For years now, leadership expert and trainer John Maxwell has taught that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” Many other books and training courses on management and leadership include the same concept. The leader is responsible for the success or failure of the team.
On the flip-side of that, many marriage and relationship experts talk about a husband and wife as a team. As with business or sports or any other team, a marriage generally needs a leader. According to the Bible, that leader is the husband. Much ado has been made of this teaching over the past several centuries. There has been so much debate, argument, questioning, misunderstanding, etc. about this issue. So many have been unsure of what this means or have used this idea as some sort of disproof of Christianity.
I’m not about to claim to have any kind of exclusive insight on this issue. But, I thought I’d at least throw my thoughts out there in this.
When taking other teachings of scripture to mind, such as teachings from Ephesians regarding mutual submission, the command of Christ in the Gospels, etc., I am inclined to believe that the idea of “spiritual leader” in the Bible refers primarily to that person who is accountable for the spiritual health of the family. But, we have to be careful not to take this too far, either.
If the husband stays faithful and his wife falls away from her faith, the husband is not held responsible (provided that he was not negligent to help his family grow spiritually). But, if he neglects his responsibilities such as leading his family in prayer or Bible studies or church attendance.
There are several scriptures that point this out, including Ezekiel 33. But one that I had noticed recently and had been thinking about was from all the way back to Genesis 3. Most people, heck even non-Christians, are at least passingly familiar with this event:
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Nothing very surprising there. We’ve heard that before. She ate the fruit, she gave it to Adam and he ate as well. Other teachers have pointed out the fact that Adam was right there the whole time and didn’t do anything to stop her. It was years before anyone ever pointed that out, at which time I was more than a little ashamed that I had not noticed it before. I mean, sure, I was in elementary school and more focused on cute girls than anything resembling critical thinking.
From there, it was a long time until I would read through Genesis again. And recently as I was reading through the account of the Fall, I noticed something interesting.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
Wait a minute here. Eve ate first. Then she gave the fruit to Adam and he ate. Sure, Adam was right there next to her when she was tempted. He said nothing when she reached up and plucked the fruit from the tree. He stood by watching as she raised the fruit to her lips and took a bite. Then he followed suit. And who does God come looking for? Adam.
Let’s just take a quick look at that reference to Ezekiel for a moment:
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, 3 and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
Notice a connection with the Genesis account? Adam was supposed to be the spiritual leader, but when temptation came, he stood there passively and did nothing and said nothing. And God held him accountable for that. All through the scriptures and all through the doctrines of Christianity, we see reference to “Adam’s sin.” Sadly, I have heard some people try to use Genesis 3:6 to show how it’s the woman’s fault. They neglect the fact that Adam could have, should have, stopped her and didn’t.
According to the spiritual hierarchy, Adam was the spiritual leader. He was the watchman. He didn’t blow the trumpet. The sin was on Adam’s head. He was (is) responsible. Yes, Eve was also subject to the curse of the Fall. But it is Adam’s sin that we carry with us.
When we think about the spiritual leader, I’m not sure that this means that the husband is the boss just because he’s the husband. In some relationships, the wife is the better one at deciding where the family should live, where to go on vacation, making major financial decisions, etc. But the husband is still responsible for ensuring family prayer time, regular church attendance, small group study, daily prayer, etc. If he doesn’t do those things, he is neglecting his duties as the spiritual head of the household.
Again, this is my own take on this concept. Read the scriptures for yourself, prayerfully. I’m sure, for me, this will not be the end of my trying to unravel this puzzle.
Grace, love and peace.