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
23 thoughts on “Wives Who Churn about Husbands “Leading Spiritually””
I have no idea who the conference preacher is that you mentioned, but all I can say about everything else you said is yes, yes, and YES!!! Thank you, and I will be sharing this.
Thank you Jessica. Your teaching is sound and appreciated.
Amen!! I spent several years playing the role of the Holy Spirit to my husband, and it pushed him away from me AND from God. I finally realized God was big enough and wise enough to be my husband’s teacher, and He didn’t need me to get in the way. I’m reaping the benefits of keeping my mouth quiet and letting God work in my husband’s heart.
Thank you for this message. Praise God for this message. So freeing!
Very convicting! Thank you for sharing your heart on this issue!
AMEN! AMEN!!! AMEN!!!
THANK YOU! I have believed this SOOO strongly ever since I was a teenager growing up in a homeschool world. I watched it happen I just couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was happening!This makes so much sense and is something I will pray about and Lord willing, be super careful not to repeat in my own home. Thank you for putting it into words for us wives!:)
Yes, I’ve watched it since I was a teen too– for nearly 25 years. I wasn’t IN the homeschooling world, but I watched with fascination, and also sadness, as I saw many families shredded by the burdens and expectations heaped up by legalistic organizations and hypocritical men.
Many families buckled under the weight of it.
Many adults who are my same-aged peers struggle with knowing which things they were taught are actually from the Bible and which are personal preference, and SADLY many have walked away from faith altogether.
It has made me careful to NOT focus on the particulars of our lifestyle. Yes, sometimes I’ll share an article about being a large family, why we’ve had more kids, or how we homeschool… but I DO NOT WANT TO EVER focus on those things because those things do not save.
They are not eternal.
They are decisions that utter pagans could make.
Having a big family,
Particular modes of dress/attire,
Cooking from scratch,
Living off the land,
etc etc etc etc etc
these are all just options.
None is salvific. None deserves our hope or pride or delight.
Sadly, these decision-points can easily become our focus unless we turn continually to put our hope in the one person that will not disappoint: Christ Jesus Himself.
He can do mighty things in the public-schooled one-child Chinese family of believers.
He can do mighty things in the perpetually-empty womb of a godly women.
He can do mighty things in the home led by a man who works long hours and never does a family Bible time, but loves his wife well and leads his family to belong to a faithful church.
He is A GOOD and POWERFUL God and He does not need our man-made prescriptions in order to do mighty things.
Jess you nailed it. Legalistic organizations and hypocritical men. The mega churches are not good examples. Scripture teaches us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. We need not listen to man but read the scriptures ourselves.
This is a really great post, and a good reminder, as I am married to a quiet, faithful man! He is the guy everyone calls when they need someone handy to help. I agree with you wholeheartedly.
The whole Doug Phillips scandal is a sobering example.
Ach, Jess, I have to admit it – I have lived more than a little of this truth. It is a sin into which I tend to fall, especially when I get stressed.
What you said here is exactly true:
“STOP READING (and stop listening to) A SINGLE THING THAT INVOLVES YOUR HUSBAND’S ROLE.”
Yes, yes, YES!
I have considered writing on this topic before. Since I didn’t ever get around to it, I’m so glad you did!
I’ve noticed that most Christian women’s books, as well as Christian women’s blogs, will always have sections on “what it is SO important that your husband does.” Or “what we did that was so essential to our children’s formation” (that inevitably involved what her husband did). Things like:
– family devotions
– reading aloud to the children
– coaching the children’s sports teams
– taking the kids camping
– leading a small group at church
– studying the Bible
– setting up a budget for the family finances and managing money wisely
– installing insanely awesome storage shelves to turn the garage into a drool-worthy storage unit for a large family (real example)
And on and on and on. And every time I read one, I feel that twinge of panic: “My husband doesn’t do that! We are failing!” And then comes the temptation to remind, to send articles, to ask for more.
If I could ask one thing of Christian women’s writers, I would ask them to NOT say anything about what husbands should be doing. It is always a stumbling block for others.
Thank you for this post, and forgive me for rambling!
Wonderful thoughts, I agree! I cringe, too, when I see women focusing on what husbands need to do.
