Wayne Grudem explains male leadership in marriage

Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship
Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship

I’m not willing to take advice on this from most pastors, but Wayne Grudem is someone I respect because he does such a good job of applying the Bible to political issues. So he’s practical.

Anyway, here is something he wrote that was shared by a newlywed couple I am friends with.


Someone might say, “Well, okay, fine. There’s a leadership role for Adam, and I guess that means husbands should have a leadership role in their marriage of some sort. But how does it work? How does it work in practice?”

In our own marriage, Margaret and I talk frequently and at length about many decisions. I can tell you that I wouldn’t be here tonight unless Margaret and I had talked about this and asked the Lord about it, and she had given blessing to it, and said, “Yes, I think that’s right.” Sometimes we make large decisions such as buying a house or a car, and sometimes they are small decisions like where we should go for a walk together. I often defer to Margaret’s wishes, and she often defers to mine because we love each other.

In almost every case, each of us has some wisdom and insight that the other does not have. Usually, we reach agreement on the decisions that we make. Very seldom will I do something that she doesn’t think is wise–I didn’t say never. She prays; she trusts God; she loves God. She is sensitive to God’s leading and direction, but in every decision, whether it large or small and whether we have reached agreement or not, the responsibility to make the decision still rests with me.

Now, I am not talking about every decision they make individually. Margaret controls a much larger portion of our budget than I do because all the things having to do with the household and food and clothing and house expenses and everything . . . she writes the checks and pays the bills. I take care of buying books and some things about the car. I have appointments during the day with students. She doesn’t get involved in that. She has her own appointments. She has her own calendar. I don’t get involved in trying to micromanage all of that. We have distinct areas of responsibility. I am not talking about those things. I don’t get involved in those things unless she asks my counsel.

But in every decision that we make that affects us together or affects our family, the responsibility to make the decision rests with me. If there is genuine male headship, I believe there is a quiet acknowledgement that the focus of the decision making process is the husband, not the wife. Even though there will often be much discussion and there should be mutual respect and consideration of each other, ultimately the responsibility to make the decision rests with the husband. And so, in our marriage the responsibility to make the decision rests with me.

This is not because I am a wiser or more gifted leader. It is because I am the husband. God has given me that responsibility. It is very good. It brings peace and joy to our marriage, and both Margaret and I are thankful for it. Now, I need to add very quickly, men, this does not mean that a husband has the right to be a selfish leader.

Just about three years ago, maybe four years ago now, we started the decision making process. Margaret had been in an auto accident in Chicago. As part of the aftermath of that accident, she was experiencing some chronic pain that was aggravated by cold and humidity, and Chicago is cold in the winter and humid in the summer. Chicago was not a good place for that. Some friends said to us, “We have a second house in Mesa, Arizona, if you would ever like to go there and just use it as a vacation place, we would like you to do that.”

So we did. We visited Arizona. Mesa is a suburb of Phoenix. Margaret felt better. It was hot, and it was dry. And so I said, “Wow, Margaret I would love to move here, but I am only trained to do one thing; I can teach at a seminary and that is it. There aren’t any seminaries here.” The next day Margaret was looking in the yellow pages–literally. She said, “Wayne, there’s something here called Phoenix Seminary.” One thing led to another and God was at work in that seminary, and it was starting to grow.

Then we went through a decision making process. When we were in the middle of that decision making process, on the very day that we were focusing on that, I came in my normal custom of reading through a section of scripture each day, I came to a Ephesians 5:28, “Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”

I thought if I would move to take a job in another city for the sake of my body, if I were experiencing the pain that Margaret had, and husbands should love their wives as their own bodies–then shouldn’t I move? Shouldn’t I be willing to move for Margaret’s sake? That was really why we moved to Phoenix.

Anyway, Dina and I were talking the other night about what would happen if – hypothetically – we suddenly found ourselves stuck with a child and responsible for it’s education. I said to Dina that I would have a meeting with her, and ask her to research all of the alternative forms of schooling, and look over the research on education and then come back with her recommendation about what would get us the most effectiveness for the least cost and risk. Dina said that she thought that was an excellent plan, but being the kind of person she is, she would not wait to be asked to do this, but would instead pro-actively go and do the work and then present it to me to make the decision. A wife is a chief of staff, she does the research. She has to know all the politics. She has to do the face to face conversations. She has to make all the calculations. She has to be good at putting aside her feelings and being logical and analytical, in order to get results.

I think a lot of people worry that male headship means that husbands will micromanage like a tyrant, but that’s just wrong. That’s not at all what a man learns about how to lead others, in his workplace. A man looks for a wife with skills and experience to solve these sorts of problems for him while he is out working, and without needing a lot of guidance or monitoring from him. Micromanaging makes them both less efficient and more stressed. The more education and work history she has before she marries, the better she will be at solving problems on her own initiative. I always encourage young women to study hard things and to do hard jobs, but to stop working when young children appear (the first five years of the child’s life are critical). Learning hard things and doing hard jobs makes them more prepared for the roles of wife and mother.

Similarly, a wife does not want to choose a poor leader for a husband. She wants to choose someone who makes good decisions, and follows a plan through to a result. She should be looking at his decision making, especially in education, work and finances, and deciding whether he can do the male roles in a marriage.  She should be looking at his leadership style and communication ability. These things are well-defined, and she should be able to assess his ability by looking at his life to see if anyone follows his lead at work or outside of work on anything that matters. Does he reach the goals that he plans to reach? Is he realistic about risks and costs? She has to do an assessment of his leadership ability, because if she marries him, he will be leading her. Naturally, she will have to know something about leadership first, and know something about men, and what men expect to achieve with their marriages. What is his plan?

The easiest way for a man to avoid marrying a woman who resists his leadership is to not marry her. And the easiest way for a woman to avoid marrying a man who does not delegate tasks to her that she is better at is to not marry him. We are responsible for these decisions. As long as you don’t follow your feelings and intuitions, you’ll be fine. Don’t marry someone unless you have observed them demonstrating their ability to do the marriage roles cheerfully and well.

2 thoughts on “Wayne Grudem explains male leadership in marriage”

  1. Excellent post, thank you. I especially appreciate the nudge for Arizona! How do you know you’re in Arizona? Asphalt has a liquid state. :) God bless!

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