Why Our Understanding of “Male-Headship” in Marriage is Damaging!


Why are we forcing men to adhere to our American definition of “headship” when some men are not natural born leaders?  I am not saying that God has not called the husband to be the “head” of the home. What I am saying is that we have greatly misunderstood what “headship” means in the Bible and our narrow-minded American view is actually damaging Christian couples.

My husband and I are perfect examples of this.  Luke is naturally more of a “manager” than a “leader.”  He is gifted in keeping everyone and everything in order, under control, on time and in its place (which is annoying, but undoubtedly good for me). But, “managers” are not risk-takers and change is not their thing.  They are typically very wise and often slow-moving.

“Leaders,” on the other hand, are risk-takers.  They are gifted in stirring crowds and getting everyone up off their tushes and doing something beneficial.  They often act on whims, are not typically organized, and are rarely concerned about time and order.  I have always been a leader in this way; since I was a kid.  I did not try to be.  I just was.

The issue with traditional thinking in the Christian church is that we assume “husband-headship” is defined by our American understanding of “leader.”  While this is ideal for some couples as there are certainly many in which the husband is the natural “leader” and the wife is the natural “manager;” one can see how this would be problematic in a home in which the husband is the natural “manager” and the wife is the natural “leader.”

In fact, the church offers almost no helpful literature on how to function as a Christian married couple in this case. Certainly many Christian men and women have figured it out after much trial and error, but how many have actually given up on marriage (since the divorce rate among Christians is exactly the same as it is among non-Christians) because they had no mentors to turn to?

If Luke and I were to go to the majority of Christian leaders, most would encourage Luke to “man-up” and me to “settle-down” – suppressing our natural giftings for a stale and misinterpreted doctrine.  In fact, growing up in the church it is mostly assumed that the husband will be the “leader” of the family.  But what does this mean when he is not the “leader” in the family?

This teaching has actually caused Luke and I a lot of pain as I have expected him to be someone he is not and he has expected me to be someone I am not.  I have often compared him to the Christian guys who were orchestrating and leading Bible studies at church, waking their wives up with morning devotions, and singing “kumbaya” in their girl’s ear (Ok, maybe not the last one).

Likewise, Luke would jokingly compare me to the more laid-back girls at church who found great contentment keeping their homes ship-shape, managing their households, and generally maintaining calm (uneventful) atmospheres.  We cannot help but be effected by American culture and American culture cannot help but be effected by the Christian Church.

I am pretty sure Luke would enjoy making organic candles, soaps, grape jam, and homemade beer (just so you know how manly he REALLY is).  I am certain, I would be good for the rest of my life not to learn any of these things, but I would like to sit with the guys and debate theology for like five hours.  Get it?  Christian gender stereotypes are not only lame; they are not true! 

American Christianity has told us that all Christian husbands are supposed to be “leaders” of the home, watch sports, and shoot stuff; while Christian wives are supposed be “managers” of the home, bake bread, and sort stuff and that this is so obviously God’s “clear design” for marriage.  I would say that this is BULL-CRAP-HASHTAG-SorryNotSorry!!! 

Although, can we just stop and give a major shout out to the gals who do bake bread? 🙂

My hope for the Christian church of America is that we will someday come off our high mountain of ridiculousness and GET REAL.  My husband is more of a man than most Christian men because he demonstrates his “headship” in love, not by trying to change his personality, giftings, or calling from God.

I am not claiming to understand exactly what “male-headship” means because it is my view that marriage between a man and a woman is a beautiful mystery (like the godhead –  not a clear design whatsoever); but I am pretty convinced that “male-headship” in the Bible does not reflect our American understanding of “leadership.”

If husband-headship means anything, it means being the first to love and die to self (AKA: the first to cave), as this is what Christ did for the Church (His Bride).  If wife-submission means anything, it means to respond to her husband’s love by trusting him that he actually does want her best no matter how imperfect his efforts may seem.  But, Christ did not expect “His Bride” to trust in Him until after He showed her pure selflessness and died on the cross.

Oh but wait, there is more.  The Bible actually tells husbands to submit to their wives too, but never demands that wives “love” their husbands (Eph. 5:21-33).  Surely we will not be such literalists that we will assume God does not expect wives to “love” their husbands back simply because the passage we all point to as “God’s clear marriage instructions” does not command wives to do so.

