What do you do if your husband is not a spiritual leader?

Every Monday I like to take a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today a woman writes: Help! My husband is not a spiritual leader:

Reader Question: My husband is not a spiritual leaderI’m at a loss. I love my husband. He is a good man, father and provider. But he is NOT a spiritual leader at all. We’ve been married for 5 years. I’ve prayed the entire time that he would step up. He goes to church with us and brings up something in the Bible maybe twice a year. He has been trained to know scripture very well though. I’ve tried to talk to him about it (he always goes on the defense and then declares himself a failure). I’ve tried nudging him in the right direction. I’ve tried leaving it alone and just praying. I don’t feel right taking his place in leading our family (kids). I sometimes don’t even want to grow in my walk because I don’t want to be the “stronger” Christian. I’m worn and I’m broken. I feel as though I can’t continue looking past this and pushing forward. What else is there to do?

Let me tell you a story of a family I know before I start to answer this. The dad is a very outdoorsy type of guy. He works in an office, which just about kills him, where he makes a good amount of money to support the family. Every chance he gets, though, he goes out in a canoe or a kayak. He takes the kids with him. His wife rarely goes.

The kids are in activities in church, and he volunteers to be there for the active ones (the kids’ club sports, for instance). He’s at church every Sunday in a suit, looking sharp. He greets people. He hosts Superbowl parties. His wife often looks miserable. She talks a lot about how he never prays or leads the family spiritually.

However, I wonder if her idea of a spiritual leader and his idea of a spiritual leader are just two very different things. He is an involved dad. He does make sure his kids are at church. And his way of experiencing God is in the outdoors; it isn’t in sitting around the table at night and reading a passage of Scripture and discussing it.

I think when we picture “spiritual leader”, we’re picturing a father who calls the family together for a time that we are now going to deem “our family devotions”. But many men prefer to just live out their faith on a daily basis, in the things that they do. It isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s just different.

In this case, his wife is putting up a huge wall in their marriage, because he is starting to feel like he can never be good enough for her. She doesn’t like the kind of things that he loves, and the things that his kids now love. And so she increasingly feels like her family is “wrong”. But perhaps if she went out on the lake more with the family, she’d see things a little differently.
So here are a few thoughts:

When Your Husband is Not a Spiritual Leader

1. Get Rid of Your Image of “Spiritual Leader”

I think we have heard too much from radio programs like Focus on the Family or from pastors up at the front of the church about the importance of spiritual leaders, and giving the example of a man who leads family devotions after dinner or who gathers the family to pray.

I am not saying this is wrong; I think it’s wonderful. But I think it’s set up this expectation that a spiritual leader is someone who does those particular things. And I don’t believe that is true.

People all relate to God in different ways. Some will read their Bible for 45 minutes a day and pray for 30, with multiple journals and coloring pencils on hand. I have a male friend who’s a trucker, and he doesn’t read his Bible that much. But he spends his days listening to the teaching programs on the Christian radio stations as he drives.

I have other friends who like to hike in the woods and talk to God, or men who like to get their hands dirty and go and help out the people in the congregation who need to move, or need their oil changed. Not everyone is a “sit down and read your Bible and pray an in-depth prayer” kind of Christian. And I really do think that’s okay.

Don’t get me wrong; I think Scripture is very important. But let’s not assume that our own particular favourite way of relating to God is the “right” one, and that if he is going to be a leader he has to get in front of us and do what we do naturally, but then ramp it up a little bit. That’s a stretch.

2. Men Thrive on Appreciation

Can you appreciate what your husband does do and praise him for it? Can you thank him for providing? For being a good dad? For giving the kids a good example of what a godly husband looks like?

I sometimes look at my friend and wonder why she doesn’t see what the rest of us do: a super involved dad who everyone sees giving of his time to get to know his kids and their friends. What would happen if she stopped feeling bitter that they don’t do family devotions, and she started saying, on a daily basis, “It’s so neat how the kids love spending time with you!”, or “Isn’t it great how they see you loving God’s creation? I think your enthusiasm is contagious!”

Picture that family for a moment. With the constant feeling of criticism he gets from his wife, what’s going to happen if that man now tries to start doing family devotions after dinner? He’s going to feel like he’s at an oral exam, where the examiner is staring at him and waiting for him to mess up. There’s been so much pressure on him to do the spiritual leader thing right, that whatever he tries at this point he knows his wife will be watching and testing. What guy would want to do that? But if she met him where he was at, and thanked him for what he did do, he could be encouraged to incorporate more spirituality in his outdoor trips.

