My Husband Wasn’t the Spiritual Leader I Wanted!

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I Needed Him to Lead Spiritually

As a young wife, I (Erin) can remember the disappointment I felt in my husband, Greg, as the spiritual leader of our family. Often he didn’t lead the way I thought he should, so I would just take over and do the job I felt was his. The result was major resentment and bitterness on my part and frustration and failure on his.

I often hear other women express the same complaint. Many wives feel angry, resentful, resigned, and confused about what to do with a husband who seems religiously bored, spiritual absent, or unwilling to lead his family toward Christ. One wife described her frustration:

I had visions of my husband leading Bible studies in our home, taking a leadership role at church, praying with me over our problems, and talking about godly things with our children. Instead, he stumbled over grace at mealtime and hardly ever brought up the subject of God or faith or church.

Why are many husbands passive when it comes to leading their families spiritually? Click To Tweet Statistics indicate it’s a growing epidemic in our country:

  • On any given Sunday, there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
  • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church on any given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.
  • Fewer than 10 percent of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.

For some, the root of this failure to lead spiritually may be that husbands aren’t nurturing a deeper personal relationship with Christ. Perhaps that’s also why many husbands seem reluctant to take the lead in keeping their marriages strong, parenting their children, managing household responsibilities or making financial decisions. When husbands aren’t fulfilling their God-ordained roles as the spiritual leaders of the home, they may fail to step up in other areas as well.

If this is the situation in your marriage, what can you do? The answer isn’t to complain more or criticize your husband. Nor it is to resign yourself to his passivity. Instead, the answer lies in allowing God to work on your husband and controlling what you can: yourself.

There are several powerful steps you can take to encourage your husband’s spiritual life and leadership:

Express Gratitude

Anger, resentment, and apathy are signs of a closed heart. The best weapon against these painful emotions is gratitude. Try noticing what you appreciate about your husband. Look for things your husband is doing right. Then write them down in a gratitude journal and share them with him—daily, if possible. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to “encourage one another daily, as long it is is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Ask the Tough Question

You first need to focus on your role a follower or helper. Start by asking yourself this difficult question, “Do I let my husband lead?” This could be the log in your eye.

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This isn’t about assigning blame. Your husband truly might be passive or withdrawn. His lack of leadership may result from the absence of a strong male role model growing up, or he may find it difficult to lead because of an emotional wound from childhood, an introverted personality, or some other issue. You might be a strong woman with a take-charge personality he finds intimidating, or you may unintentionally treat him like a child, make him feel incompetent, constantly question or undermine his decisions, step in or take over. Whatever the case may be, a man is often reluctant to lead because he has a wife who is reluctant to follow.

Really reflect on this. Think about what it would look like for you to support your husband’s attempts, even if you think you have a better way to do it. :Pray about this issue and search your heart for insight about your role as a follower. Then give your husband space to lead.

Respect Your Husband

Ephesians 5:33 specifically calls wives to respect their husbands. The key element needed to respect your man is one of the most dreaded, misunderstood, and hotly debated concepts in the Bible and in our

Christian culture is: submission. Some believe submission is simply about blind obedience. Others suggest it’s about wives denying their opinions, desires, needs, and feelings. The truth is, the apostle Paul never said it’s the husband’s responsibility to make his wife submit. Submission is a choice. A wife submits to her husband out of her own free will and in response to her love and commitment to the Lord. She accepts her husband’s role as the leader of their family out of respect for God’s command: “You wives must accept the authority of your husbands” (1 Peter 3:1, NLT). Submission is less about an action or a set of behaviors as it is about a mindset—an attitude of the heart.

Model Vibrant Faith

As you seek to encourage your husband’s faith, your battle cry should be 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be [women] of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” In other words, it’s your job to grow more like Christ. Some women have given away this responsibility to their husbands. Your faith is your responsibility.

Pray for Your Husband

All men can use some encouragement and support to continue pursuing God while balancing work, family, and marriage. If you do have a husband struggling in this area, ask the Lord to help you meet him with compassion. Pray fervently for him, but release him to the Lord.  The Lord can change his heart.

And remember, men are really good at sniffing out attempts to manipulate. Try to put yourself in your husband’s shoes—frankly, after a long workday, it may not seem super appealing to sit with a group of men to pray or to come home and open his Bible. Be creative in your encouragement and focus on modeling a vibrant faith. And as God shows up, you never know the impact it will all have on your husband’s personal walk with the Lord.

Taken from The Wholehearted Wife by Erin, Greg, and Gary Smalley. © Copyright 2014 by Erin Smalley, Greg Smalley, and Gary Smalley. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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  • Heather B.

    I just read “The Wholehearted Wife” by the Smalleys. Inspirational! I highly recommend it. It was a great accountability check for me as well as affirming and growth inspiring. This book is great for all married women, and honestly, even women who
    hope to or are planning marriage, and Biblical. Great for a study or book club and even get hubby involved!! Amazing to me that
    Erin took counsel from her FIL.

  • embeddeddude

    I am sure my and a lot of wives wish their husbands ‘acted’ like the Christian they want them to be. The issue is sometimes, after becoming a man, you realize a LOT of Christianity is just American culture. A lot of what is said in churches about the bible and God really is NOT what the bible says. And most Christians pick and choose what are ‘absolutes’ in the bible and have to be followed and what are no longer required. MOST of what is fostered as Christianity is just culture. I just sat through a sermon on Romans that said the law in the bible was in force but we are save through grace and the pastor had to dance around divorce in the bible due to the number of divorced and remarrying couples in the congregation and who the were NOT committing adultery. The reality is for a lot of men after living a while they see that people say the bible is the literal word of God, yet people pick and choose how to interpret it. They start viewing their overzealous wives a hypocrits of the first order.

  • SK

    Great Insights!

  • N.S.

    Thank you for the article, insightful indeed. but I must say its hurtful to sit in a position we (WIVES) find ourselves in as a result of no proper marital councilling done in the body of Christ. I personally think, such a role is obvious to both parties and men choose not just step up to their responsibility for some odd reason. I am hurting in my marriage as a result of a spiritually absent husband, some1 who should be praying for/ with me. I went through terrible spiritual attacks lying next him in bed at night he would not lift a finger. i reached a point where I realized that I was on my own , I stopped shouting for help. I conquered through Christ. The sad part is that sinse I stopped talking about these attacks. He never asked or spoke about them, not even to find out if I was still having those attacks . Yet I as his wife , am expected to pray for him …where do I begin coz I’ so angry , hurting. Mind you the man is born again, spirit filled… really now!… this is just not acceptable. HUSBANDS MUST UP THEIR GAME!!!!! AND PLAY THEIR ROLE OF LEADERSHIP TO THE FULLEST.

  • jeanine

    If only there were more articles like these that hold husbands accountable for how they behave. It seems the Christian community is quick to point out what the wife should be doing almost to the point of making this her fault when the husband is not leading the family as he should. Men need to step up and they need to take responsibility. These articles make women feel like they are falling short is their role when in fact until their husband takes his role seriously, there is little she can do. I agree that there are some helpful advice in this article, but I have been in one of these marriages. Men need to hold other men accountable. This is not happening. They pat the good old boy on the back at church, ignore the wife, and ignore the signs of trouble.

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