For any woman in seminary whose husband is not, eyebrows sometimes get raised. Questions get asked. Shade gets thrown. What are you doing here? Does your husband go here? What exactly do you want to do with your degree? Wait, but what does your husband do?
There’s some sort of disconnect with the values of the Bible in these conversations—as if Jesus said that the more letters at the end of your name makes you more spiritual or a true leader. Let me expose a commonly believed myth I’ve observed during my seminary and church experience :
Theology degree + giftedness = legitimate character and leadership
Let me be clear: that equation is diametrically opposed to everything Jesus has to say about spiritual maturity and leadership. In fact, Jesus speaks often about how knowledge, giftedness, and status can deceive us into thinking we’re right with God. According to Jesus, you can have all those things and completely miss him. In other words, it’s possible to be a theological wizard, yet an idiot in Christ. You can know a lot about the Bible and not really engage personally with the God behind it. (John 5:39, ESV; Matt. 7:21-23, Matt. 15:8)
More than that, we can cram our heads full of theological information, assume that makes us spiritual, and not practice any of it. Jesus calls this hearing, yet not doing. (Matt. 23:3-4, ESV; Luke 6:49, ESV)
Honestly? I’m often guilty of these things. And you know who brings me back to center? My husband. You know why? Because he’s a true leader—a leader according to Jesus, not religious norms. In so many ways, Cole is much more of a God-engager and a doer of what he knows than I am.
Truth be told, I may be more “learned” than him in the formal sense, but he’s much more spiritual than me in the biblical sense. And there’s nothing more crucial as I need as a wife and a seminarian than his example of true spirituality.
Here are 9 ways Cole’s spirituality and leadership helps me on the regular, and why he’ll probably be at the front of the line in the kingdom while I may be at the back!
(Also, disclaimer: this post is not me being hard on myself, its me being honest with myself about certain blindspots I have and hypocritical ways I behave sometimes. It’s also not a way to say my husband is perfect, because he’s definitely not. It’s just a way for me to process what Jesus means when he talks about spiritual maturity, and the ways I see it fleshed out in the life of my spouse. Yes, there are also things I show him about God, too. But that’s not the focus of this post).
Cole notices when I’m using seminary know-how as a crutch instead of just meeting with God. He is gifted in discernment, and can read me (and most people) like a book. It’s actually quite frustrating on days I feel like hiding! Cole keeps me from believing that theological knowledge equates with spiritual maturity.
He often says, “I want you to learn all your brain can handle. God made your mind and he wants to use it for his glory. But Ash, piling up knowledge isn’t the goal. Walking with the God who made your mind is. As long as you’re doing the latter, pile up the books as high as you want. I don’t just want you to learn things. I want you to enjoy God.”
If there’s anything Cole leads out in, it’s Matthew 3:8, ESV. Repentance is a lifestyle for him. I can’t tell you how many times that man comes to me (sometimes within minutes. Most of the time within the day) and says, “What I said earlier wasn’t loving. Can you forgive me?” or “Hey, I handled that situation without even consulting the Lord or asking how he would direct us. Would you revisit it with me and pray together over it? I’m sorry I approached it according to my personal preferences instead of taking the Lord and you into account.”
This has stirred me to practice consistent repentance in my own relationships. Because Cole leads out in repentance, I don’t feel forced to evaluate myself often, I feel inspired to. This is Jesus-style leadership: modeling a pattern instead of shoving it down someone’s throat.
Along with consistent repentance, I cannot tell you how much unhindered faith this man has. I’m talking about the kind of faith the gospel writers can’t get over. I’m talking about believing God for everything. I may have more letters at the end of my name than Cole by the end of my academic career, but he will be first in line in the kingdom. Degrees and status are nothing in the economy of God—faith is what pleases him, and I learn this from Cole daily (Heb. 11:6).
Let me tell you how this works out: in a given hard situation, I want to talk it to death. I want to explore every angle and talk about every possible approach. My first instinct is strategy. Cole’s? Prayer. He wants to run to God before he employs any type of strategy. I often say it this way, “I have lots of things to say. Cole has lots of things to pray.”
The man just believes God—he considers God able to move—and God blesses it. You’d be dumbfounded if I told you all the ways God has responded to Cole’s faith in the past 5 years. I would trade all of my theological training for a drop of the faith that resides in that man. This is humbling, and it teaches me so much about true spirituality.
It also impacts the way I lead other people—I’m starting to pray with my friends before we tackle a problem. I’m beginning to search the Scriptures before outlining a strategy. My petitions in prayer are bolder and my trust in God is stronger because of the belief I see in my husband.
Cole and I are both passionate, high-capacity people. We will say yes to everything, and we assume we are supposed to charge every hill. Cole knows this tendency in both of us and pulls me back when I’m overcommitting. Cole affirms that my gifting in theology/ministry and my role in my family are not at odds—I can enjoy the role of wife and use my spiritual gifts.
However, the balance is tricky during certain weeks. Some weeks I’ll use my work as a means to escape my personal and familial responsibilities. Other times I’ll hide behind my wifehood/family needs to avoid very clear work God is calling me to engage. When those moments happen, Cole does not “lay down the hammer.” He gently tells me I’m getting off track. He chooses the right time, and with compassion in his eyes, says something like, “Ash. You’re built to throw everything you’ve got at what God puts in front of you. I love that about you. But it seems like you’re going full steam ahead in one area, while this other area is lacking. Why do you think that is? How can I help you balance your time in the next couple weeks?”
