Every now and then Doug Phillips comes up in an article or reference, and I remember all the things… and am just so incredibly saddened that people were lured in by him.
Plenty of men followed his leadership, in his church, in his organization, and in his conference/teaching circuits. But women, in particular, were drawn toward this man and his message– in droves.
And it makes me wonder:
what is it, in a homeschooling mother’s heart, that might draw her to a man and his teaching like this?
It seems that there were so many many women (in particular) looking for the formula, desperate to hear why their husband wasn’t “leading their family spiritually” and Doug Phillips (as Bill Gothard, the unmarried, childless homeschool-guru who came before him) had lots of answers.
Phillips even had a large, pretty, matching-clothes family to prove how well his advice “worked.”
So many wives, eager to have their family look like that, went back home to their hard-working husbands– NORMAL guys, who do not have free time to flit all over the world on trips for conferences and retreats, nor the leisure to study the Bible for hours and hours daily.
These poor men.
As a family gets into a system like this, the husband begins laboring under the weight of another man’s convictions.
It’s the kind of burden Jesus described in Matthew 23, when He spoke about the pharisees:
They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. All their deeds are done for men to see.~Matthew 23:4
They are being duped by legalists who act as if they are living the perfect life.
These normal-guy fathers are:
- hard workers.
- They come home every night.
- They get in the floor and wrestle with the kids
- and are faithful to their wives,
- and take their families to church,
…but that’s not enough, his wife begins to feel (and perhaps, express to him). He’s not catechizing, or he doesn’t share the same personal convictions as the conference speaker, or he’s not leading in official “family worship” each night.
I’ll be honest: it makes me sad, and it makes me mad.
There are (sadly) plenty of wives who, every time they hear, “men should be leading spiritually,” get pulled into bitterness, because they equate
“looking and sounding like a pastor.”
They begin to covet a man who leads in one particular way, rather than the man they have.
They begin to want their husbands to be like
- the pastor,
- or the conference speaker they just heard,
- or the slick-haired man on the video teaching,
- the being-changed-from-one-degree-of-glory-to-the-next godly man he is.
And her husband sits there, listening to her, or listening to the audio teaching she brought home from the conference… feeling like a failure from the start, knowing in his gut that he’ll never be able to catch up or measure up.
Maybe he begins trying, but
- he never quite does Bible time “right”…
- it’s too long and she sighs.
- Or it’s too short and she criticizes it.
- He doesn’t pick the books or passages she would.
- she thinks the kids are bored.
- He doesn’t interpret something the way she does, and so she corrects him.
- Or he just reads a chapter and prays, and she thinks (or worse- says! in front of the kids!!), “that’s not enough.”
- He asks questions in ways that she thinks don’t “draw out” the kids,
- Maybe she rolls her eyes,
Whether anyone says it or not, it’s clear that SHE’s the expert about how it’s “supposed” to go. And whatever he does is clearly not up to her standards. (Which, you might note, are actually the standards of the preacher/conference speaker she heard all this from.)
And finally he gives up.
This only further confirms (in her eyes) how unspiritual he is. She gets bitter.
And he feels like a failure.
Now, yes, Christian fathers should be leading.
But the truth is, they DO lead. They can’t *not* be leading… their kids are watching and following.
He gets up for church. He comes home to his wife. He listens as their child s-l-o-w-l-y sounds out words to practice reading. He takes out the garbage. He corrects the toddler’s tantrum, or the teen’s bad attitude. He puts caulk on the leak, or rolls in the floor and plays with the 3 year old (even though he’s exhausted after his own long day of work).
Most often, by the time a man becomes a father, he is already an improved version of the initial man she married.
But that’s no longer enough for her.
WHAT IS SHE EXPECTING?
When she listens to an authoritative, dominant man talk about leading spiritually, what she pictures is something like:
“your husband should work all day (50-60 or more hours a week, plus his commute) and then manage to fit in all the study and discernment and spiritual depth I have developed in 15 or 25 years of doing this full-time.
He should be able to weave it into your busy schedule, seamlessly, with wit and top-notch communication skills in a way that fully keeps your kids’ attention, and feeds the deepest places in your soul.
The whole family’s spiritual growth will be dependent upon this daily church service, led by the pastor-man who will also gladly complete your “honey-dos,” interact with your kids in the ways you deem godliest and best, never get irritable, and never desire sex more than you do.”
This teaching, particularly when done in a mixed setting, is not only bad for men. It’s bad for women. It develops bitterness and undermines the peace and balance of the marriage relationship. It gives the wife a continual stream of ammo to fire at her already-beleaguered husband.
Many times, my husband and I have observed that this can be just another way that the wife subtly “wears the pants” in the family. She uses Pastor So-and-So’s message about men leading to needle, demean, and subtly control her husband into doing what she wishes. Under the guise of being an encouragement, in actuality, she is directing and coaching and telling him what to do.
While she may believe she’s just desiring “the best” for her family, she is:
- actually the one taking charge
- making him feel smaller and smaller
- making it so he feels less and less capable and less and less inclined toward being a “leader.”
She becomes like the woman Proverbs 14 describes as tearing down her house with her own hands.
Now, someone might ask,
- but aren’t family devotions good to have?
- Isn’t it good for a father to lead his family in spiritual things?
- Shouldn’t we encourage these things?
- Isn’t it nice to pray together as a family, or as a couple?
Yes, sure. All of these things can be good.
But are these biblical requirements in order to have a happy marriage, a God-honoring home, or children who see a Christ-like example in their father?
No No No No NO NO
We need to stop elevating methodology to a place where it does not belong.
Homeschool mothers need to stop focusing on the things that fuel bitterness against their husbands.
My advice to wives who struggle with irritation and bitterness in this area would be:
STOP READING (and stop listening to) A SINGLE THING THAT INVOLVES YOUR HUSBAND’S ROLE.
Just worry about your part. You have enough things to work on if you just keep your eyes on your own paper and diligently work on the things YOU need to grow in, and be.
Refuse to play a part in the tearing-down of your husband and home.
God can convict, work, and shape your husband without your meddling. He is all-powerful. He knows better than anyone what is in the human heart. He knows your husband and the Holy Spirit is much stronger than you are. He is able to accomplish things in a better way than you can.
Let God do in your husband whatever He will do, and you just do the one thing that’s hardest:
- work on your own sanctification and submission to the Lord.
* Christian Wife, Let Your Husband BE