Mailbag #48: How to Discuss Books as Elders; Advice for Husband & Wife Who Can’t Agree about Church


You’ve mentioned before the value of elders reading books together. What’s the best way to go about that? »
Do you have any advice for a husband and wife who can’t agree on which church to go to? »

Dear 9Marks,

I was in your SBTS class (more info) two years ago. You said that sometimes your elders do a book study. We are starting that practice with our board. Do you have everyone read and discuss the whole book at once, or do you do a few chapters per month? Do you have open discussion about what stood out, or does someone develop specific questions?

—Craig, California

Dear Craig,

Glad to hear you guys are doing this. Our elders have taken both approaches. We read a chapter at a time of Ed Shaw’s book Same Sex Attraction and the Church because each chapter had something relevant for pastoral purposes. But we discussed Al Mohler’s We Cannot Be Silent in one fell swoop because it was the overall vision of that book that we wanted to engage. So, too, with Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Faith in America. We discussed this just last Thursday night.

There is no assumption that everyone will agree with the content of a book. On one occasion, we read a book about the mission of the church that we knew we would disagree with. Yet we wanted to better understand the author’s view, because it’s a popular one today.

Typically, an elder will volunteer to lead the discussion ahead of time. (Sometimes we might have to push a guy a little bit!) Obviously, it’s best to have someone who is excited about the topic/book, and can see why it’s important for the elders to engage it.

Typically, the person leading will pose two or three questions. One or two will be evaluative; one or two will concern the lessons we should take away for our church and our pastoring.

Mark Dever led the discussion on Thursday night on Divided by Faith. It was a longer discussion than we typically have on a book. He asked every elder to answer each of these questions (we all answered the first, then we all answered the second, etc.):

1) Read one verse from the Bible that you think is critical for informing how we should think about race.
2) Summarize Divided by Faith in one sentence.
3) Read one sentence from the book that most struck you.
4) What lesson from the book do you think will be seminal for your ministry?
5) What do you hope for our church based on this book?

We had 28 guys answer each one of those questions. How useful for helping us think more carefully about race, and for helping us to grow together!

I hope this helps, brother.

Dear 9Marks,

Do you have any thoughts for a husband and wife who cannot agree on which church to go to? Their disagreements are over secondary issues of preference and not primary issues of doctrine.


Dear Tim,

Ephesians tells wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:22, 25). Applying that, I would say that, ordinarily, a wife possesses a duty to submit to her husband by attending the church he recommends. And ordinarily, a husband possesses a duty to love his wife by recommending the church where she will most prosper, and her preferences factor into her ability to prosper.

I know a Christian woman who loves her church, but who is married to a nominal Christian man who refuses to attend any church. Rightly, in my estimation, she tells him that she will gladly attend any gospel-preaching church of his choosing.

And I know a Christian man who, rightly in my estimation, left his church for the sake of his wife.

In other words, I’m not going to say, a couple must always go where he wants or where she wants. I’m going to say, each should look to the interest of the other (Phil. 2:3), and do so with the commands of Ephesians 5 resting on them differently. A woman should feel obligated to submit to her husband in this decision. And a man should feel obligated to love his wife by considering her preferences above his own and then use his authority to do what he perceives to be best for her and the family. If everything between the two churches is the same, but she prefers the style of music in one, I might encourage that husband to go where his wife wants. If the style of the music spoils her mood every week, he should want to remove that stumbling block so she can more easily benefit from the preaching of the Word. However, if he is convinced that one church offers better, more life-giving preaching, then he should work to persuade his wife.

Amidst points of disagreement generally, a husband should honor his wife as a “helpmate,” “weaker vessel,” and “fellow heir” (Gen. 2:18; 1 Peter 3:7) by always seeking her counsel, working through disagreements in conversation, cherishing her perspectives, and studiously considering her particular set of strengths and weaknesses. To fail to do this will likely exasperate her, spoil her trust, and crush her love, sins for which he will give an account.

Finally, any pastoral counsel I give to an individual couple struggling with divided opinions is going to be hugely affected by his and her spiritual maturity; his and her temperamental strength; whether he tends to err toward passivity or being domineering; and which direction she veers. For instance, if the real problem is that he’s been a passive leader, or if he has taught her over the years that he uses his authority selfishly, I’m going to push him to lead selflessly, starting with which church they attend. If, on the other hand, you have a godly husband and a stubborn wife, then I might lean into her more.

You asked for my thoughts. There’s a bunch of the them, even if there’s a hundred more qualifications I want to make. Nonetheless, I pray it’s biblical and wise.

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan (@JonathanLeeman) edits the 9Marks series of books as well as the 9Marks Journal. He is also the author of several books on the church. Since his call to ministry, Jonathan has earned a master of divinity from Southern Seminary and a Ph.D. in Ecclesiology from the University of Wales. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Cheverly, Maryland, where he is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.

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