March 9, 2007 by Stacy McDonald

Why Won’t He Lead? (Part 1)

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Over the years, I have received letters from ladies who are frustrated because they feel they are spiritually “beyond” their husbands. Many rightly yearn for a more biblically ordered home. These godly women dream of being the meek and submissive Sarah of Scripture while their husbands lead their families with the theological competence of John Calvin and the vigor and passion of John Knox. They desire a husband who is constantly attentive, gracious, admiring, and self sacrificing, and find themselves discouraged and disappointed by a husband who may struggle with even getting to church on time.

These dear ladies envision their little children, mighty in spirit, lined up in a neat little row, looking up to their father with awe and respect while flawlessly quoting the Catechism with confidence and conviction, all because of Daddy’s faithful and consistent teaching. I can almost hear their deep and longing sighs in the emails I receive.

Most letters I receive on this subject say something like this:

“If only my husband would make wise choices for our family. I tried to warn him…”

“My husband tells me to do whatever I want, but I explained to him that he must instruct and lead me in what I should do.”

“My husband refuses to turn off the television and lead in family worship. I’ve even gone to the trouble of writing out instructions for him.”

“I’ve arranged a special time for him to spend quality time with the children and he just sits there watching football. The children are getting tired of waiting.”

“The more I do for him, the less he does! I think he would really let me do it all and call it a happy life. I don’t want to remind him that the children love it when he reads to them…I am so tired!”

Each wife is complaining about her husband’s leadership. None of these husbands are measuring up to their wives’ expectations. It is true that most of these men are probably failing miserably in the area of godly leadership and personal holiness, but whose job is it to deal with their sin?

What we as women need to understand is that when we attempt to instruct or nag our husbands, we may actually hinder his growth and change, rather than encourage it. A wife might even prolong her husband’s laziness by spiritually beating him into a corner.

Though her husband’s sinful stubbornness is certainly not the wife’s fault, she must remember that God is God and her meager attempts to change her husband may actually stir more defiance. In actuality, each of the above examples shares a common mistake. Each wife was attempting to lead her husband in his role as leader. I know it sounds a little ridiculous in print, but imagine the conversation going something like this:

“Honey, I love you and want to submit to you, so this is how you should lead me. No, not that way; here let me show you. Wrong; that’s not what I said. Just give it to me…ahem, I mean, that was a good try, but…Oh, never mind, just let me do it!”

Can’t you imagine the trampled guy throwing up his hands in frustration and heading to the golf course (or the corner of the roof)? Does his sin still belong to him? Most assuredly. Has his wife contributed her own sin to the situation? Absolutely. Is she any closer to having a husband who desires to lead his family? Probably not.

What causes us to desire a strong husband who will lead, and then simultaneously try to rule and control him? Sin. It dates back to the garden:

In Genesis 3:16 we read: “And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

In other words, although things would not run smoothly unless the man was leading, Eve (woman) would still desire to rule. She would battle her flesh, as she inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) desired to be the “man in charge.” If it were not for sin, she would have obeyed with humility and joy. It is not the “submission” itself that is a curse, but sin that makes us hate it!

Keep in mind that God did not place a curse upon Eve as to bring her to ruin, but as a chastisement to bring her to repentance. He also did not put her under subjection of an enemy or a stranger, but to her own husband, who is commanded to love her—even to the point of death. It was designed to be this way.

When Christ redeems us, we are free from the bondage of sin that make us loath submission to our husbands. Should we still act as though we are under the curse that tells us to hate it? We are redeemed! Though we still battle the flesh, it is now a great joy to walk in the ways of God and His heavenly order.


Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives. While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 1 Peter 3:1-2


The word for conversation here is anastrophe, which means manner of life, conduct, behavior and deportment. If we have a husband who is not a Christian or a believing husband who is not obeying the Word, the best thing we can do is to display humble and chaste behavior before him. Our conduct will speak much louder and more effectively than any amount of pleading.

We must remember that we are not responsible to make sure our husbands “do” anything. This can be very difficult when we see things that are clearly being neglected, but we must consider how fruitless complaining and nagging truly is and how a contentious spirit introduces a harmful and depressing temperature to the home. Observe the emotions of infants and children who are constantly exposed to arguing and strife.

It’s tempting to feel like God is not doing things fast enough and probably needs a little nudging, but remember that His ways are not our ways. Love, respect, and pray for your husband, but resist the urge to complain and demand. Also, remember that you may just get what you prayed for.

Several years ago, my husband counseled with a man who confessed that he had not always led his family in the way he should. He repented to his wife and children and promised them he would change.

However, as he attempted to practice leadership in his home like he had promised, his wife was never satisfied with his efforts. She argued with him and belittled his decisions in front of the children, which undermined his authority and caused a disrespectful attitude in his children. He was afraid if he put his foot down on certain issues in his family, he would lose them altogether.

This husband grew concerned over doctrinal and lifestyle issues in the liberal church they were attending and desired to take his family to visit a new church. However, his wife and children refused to visit other churches with him. They insisted on staying in their current church where they continued to complain about him to their liberal pastor and to gossip about him to others.

What was interesting is that this wife “used to” complain that her husband would not lead. She thought she wanted him to make the decisions, but when those decisions didn’t match up with her own, she rebelled.