Yes, yes, and yes!
We wives SO nead to hear this!!! And young single ladies! Sadly, I fell into this trap years ago; and I know it really made my husband feel like he could never measure up. And once that damage is done, it is hard to undo. But God can change things if we stop focusing on our husband’s imperfections and focus on what he is doing right, like you said! I would suggest writing a list of all the good things he is doing and begin verbally encouraging him in those things. And pray for him and begin thanking God for the man he is- even if he is not all you wish he was or doing all the things you wish he would do!
Thank you, Jessica, for this wise reminder!
Thanks for sharing, Lisa.
That’s such a great suggestion. Whenever I take time to encourage Doug, I’m amazed at how the simplest expression from me seems to mean the world to him. I think we underestimate how discouraged they might feel and how even the smallest encouragement from us can greatly bolster them!
Yes! I’ve been saying this for years. Above Rubies falls into the category as well. I cringe at the FB posts by several pastors wives bragging at how “faithful and thankful” they are for their husbands who are doing devotions every day or whatever the bragging point of the day is. It makes the rest of our husbands who work hard slaving away for a boss, with ungodly coworkers, getting up long before dawn, making customers happy and coming home ridiculously weary from the day…look like losers.
Yes, it seems to me from all the first hand accounts I’ve heard of their teachings, as well as the reading I’ve done on their site, that Above Rubies’ teachers often tempt women toward dissatisfaction or pride in all kinds of ways. They continually point to the right ways to do everything, and thus, no matter who the listener is, they’re always wrong about something.
How to eat.
How to breastfeed.
Whether or not to observe various religious/human traditions.
How many children to have.
What kind of lifestyle to lead.
How to increase/control one’s fertility.
While I’ve had friends say they are encouraged by their teachings, I believe this kind of teaching, when connected to eternal things without being differentiated, ultimately shackles. When earthly teachings of DOING — optional things (when/howlong/how often to breastfeed, for example)– are tied to BEING– who we are in Christ… it leaves many women confused and in bondage about which things are essentials.
And no matter how shiny it looks, that ultimately produces rotten fruit.
I’m so glad a friend posted this and it popped up in my Facebook feed!
First, because it is a well written, sobering reminder of what I feel but don’t know what to think when I’m in situations that set my husband up for comparison. It never feels right but I can’t put my finger on why.
Second, because I read your blog posts when you were overseas and then I stopped reading blogs for a while. When your name showed up, I was very excited to read Jess Connell again! I’m sad I didn’t get to meet you when you were in Texas again a few years ago.
I’m glad I found this and it just seems to have come at the right time for talking to my teen girls about how we should treat marriage.
How fun is that! I’m glad to hear it.
So glad you’re writing more frequently again. I’ve missed it these last two years or so! I was both convicted and encouraged by this post. Thank you!
As usual, you are spot on, Jess. However, I would like to add an additional layer to this. You are speaking of relatively normal Christian men, not abusive or narcissistic men. I am hoping women will be alert to the difference, and allow the Holy Spirit to direct them.
I spent 25 years trying NOT to be the Holy Spirit to my narcissistic husband, only to watch him devolve further and further until he treated me with open contempt as I battled ovarian cancer.
My husband rarely lifted a finger around the house, while telling me what a great husband he was because he brought home a paycheck and wasn’t out carousing. I could count on one hand the number of times he brought me a gift of any kind, took me out to eat, played with it spent time with the children, mowed the lawn, or dragged the garbage to the curb. He never cooked a meal or did any cleaning. But the contemptuous mean-spirited way he spoke to me was the worst part.
Through all of this, my children learned that mom didn’t deserve kindness, gifts, hugs, kisses, help, or any kind of consideration.
This is oppression. Jesus came to free us from oppression. There is freedom in Christ.
God allows divorce for situations of hard hearts like this. It took me an entire year to believe God was allowing me to divorce, so you really must wrestle this out with the Lord for yourself.
It has been 6 years since my divorce was final now, and my adult children are healing. They now show me much more love and respect.
I am so glad you shared. Thank you.
Thank you for this, Jess. I’m glad that you’re back writing again, when you can.