When we met and first married, my husband knew much less about the Bible than I did. I’d just spent four years getting a degree in religion from our Christian alma mater; his degree is in engineering. I’d just spent 24 years being discipled by parents who intentionally taught me the Word of God; he’d committed to following Christ wholeheartedly in the last three years. We entered marriage equally yoked in love for God and desire to serve Him, but I was, and still am, the more biblically-knowledgeable person of our pair.
I grew up like most Christian women, being told I needed to find a “spiritual leader” for my future home and family. But no one ever defined “spiritual leadership” (as I do in this post), so I learned to value leadership according to what I could see. A man who took charge, led Bible studies, initiated devotions, and took copious sermon and study notes must be a spiritual leader – right?
Fast forward to my marriage, and I found myself with a man who didn’t do all these things, at least not consistently. As I said in Marry the Man Who Stays:
He’s often overlooked, this man. You won’t find a microphone in his hand or a stage beneath his feet. He may not lead the Bible study or share profound insights into the Word. Instead, his hands do the work unnoticed, and he stands quietly in the background. He leads by serving. But he lives profoundly.
If you move too fast you might miss him. If you’re captivated by the spotlight you won’t see him in the shadows. If you’re looking for a “type” you might never notice he is there.
But he is.
My husband doesn’t fit the perceived type of the “spiritual leader”; I do. And from the outside in, it probably looks like I’m the one spiritually leading my family. His gifts and mine are very different, and expecting him to fit a one-size-fits-all mold of spiritual leadership is neither biblical nor healthy. So who is doing the leading? The one with the “leadership” gifts, or the one with the mandate to lay himself down for his family (Eph. 5:22-24)?
My answer? Both.
God Has Given Us Different Gifts
My spiritual gifts are teaching, evangelism, and exhortation. I preach the gospel through my ministry and initiate much of the devotional structure in our home. When Josh leads devotions with our toddler, I’m usually the one bringing him the book – because Josh’s gifts are mercy, serving, and prophecy (truth speaking). It does not come naturally to him to think about teaching the gospel on a daily basis, while that is always on the forefront of my mind. But it comes naturally to him to get down on one knee with a crying toddler, to hold my hand during labor, and to serve beyond the limits of his strength.
God has established an order for the church and family based on the order we see within the Trinity. Man was not given leadership in the cultural sense of the word – power and control – but in the sense that he is first to serve (read more about this here). But Josh’s responsibility as protector of our family does not require me to table my gifts. If anything, it calls them to greater use.
As Josh seeks to lead this family closer to God, my gifts empower him to do so. I don’t wait around for my husband to lead our family; I enable him to achieve his potential. And I do this through prayer, encouragement, and the use of my own gifts of teaching and exhortation. I learn from my husband’s gifts, and he learns from mine. He is a better leader when I help point him to Christ.
God Has Given Us One Another
Not only has God give us complementary spiritual gifts, he has given us one another. This is not some pat answer to the trials of marriage; God gave us to each other so we could help one another up (Ecc. 4:10). Josh needs my leadership abilities to excel in his own leadership of this family. He would be shocked and disappointed if I stopped pointing him toward his calling and using my gifts to help him achieve it.
The idea that spiritual leadership is a “man’s job” and we’re to sit back and let him do everything is found nowhere in Scripture. Both men and women are called to lead spiritually – but with a heart of grace and submission, just as Christ submitted to the created order and calling God had designed. Man’s role as servant-leader demands honor because their wives are “heirs with them of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). We are given one another, and we NEED one another, to live out a Great Commission marriage. But when husband or wife deems his or her gifts “superior” to the other’s, nothing of eternal impact will be accomplished.
If we were in competition for leadership, Josh and I would do little of worth for God’s kingdom. But as it stands, our respective gifts fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. As leaders of the college small group for our church, Josh brings a personable, approachable spirit – taking prayer requests, engaging with the student’s lives, remembering the little things they’ve mentioned on previous Sundays. I bring an apologetic education, biblical knowledge, and an ability to teach. Together, we spiritually lead in a complementary way. God has given us one another, just as He gave us our gifts.
God Has Given Us Grace for Growth
Though Josh and I were on two different levels of spiritual knowledge when we met, we were not unequally yoked. We were equal in our passion and desire to follow Christ. THIS, not book knowledge, is what matters in a Christian relationship. When two people share a passion for Christ, the knowledge of Scripture and theology is quick to catch up.
God gave us grace for growth: Grace for Josh to grow in his knowledge and understanding of Scripture, and grace for me to grow in compassion and humility.
When we started out, Josh didn’t know what leadership looked like. He’d never been taught how to “spiritually lead” a family, and this is a common reality for men across the globe. Christian women need to give grace for growth. Your new husband will not enter marriage knowing exactly HOW to lead, nor will he lead exactly like the man next to him. Recognize his individual leadership potential. Encourage his leadership efforts. And use your gifts to spiritually lead him closer to Christ.
Spiritual leadership is not a competition. Nor is it one-size-fits-all. It is a universal calling on every believer in Christ – to be used according to our gifts and position. A godly wife does not sit back and watch her husband “lead”. She does everything in her ability to help him excel in his leadership.
And by so doing, she is a leader herself.