May 17

Q&A: Submission & Leadership

2011 at 2:11 pm   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Marriage | Submission

Q. Do you have any thoughts on how submission works on a day-to-day basis? For example, most of the women I know are more administrative than their husbands, and are more aware of the needs and deficiencies of their families and usually can make more informed decisions on a day to day basis. Even if a woman is bringing things up to her husband in a way that lets the husband make the ultimate decision, if she is the one initiating, then is she the one actually leading (but just in a way that “sounds” submissive)?

A. This is an important question because another way we can misapply submission is by assuming that it means we must wait for our husband to take all the initiative. But in order to understand what submission is (and is not), we must also understand what leadership is.

In an effort to flesh out a biblical definition of leadership, John Piper explains that “Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative.” He elaborates:

In a family the husband does not do all the thinking and planning. His leadership is to take responsibility in general to initiate and carry through the spiritual and moral planning for family life. I say “in general” because “in specifics” there will be many times and many areas of daily life where the wife will do all kinds of planning and initiating. But there is a general tone and pattern of initiative that should develop which is sustained by the husband.

For example, the leadership pattern would be less than Biblical if the wife in general was having to take the initiative in prayer at mealtime, and get the family out of bed for worship on Sunday morning, and gather the family for devotions, and discuss what moral standards will be required of the children, and confer about financial priorities, and talk over some neighborhood ministry possibilities, etc. A wife may initiate the discussion and planning of any one of these, but if she becomes the one who senses the general responsibility for this pattern of initiative while her husband is passive, something contrary to Biblical masculinity and femininity is in the offing.

Before we consider the “many times and many areas” where the wife will do the initiating we must first ask: Does my manner of relating to my husband encourage him to “provide the general pattern of initiative” or does my initiative taking undermine or usurp his leadership?

If you’re not sure, ask your husband. And if you’re really brave, take this question to a godly friend who will give you an honest answer.