Look, I’ve known guys who have been afraid to mention God to their kids because their wives think they’re doing it wrong. Whenever they’ve started a conversation, they’ve had a lecture afterwards. Don’t let him feel like he’s being scored all the time! Just acknowledge what he does do.

3. Be Responsible for Yourself

If your husband doesn’t want to go to church, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. If your husband isn’t interested in joining a Bible study and growing more in his faith (at least that’s how you see it), that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.

I’m not sure why we believe that the husband must be the stronger believer. A spiritual leader simply means that he sets the tone for the family, and that ultimately he is responsible before God for the spiritual condition of his family. It does not mean that if you have memorized more Scripture than he has that your family is somehow out of God’s design. It doesn’t mean that if you know the Bible better than he does that your family is violating God’s code. Why do we always think that?

My own girls have memorized a ton of the Bible. They can quote ALL of 1 & 2 Peter, 1 & 2 Corinthians, John, and Hebrews. My youngest daughter can also quote Matthew. They’re involved in a Bible quizzing program at our church, and they’ve studied really hard. The chance of them marrying a guy who knows the Bible as well as they do is almost null, unless they marry someone who also does Bible quizzing. I’ve talked to them about this. And I’ve said, the important thing is to marry someone you can pray with and talk about God with. He doesn’t have to know as much, or more, than you do.

To hold yourself back because your husband isn’t there is an improper view of the Christian life and an improper view of Christian roles in marriage. We are each responsible individually before God. And if you get closer to God, you’ll simply learn how to love your husband better anyway!

4. Be Responsible for Your Children

We also do a grave disservice to our kids when we sit back and think that teaching the kids about God is the dad’s role. And we get frustrated because he isn’t taking on that role.

What does Deuteronomy 6:4-7 actually say?

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Moses is talking to all the people, not just the men. And he is telling them to talk about God with your kids ALL THE TIME. It’s just something natural that you do while you’re going about your daily things–getting up, sitting at home, walking along the road (or sitting in a car), getting ready for bed. It’s not like you can only teach your kids about God when you gather around the table after dinner and Dad pulls out his Bible. When your child is upset because she wasn’t invited to a birthday party, you can hug her and say a prayer with her. When your son is fighting with his sister, you can take his hand and tell him “blessed are the peacemakers”. You can make it natural, a part of your everyday life.

And if you DON’T do this, because you feel that it is your husband’s role, I believe that you will have a lot to answer to God for when you stand before Him. These are your KIDS. It is not usurping his role by simply bringing God into your everyday life. In fact, that’s what the Christian life is supposed to be.

What’s wrong with your husband giving them a great example of what faithfulness and loyalty are, and what it means to support a family, and you helping them to memorize Scripture and learn about different Bible stories? They see different things in each parent, and that’s why marriage works so well. We each have something different to offer.

Sure, perhaps it would be lovely if we could all sit around and memorize verses together, but please, be careful of making this “spiritual leader” thing into an idol in your marriage. Love the man you’re with, not the one you’ve been told your whole life constitutes a “proper Christian husband”.

5. Other Issues About Spiritual Leadership

Perhaps you have other issues. I’ve written at length before about how to pray with your husband if he’s not a “let’s sit and pray for 15 minutes in depth for our kids” type of guy. I think that’s a really important post, but I don’t want to write all that stuff out again here, so go read it now!

Also, if your husband is not a Christian at all, I have some thoughts on being in an “unequally yoked” marriage.

I know this is a really tough issue. You want to feel like you’re one, and like you can talk about something that is so important to you. But be very, very careful of conveying the idea to your husband that he just isn’t good enough, or he’ll never live up to your expectations. Chase God yourself; seek Him with all your heart. Your relationship with God is an individual thing. And perhaps, for a while, stop praying that God will make your husband into more of a spiritual leader, and just pray that God will bless your husband, and talk to your husband, and that your husband will find deep joy in God. I think too often our prayers themselves are ways that we express displeasure with our husbands, and can cement this negative view we have of him. Pray for God’s blessing on your husband, and you pursue God the way you want to, and let your husband pursue God the way he wants to. When we let go of this ideal of what we think he should be, we just may find that marriage gets a lot easier, and that he’s free now to pursue God without us judging him about it.

What do you think? Have you ever been in this situation? What did God tell you in the middle of it? Let me know in the comments!

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