When Cole thinks over the general direction of our family, he asks my opinion like crazy. He assumes he only has half the picture and he wants eyes to see the other half. More than this, he doesn’t just ask for my counsel to check of the box that he “asked his wife” about this or that, only to do what he originally wanted to do in the first place. When he comes to a conversation about the direction of our family, he doesn’t assume his internal compass is infallible. (Prov. 12:15; Prov. 28:26)
In other words, he doesn’t come to the table with his mind made up, asking my thoughts in pretense. For Cole, the goal isn’t getting his way, it’s unity in our marriage. It’s a common dream we can both get excited about.
How does this impact me? It teaches me how to do the same with others! When I enter my areas of influence, I often think about the way Cole deals with our family decisions. Because of his example, I ask other people their thoughts before bulldozing ahead with my pre-made plan. I don’t ask them their thoughts in pretense. I assume I have some blindspots that need counsel, and I let other people speak in to the plan. Because of Cole’s leadership in this area, I learned how to bring them along, help them dream, and give them a voice. Because of Cole, I’m learning how to empower people and unleash them instead of bending them to my will. This is true leadership.
As in all. the. time. Coffee made for me every morning. Breakfast? Already whipped up when I sit down to the table. God’s calling you to seminary? Let’s figure it out. Need me to stop checking my email at random times during the night? You got it.
What’s crazy to me is that he’s not doing this to get something. Some spouses will do these things to avoid confrontation, gain applause, or manipulate. This is not the spirit of Cole’s actions. As a realist/borderline cynic, I find myself puzzled by his joy in doing these things; it’s like sacrificing for me makes him happy or something! I’ve always heard that when you see how much Jesus laid down his life for you, it makes you want to lay down your life for others. The saying is true, folks. And if you want to see it in real life, watch Cole for a day or two.
I always knew a sacrificial lifestyle was part of the Christian life (John 15:13), but Cole’s example takes the sting out of it. Pouring out to others doesn’t have to be taxing when your cup is constantly being filled by the Lord. Cole doesn’t need to get something out of sacrificing for me because he’s already getting from God. He’s full, not parched. In this way, his service to me and others is not based on my reciprocity.
Cole’s leadership in this area inspires me to do the same in turn—to joyfully pour myself out and sacrifice things for my family, my friends, and my church, regardless of their reciprocity or applause.
Cole is consistent. Steady. Grass Roots. Daily-grind kind of man. He gets up everyday an hour and a half early. He makes his coffee and he sits down with the Bible and enjoys God for a little while before the day starts. Cole doesn’t go to the Scriptures for a grade. He goes to it for God. As a theological thinker, I often go to the Word to prop up my arguments or make sense of a religious conundrum. Cole goes to it for life. I mostly pore over the Bible to understand it. Cole does the same so he can commune with the Father. He walks away having met with a person; I usually walk away having studied a text book. There’s a difference.
I could make the same argument for other spiritual disciplines like prayer, outreach, Sabbathing, and more, but you get my gist.
I write boatloads of Bible study curriculum and read certain biblical verses thousands of times, but do I actually apply them all to my life? Do I practice all that I teach? Maybe. If I have time to get there.
This is how it goes for me: I hear the word, outline, study it, then teach it to others. I even teach them to reproduce the process! In the evangelical world, I get a lot of applause for that skill set.
But here’s the new cycle I’m learning from Cole’s life: Hear the word, outline, it study it, go do it, and then you have the warrant to teach it to others. Again, we are different here: I want to know the Word of God. Cole wants to do it. This sharpens me every day. I’ve stopped comparing how much of the Bible I know versus how much of the Bible Cole knows. You know why? Because what Cole does know, he lives. Until that’s my goal, who cares how much I know?
I’m mad at a work situation? Cole tells me the gospel, which diffuses anger and infuses compassion. I made a ton of mistakes today and I’m living in gloom? Cole tells me the gospel, which lifts my chin instead of condemns me. I’m acting high, mighty, and arrogant over something I consider myself an expert in? Cole tells me the gospel, which lowers me from the position of angels back down to earth where I’m a fellow mortal creature! I’m disappointed in people? The gospel. Feel misunderstood? The gospel.
No matter what I face, Cole is proficient in gospel fluency, which just means he knows how to apply the freedom of the gospel to whatever I’m facing. He tells me over and over again who God is—in control and not far off. Who I am—a child of God, a normal human being. What the cross means in this situation—humble, compassionate, sacrificial, determined, forgiving. This is literally what it means to “wash your wife with the word” of the gospel in Ephesians 5:25-26.
This brings me back to center, down from ivory towers, and up from despair. More than that, it shows me that the gospel is not some ancient dogma I believe—it applies right now. The gospel doesn’t just inform us, it helps us, transforms us in ordinary moments. The good news of the gospel wasn’t just for the day I became a Christian. It’s still good news to me everyday afterward!
In conclusion, I hope you can see that theology degrees are helpful, they teach you a ton, and they’re super fun for nerds like me, but they can’t produce true character or leadership. My seminary helps me understand the things of Christ on paper. My husband models the things of Christ in person, and that’s the best kind of spiritual education you can get.
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