Male leadership in the home and Church

Many years ago I became convinced that couples desiring marriage should be required to complete intensive premarital counseling. Strong marriages lead to strong families, churches, and communities. 

But what should marriage preparation include?

Counselors have consistently recognized four primary areas of marital conflict:

  1. Communication 
  2. In-law relationships
  3. Money
  4. Sex 

While these areas continue to deserve attention, a fifth source of conflict has more recently surfaced: roles of husbands and wives in marriage. Confusion in this area has been fueled by the influence of feminism and the practical impact of  two-income families. When husbands and wives both hold full time employment outside of the home, sharing household duties and parental responsibilities can be a great challenge.

Are there distinctively male or female responsibilities in the home? It’s wise to think about this before getting married. Usually expectations regarding roles are shaped by experiences within our families of origin.

Can we follow the Bible?

Does the bible present a divine norm for roles in marriage? How should Christians apply biblical teaching on roles in marriage? Are they outdated?

Many resent the way scripture portrays the ideal woman as a keeper of the home who submits to her husband. When the nation’s largest Protestant denomination amended its documents to include a statement on the need for a wife to “submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband,” it resulted in a media backlash. Many even in the church were outraged.

So what should we conclude about a New Testament passage that says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-40)?

When performing weddings, if I use the “s” word in the bride’s declaration of intent, (asking her, “Will you take John to be your lawful wedded husband, to live with him according to God’s ordinance? Will you submit to him as to the Lord?”), I always hear whispers of dissent from the audience. But I never hear dissent when I ask the groom if he will love his bride “as Christ loved the church”. 

Misguided notions about submission in marriage abound. Some consider it a return to the Ozzie and Harriet homes of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Others picture a wife who allows her husband to order her around and force her to do whatever he demands. These ideas do not reflect the biblical understanding of wives submitting to their husbands.

In Scripture, marriage is viewed as a one-flesh relationship based on mutual self-giving love. It’s a covenant of companionship between two spiritually equal human beings. Yet this doesn’t mean that the relationship is without roles — nor do roles in marriage diminish equality and the call for mutual respect.

According to scripture, the husband bears primary responsibility to lead the home in a God-glorifying manner. His leadership clearly involves authority and should be honored by his wife and family. This authority, however, should be based on love (see: I Corinthians 13:4-8a) and thoughtful consideration (see: Philippians 2:3-5).

Scripture issues strong warnings against husbands who treat their wives with insensitivity (see I Peter 3:7). Husbands must never forget that they are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Cultural limitations should not be placed on this command any more than on the command for wives to submit to their husbands. Biblical requirements for male leadership in the home were not conditioned on cultural factors.

In a similar way, scripture reserves the office of elder (spiritual overseer) in the church to men (see: I Timothy 2:11-14). This requirement was based on the order of creation not on cultural attitudes about women during earlier times. Those who try to limit this instruction to cultural issues during New Testament times are intentionally twisting the voice of Scripture on the subject. But this is not to say that women have not and do not play significant roles of influence in both the home and the Church. It is simply requiring men to hold the office of eldership in the Church. It’s equally important to recognize what is not meant by submission of wives to husbands.

Distinctions about submission:

  1. Submission does not mean putting a husband in the place of Christ.
  2. Submission does not mean giving up independent thought.
  3. Submission does not mean a wife should give up efforts to influence and guide her husband.
  4. Submission does not mean a wife should give in to every demand of her husband.
  5. Submission is not based on lesser intelligence or competence.
  6. Submission does not mean being fearful or timid.
  7. Submission is not inconsistent with equality in Christ

(7 points from: “Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism” ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem)

Submission is most evidenced in a wife respecting her husband through her actions and speech. Wives must resist attitudes, verbal tones and facial expressions that convey disrespect. Playful rivalry is not bad between husbands and wives but divisive rivalry is a sign of deeper issues. Husbands must act and speak in ways that encourage respectful responses from their wives. If their husbands are not being respectful, I encourage wives to find a respectful way to tell them that you are finding it difficult to respect them. 

Steve Cornell

See also: Celebrate distinctions between men and women

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Church, Leadership, Wives. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Male leadership in the home and Church

  1. Milehimama says:

    Christopher West has a wonderful explanation in his book “Good News about Sex and Marriage” about submission.
    Sub – mission for a wife means to put herself under the mission of her husband (sub = under). What is the mission of the husband? To love his wife as Christ loved the Church. A wife submits when she allowes her husband to love her fully (by leading, protecting, etc.) West speaks of this thorughout the book, it’s hard to sum up in one chapter.
    Submission is NOT leaping up from scrubbing the floor to fetch your husband a beer at halftime, as TV portrays it!

    Mama Says


  2. Mom says:

    You say a lot about what submission is not, but not much about what it is. I’m wondering how you came up with what it’s not. My husband and I struggle with differences in interpretation on this matter. I feel I submit a lot and he doesn’t feel that I do. If I disagree with something he’s decided on he tells me I’m arguementative, even though he never took my needs into consideration before a decision was made. I’m not a feminist;I homeschooled, stayed home to raise my kids and forgoed a career, but I do think that he resents what the feminists have done and it feels like he punishes me for their attitudes.


  3. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I have tried to work through 1 Peter 3 on submission in response to Mary Kassian.


  4. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Once more to subscribe to comments!


  5. Dean says:

    The scripture says that men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. My wife and I discussed these passages before we got married. We agreed this meant she let me make the decisions while I make sure to make decisions that have her interests and well being placed before my own wants and well being. That is how Christ loved us Nd how we should love our wives.


    • Anonymous says:

      She let you take decisions? After discussion or without discussion. Paul says “That I may know Him”. You may ask, does he not know Christ? Yet he is still seeking to know Him. You cannot have know all her interests and well-being without discussion and unanimously agreeing.


  6. Karen Arnold says:

    I do my best at being submissive to my husband. We’ve been married for 7 years and together for 11. I have 2 older children ages 28 and 21 from a previous marriage. We disagree alot about them. We have 2 younger children together 5 and 2 that we never argue over. My older son has made some bad decisions in life(rehabilitated drug addict), my daughter being rebellious at a young age and now a mother of 2 and married, but he feels neither one set goals for themselves. When I want to talk about them or see them, its an argument, although money is tight at times. My daughter and grandchildren live in the same town that I do, but however I shouldnt go see them because he feels she should bring them to see me. She hasnt ever accomplished her drivers license so he feels this will push her more to get them, but what he doesnt realize this hurts me. I find myself being confused of submission to my husband as to he has been called to minister. I want to do Gods will and be pure to him in my walk. He gets upset or changes attitude when the older ones are even spoken about or when they come over to visit, he barely talks to them. I dont feel this is right. I hold alot in as im trying to learn submission… I hope that you can help.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s