Does this sound familiar? Have you ever longed for your husband to direct family worship only to correct him every ten minutes when he tried? Have you begged him to lead in the area of disciplining the children only to interrupt him when he didn’t handle things the way you would have? Have you wished he would take over the family finances only to loudly disagree on how the money was allocated?

Your husband may have some significant spiritual issues he needs to deal with.* Nonetheless, it is not your responsibility to whip him into shape. Your responsibility before God is to love and obey God. Adorn yourself with a meek and quiet spirit. Repent of your own sin and leave it to God to convict, correct, and grow your husband, while you support him with prayer and encouragement. You’ll be more likely to find good fruit at the end of the day.

Join me again later to discuss what it means to have a meek and quiet spirit.

By His Grace,

Stacy McDonald

* If your husband is in serious sin, you should confront him biblically, according to Matthew 18. If necessary, privately enlist the aid of a godly advocate (father, brother, Christian friend etc.). Never gossip about your husband by discussing matters with someone who is not part of the solution. If the matter is serious, you may need to prayerfully involve the elders of your church. God has given wives protection through the avenue of the local church, and when necessary, through the laws of the land.



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6 Responses to “Why Won’t He Lead? (Part 1)”

  1. MW says:

    Thank you so much for this reminder! I had to chuckle at the line “the theological competence of John Calvin and the vigor and passion of John Knox”, because there have been times when I have *expected* just that!!

    Praising God for the wonderful husband he has given me!
    Mae (I’m on the PW list)

  2. Stacy McDonald says:

    It’s so funny. I don’t think any of us would have found it an easy thing to be married to either of these men. I can almost hear myself complaining about John Calvin’s “workahalic” tendencies or “John Knox’s” lack of gentleness. :-) I’ve determined that I am one who must beg for God’s grace and deliberately choose to be content. Otherwise, I will find fault wherever I am.

    Along with you, I am praising God for His kindness in blessing me with a gentle husband who loves to study, but also chooses to take time for his family. Although, I’m sure the wives of John Calvin and John Knox were impressed with their own husbands too. :-)

  3. Mel says:

    How would you approach a woman that was “overly” submissive to her husband? So much so that he could not properly lead her because she was never fully transparent/honest about her thoughts, concerns, and feelings in fear of being a nag, manipulative, and “unsubmissive”.

  4. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Mel,

    As for the overly submissive wife, I have to wonder if there is such a person. :-) Let me explain what I mean. I have met women who hide behind their husbands, won’t look you in the eye, speak in a low voice only when spoken to, and basically seem painfully (and in my opinion sinfully) shy. Sometimes shyness is self centeredness.

    I don’t believe this is a picture of submission at all. Submission is a deliberate decision to lay down our own will to one who is in authority over us—even when we don’t agree. It doesn’t mean we don’t share our opinions, appeal when necessary, or allow an authority figure to grievously sin against us. It doesn’t mean we cower, or walk five paces behind our husbands with downcast eyes. A wife who is given over to despair or becomes despondent, loathing her “position,” (possibly viewing herself as a trapped slave rather than a valuable helpmeet to the husband God gave her) could certainly appear “overly submissive,” on the outside, but it’s an illusion.

    Heart submission is a hearty and joyful acceptance of God’s will. Flesh submission (without the heart) is slavery. (Romans 6) We who are free from the bondage of sin should rejoice in our slavery to righteousness! There’s joy in true obedience. There’s bitterness in forced slavery.

  5. Crystal says:

    There was a time, where in the name of “submission” that I assumed that my husband was always right, his opinion was better than mine, and it was not my place to ever correct him in anything.

    But God called me to be his helper. This meant that when my husband was sinning in a specific area (there was a specific thing), I wasn’t helping him to overcome his sin. Instead, I was enabling his sin, and even defending his sin, in the name of defending my “master.”

    In the end, a good friend showed me that it was not being a “help-meet” to my husband to be “submissive” in that. Though it was not truly submission.

    I think it is possible to be “overly-submissive.” But that just means that a woman quits her job of being helper to her husband and just becomes a great big burden to him.

  6. Stacy McDonald says:

    Exactly, Crystal! This is my point. I don’t call this type of behavior biblical submission at all.

    Sometimes part of being a helpmeet to my husband means I must biblically (and respectfully) confront him of his sin. We’re to spur one another on to good works.

    How “helpful” to him would I be if I sat and silently smiled while he slipped further into something dangerous? Or how much assistance am I giving him if God gives me insight into a situation and I fail to share that with my husband for fear of being unsubmissive? If I do this I am misunderstanding the definition of biblical submission.

    Martha Peace, in her book, The Excellent Wife, does a good job of discussing this subject.

    We should complete our husbands. We are not maids and mistresses to them. We are valuable helpmeets. The trouble comes when we decide, even after we’ve given our counsel on a matter, our husbands must take do as we suggested (or demanded). We can demand our way in different ways (whining, silent treatment, screaming, belittling, pouting etc.) Someone must be in charge and be held accountable for the leadership of the family; and the Bible says it is the husband. So, as wives we must willingly (and helpfully) submit to that leadership.

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