Guys, good news!  You don’t have to change your personality, passions, giftings, or calling to be good Christian husbands.  You just have to love your girl more than you love yourself (I know, not as easy as it sounds).  Ladies (like me), you don’t have to change your personality, pretend you are not the “leader” in the home, try and “settle-down” or dampen your calling to be good Christian wives.  You just have to learn to trust your hubby’s love for you (I know, not as easy as it sounds).

This is why it is SO important not to marry an idiot who is self-centered.  If you are already married to a self-centered idiot, God does not expect you to blindly submit to his idiot-self-centered-whims.  You are simply called to love him and pray to God your love changes him.  If he is abusive, cheats on you, or has abandoned you (in any way) tell him to hit the road!

Let’s move forward Christian couples!  Let’s stop pretending that the man is the “big-bad-leader” when we all know who usually is “boss.”  This is not threatening.  This shows that most husbands really do love their wives more than themselves! Let’s be honest, most men are naturally “the head” in the sense of loving first, laying down his life first, laying down his pride first, caving first, pursuing first – we all know that when a man loves a woman he will sleep out in the rain.

This my friend, is “Jesus love” – the sort of love that earns the right to to biblical headship.  But let’s be honest, a man who is really walking in the true definition of “biblical headship” would never claim such a title (at least not aloud).

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  • Agreed that “lording it over” is not headship/ leadership. Regardless of personality and ability God calls the husband to headship and it is him whom God ultimately holds accountable. It is in the creation mandate as well as Paul’s teaching. Mutual submission notwithstanding.

    • I half agree with you Betty. 🙂 I actually believe more in mutual submission than one-way submission and I believe we will be held accountable as woman as well. If we remember, in the Garden – “He will have power over you and your desire will be for your husband” was actually a curse, but when the “second adam” came (Jesus), he broke the curse of the fall. Now, there is not male/female, greek/jew, etc..I believe that the new “head” of the home is actually Jesus and both men and women are His bridegroom. Husbands and wives are of one flesh so how could there be a power hierarchy? Same as the godhead – if the father son and holy spirit are one in the same, how can there be a power hierarchy? Both marriage and the godhead are a mystery in my opinion. I do think that the husband is called to lead in love first, but does not maintain a higher level of authority. I respect your views though and love you!!! xoxo

      • Xxxooo I love and respect you and think this is superb discussion. It is really making me think, too. Paul seems to teach hierarchy in the govt of the home, not in equality or importance. Hupatasso is the Greek for submission and it means to come under. I don’t know how you get around that. Yes there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, etc as far as our access to or standing in Christ, but govt of the home is a different subject.

        • I hear ya Betty and I have sat under LOTS of suppressing teachers and have also witnessed it in marriage as the husband says he is the leader but actually leads the family in self-centered directions (saying it is “God”). But, my parents never taught me this in anyway, so the deeper parts of my heart believes in mutual submission without hierarchy because this is what I watched in my parents my whole life. I know at the end of the day, what my parents did does not matter, but what the Word of God says: 1. “Sub” means “under” while “mission” means “assignment” and the Word clearly states “Husbands and wives, submit to one another” before it goes into any other instructions. Hence, a husband and a wife are “Under the same mission/assignment” which is to continuously love and submit to one another. I believe that the husband does have a unique calling to be the first to love (die to self), while the wife has the calling to respond to His love with biblical submission to “trust his love” but this in no way means that the husband is of greater authority than the wife. It cannot mean this because the whole comparison is to the godhead and there cannot be a hierarchy in the godhead if they are one in the same. Same as marriage, if we are of one flesh, how can their be a power hierarchy within? Further, if Eve is the other half of the image of God, how can Man’s authority be greater than woman’s authority? God did not divide himself and call one part of himself less powerful. I do believe men and women have different “roles” in marriage, but one role is not of greater power than the other role. “Father God” is not more powerful than “Mother God!” People have used marriage roles and applied it to “church government” saying that because the husband is the head of the home, MAN must be the head of the church. No where in God’s Word does it say this. A female makes a tremendous lead pastor of a church because she bears the partial image of God just as much as a male bears a partial image of God. The entire point of marriage is to become more and more as one, just as the godhead. It is a never ending cycle of loving each other even when the other person does not deserve it and trusting each other’s love even when it is hard. Never ending love and submission. Further, the Word of God continuously persuades Christians to submit to each other (come under the same mission in unity). Why would we make one exception and say “Oh but men who get married dont need to submit to their wives?” The whole biblical context is about love and submission and how they go together. They are not and cannot be mutually exclusive within the body of Christ. Married or not married. 🙂

