Updated: Aug 21, 2018
For the first 15 years of my marriage, I held the view that women could do any leadership position in church, but incorrectly believed that in the home, it was the husband who God ordained to have ultimate decision making authority. However, I did think it was a good idea to work most things out together, but I knew that I had the ability to pull rank when needed to get my way.
All that changed when I heard Dr. Deborah Gill, Ph.D. in Biblical studies with the Assemblies of God teach on Women in Ministry. It was as if an explosion of truth came over me. This changed my beliefs and the focus of my ministry. I learned in Gen. 1:26-28 and 2:24 God’s original plan for a marriage is equality, built on co-leadership and mutuality. However, I found that to actually have a marriage where a husband and wife co-lead and co-serve as equal partners is easier said than done. For me this has been a journey, not an event, and I am not there yet – just ask my wife.
The challenge for us Christians is that much of the Church world is still teaching that men have the role of leadership and women have the role of serving. In secular society, even though it is politically correct to say men and women are equal, this has not played out in the reality of life. So, we are bombarded by messaging and social conditioning that tell us the opposite of what God wants and intends for marriage.
In my own marriage of 35 years, I have seen how difficult it can be to transition to a marriage of full equality. Being the more decisive partner, I can easily slip into “man-mode” to get my way. It can be more difficult to work together, to communicate with each other, and wait for agreement to make a decision. Yet God’s best is always worth working for.
In this brief article, I would like to provide you with some guidelines to live out God’s plan for how “the two shall become one” in marriage (Gen. 2:24).
A marriage of equality is a gift-based model of marriage. Each partner will want to see the other grow in their God-given gifting’s. You show each other mutual respect and you will have mutual submission, one to the other. You always want what is best for the other. This is God’s foundation for a great marriage.
When the two have become one, you can choose to defer to one another in your areas of gifting. This means the one who has a more vested interest, or gifting in an area, can be the one to take the lead on decisions for those areas. Deferring to one another is a choice to make together, not a requirement based on who is most vested in a decision’s outcome or most gifted. In areas of mutual interest and concern, you should always decide together. One method for mutual decision making is called, the traffic light principle.
Tim and Anne Evans, in their book Together – Reclaiming Co-Leadership in Marriage teach a traffic light system for marriage decision making:
Whenever there is a decision to make you begin by individually inquiring of the Lord. Ask the Lord for a signal – a red light if the answer is no, a yellow light if the answer is wait, and a green light if the answer is go.
Come together after you pray individually and share what direction the Lord is giving you. Proceed only if you are in unity. If not, continue to pray, listen and discuss. If appropriate, pull in a third party for insight, wisdom and feedback. Keep waiting until you both sense God giving you the same signal.
The traffic light principle is centered in prayer, listening to God and mutually submitting to God and each other. This principle allows opportunities to die to selfishness. A major part of our spiritual growth, in marriage and in life, is learning how to work together, and how to reach consensus without resorting to issuing bossy commands.
In God’s ideal marriage of mutual submission, you won’t make a major decision that affects the other until you both are in agreement. Often this means waiting, so you can work it out. When there are disagreements, the main issue isn’t “Who’s in charge here?” The issue is, “How we can discover God’s will for us? What is God’s best for us? What is best for our family?”
Marriage isn’t easy, but the best things in life take work. Marriage is one of the best blessings that God has given us; a forever partner to love and share life with. I pray that you would discover the joy and fulfilment of God’s ideal for marriage.
Recommended egalitarian marriage books:
Together – Reclaiming Co-Leadership in Marriage by Tim and Anne Evans, Real Life Ministries, 2014.
Mutual by Design: A Better Model of Christian Marriage edited by Elizabeth Beyer (9 contributing authors), CBE International 2017.