussion is ringing true for you, there may be things in the relationship that you may be feeling called to repent of.  Your walk with the Lord is your walk with the Lord.  If your patterns have been more critical than edifying (even if you usually did not give your criticisms voice), you might want to take that to the Lord.  You may find you feel called to repent to your husband as well.

His Walk is His Walk.  Finally, his walk with the Lord is his walk with the Lord.  God’s word promises that He will be faithful to complete his work in us (Phil. 1:6).  Trust that this applies to your husband as well.  No matter where your husband is in his spiritual journey, his spirituality may look very different from yours.  He could be being faithful to his calling to be the spiritual leader in your home, and it might not look the way it would if you were writing the script.