  • This post is so beneficial, because it brings to light the fact that not all men are leaders and not all woman are naturally “submissive”. This is one of the the reasons I left a church that I had been going to since a baby(off and on) It was so frustrating to grow up believing men should be the head of household and the big provider…when I wasn’t seeing that in practice. I was taught to cook, clean and do laundry. My wonderful grandma would press upon me dainty tea sets..when I wanted so badly to go outside and make dirt tunnels and catch frogs. I pretended to like dolls and Barbies, when I really thought it was boring! The woman in my life, bless them, really were sold on the ideal that what the man says goes! Bottom line..two people become a team, both a part of a whole. They both have strengths and weaknesses and where one is missing something the other fills the missing piece. Sure, it’s work, but it’s worth it when the two do everything in selfless, unconditional love. Indeed it would be quite miserable if we tried living up to something that we just weren’t meant to do or pretending we are what we are not. I feel there’s so many that need to understand just exactly what you have put into words here!

    • Thank you for sharing your testimony Julie! It is true…I loved barbies, but I also liked playing in the dirt! Man made doctrines will always have hints of discrimination and inequalities because humans generally believe themselves to be better than one another. Jesus evens the playing field! 🙂

  • I’m not sure exactly how to express this but you must have had some oppressive teaching about headship/submission. I, too, played with Barbie, baby dolls, “taught school”, but also climbed trees, lived on my bike, played sandlot baseball, made hide-outs. Later I loved discussing theology and strategizing ministry. I can be this person and not feel like Biblical teaching about marital order violates anything about who I am or what God wants me to do with my life. There are many Christian women leaders whose husbands are in obscurity who have made it clear they don’t “lead” their husbands. But as my husband and I mutually submit, we run things by each other and there is no way I would do something with which he had any issues. I love and respect him too much as a person.

    • Where does it say that husbands are to submit to wives? In Ephesians Paul writes a letter to the Church. He speaks to different groups and is specific when he tells wives and husbands what God calls for. Verse 21 is not a sentence in itself, nor the beginning of a sentence. It is a continuation from the verse prior to it where Paul speaks to the church as a group. He specifically then addresses wives (v.22-25) and husbands (v. 26-32) and then also both in v. 33.

      Concerning Genesis, Eve was given to be Adam’s helper. She was taken and made from part of Adam to be part of him. Yes, they were made in God’s image. And Yes, woman was cursed so that her husband would rule over her. But if you believe that Jesus sacrifice took that curse, then why do we still see thorns and thistles? Why does work have to be done as He cursed Adam? Why is there still pain in childbirth? If it takes one away, wouldn’t it take them all?

      Also, in reference to why women are not to be pastors and deacons. .
      1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3:3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 3:4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 3:5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

      1 Timothy 3:8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 3:9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 3:10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 3:11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 3:12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

      Titus 1:5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 1:6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

      What about these? You cannot be the husband of one wife, biblically, if you are a woman.

      While I agreed that it world be grand if we could assume authorities when we felt it is better, if we are to follow scripture, we cannot. Not being a “natural leader” doesn’t relinquish you from your duty. Neither does not bring a natural submitter. God never says taking on your responsibility would be easy, he just says this is how is going to be.

      Is it easy? No. Is it biblical? Yes. Do I want to believe it or do I like it? Doesn’t matter. God said it. That settles it.

  • I think we both agree that you are an intelligent woman. But again, I find numerous passages where wives are to submit to husbands (as i have shared here) and have yet to find where it says husbands are to submit to wives. Can you please share that reference?

  • But Ephesians 5:21 isn’t a sentence by itself. It’s a continuation from the previous verses.
    Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 5:20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 5:21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

    Where, if you take the verse in the context in which it is grammatically correct, Paul is speaking to the general congregation.

    Another reference please?

    • Since its assumed that when it says husbands are to love their wives, that its not telling wives to NOT also love their husbands (it’s assumed that both love each other) that the submission line is also both ways and the lines on pastor / leadership in church also go both ways? Does everything have to be explicit? It uses language directed at males (but most literature of the day does anyway) so wouldn’t it also mean the wife of one husband? What I get from that is not the gender, but the fact that it’s speaking against polygamy.

      Also are wives not part of the general congregation? How can a husband submit to all others in a congregation but not his own wife since she too would be part of that same congregation?? Also just because it tells a husband to love his wife, do you believe that the wife should not love her husband??

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