On January 11th of 2016, a woman named “Kelly” asked John Piper these questions:
“Hello Pastor John, my husband and I are still in the beginning stages of our marriage. Both of us were raised in Christian homes, but unfortunately both of us had fathers who failed to lead the family spiritually. Our mothers did that job. Now, I desire my husband to lead our home spiritually, but we both don’t know what that looks like. Does he lead prayer with me daily? Does he read the word with me daily? And what do you do with your family? What did this look like for you (Source)?”
John Piper first sort of scolds Kelly and her husband for the fact that Kelly is asking him these questions and not her husband, which makes sense because Piper goes on to charge Kelly’s husband to become the “initiator” in all things. My heart feels for Kelly and her husband because they are newlyweds who are simply trying to figure out how to have a good and godly marriage and it is obvious that Kelly is the spiritual initiator in the marriage (and perhaps frustrated by that).
I remember the days of trying to force my husband, Luke, to fit into the complementarian box, which is funny because I grew up in an egalitarian family.
In some ways Luke naturally fits the role complementarians want him to play. He has always been the breadwinner of our family, but that is mostly because I am a minister and have had a hard time finding a job in ministry, due to complementarian teachings spreading throughout the evangelical church.
Piper says that most women want their husbands to take initiative (leadership) and he is right. We do want our men to lead some things, plan some nice dates, make some decisions, and have our backs. What Piper fails to mention is that most men want women to do these same things. Marriage is a partnership and a young bride being encouraged to rely solely on her new young husband is unrealistic.
Piper is setting Kelly and her husband up for a lot of disappointment and maybe even a lot of fights.
As I say often, between Luke and me, I am more naturally the initiator. Risk-taking comes naturally to me and if I want something done, I do it. I have always been the spiritual leader in our family. Luke is a very spiritual guy who loves the Lord, but I was called to be a minister at 13 years old and have dedicated my whole life to this whole Jesus thing.
The truth is that many (if not most) wives are the “spiritual leaders” of their families, because women have generally been more attracted to Jesus and spirituality since the first century of the early church (Read “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark). Even in so called “complementarian homes,” women are often the true “spiritual leaders,” even though they don’t like to admit it.
When we are told over and over that this is not right or “biblical,” we start pressuring our husbands to be someone they are not ready to be or may never be no matter how hard they try. We also deny our own leadership gifts instead of embracing them. Everyone in the marriage ends up losing. We all feel insecure and start taking it out on each other.
Luke has always assisted me in ministry and has honestly been like a manager to me. He keeps me focused, encourages me to stay on task, and often slows me down. I have never wanted him to take over my ministerial calling, but I have welcomed his voice and help.
I was a part-time youth pastor when Luke and I met. He was taking too long to ask me out on a date, even though I knew he liked me, so I invited him to come help me with my teens. Luke has told me that the number one thing that I have led him in through our 7 years of marriage is spirituality.
Nowadays, Luke and I operate more as a team in ministry and spirituality, rather than him assisting me.
Luke grew in his leadership skills and in his spirituality, and we are now planting a church together, along with 7 other men/women. However, Luke is never going to be the guy who runs out to the Christian bookstore to buy a devotional for us to do together. That’s just not him, and why would I want to force him to be someone he is not? Does he lead when we pray together? Well, if I want Luke to pray for us, he is happy to, but he normally won’t take leadership in this way.
Luke may not be the man who spiritually directs me with prayer and Bible study, but he is the guy who gets up early on a freezing cold morning to warm up my car and brush the snow off the windshield for me. He’s the guy that cooks and cleans for me all the time, without my even asking. He’s the guy that lets me pick what movie we will watch every time.
Luke naturally has a servant’s heart and would sacrifice anything for me.
Kelly, may I offer you some woman-to-woman advice? Let your new husband be himself and continue to be yourself, even if you happen to be the spiritual leader of your home. In God’s timing, you will both flourish into who you are supposed to be, but don’t force it. It will cause you and your husband much frustration and pain if you try to change each other too much.
Of course, there are times when you will need to speak up and say, “Hey babe, I really need you to take leadership on this one,” but we should not expect men to take leadership on everything.
This is too much for any human being to bear. Sometimes the wife should have the final say and sometimes the husband should have the final say, but most of time, a husband and wife should BOTH have the final say – agreeing before moving forward on any major decisions.
Marriage is a slow dance of give and take, and no one’s dance will look exactly the same. Marriage works best when we accept one another as we are, as tough as this is at times. Sometimes the wife will take the lead and she is not being rebellious; she is being a grown-up. Sometimes the husband will follow, and he is not being a “man-child;” he is humbly submitting to the woman he loves and learning to trust her.
John Piper continues to apply too many rules to what “husband headship” means in Ephesians five. Firstly, linguistic studies of the original Greek do not seem to support “husband headship” meaning “leader” or “authority over.” Our modern understanding of the word “headship” is that of “leader,” but it is a mistake to apply modern language to ancient language. I write more about this here:
Ephesians five is not a prescription on how to have a perfectly holy marriage – godly marriages do not all look the same.
Piper and friends have read into this Bible passage way too much, in hopes of continuing a patriarchal home and church. All Christians are to be like Christ, not just husbands. Likewise, all Christians are to BE the “bride of Christ,” not just wives.
It is not correct or just to “literally” compare husbands to Christ, who was perfect in all His ways, and then compare wives to the Church, who messes everything up and needs a Savior.
This teaching continues to perpetuate injustice towards women worldwide. God has called husbands and wives to mutually submit to one another (Eph. 5:21) and husbands to lay down their selfishness and love their wives unconditionally.
It’s this simple, and I would be willing to bet that “Kelly’s” husband is already being a great “head of the home” without even trying, because all “head of the home” means is to sacrificially love one’s bride.
For Biblical Evidence Read My Post:
I believe strongly in the authority of the Bible and used it as my primary source in writing my master’s thesis on female leadership in the first and second centuries of the early church:
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