Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"The man has to be the spiritual leader"? Dirty lies.

I had always accepted it without question. "The man has to be the spiritual leader." Because apparently God said so, or something. And that if, in a marriage, the woman tries to be the spiritual leader, that wouldn't work. It would be a bad marriage.

So what did this mean for me, a few years ago, when I was an undergrad in college and very enthusiastic about serving God? So happy about the freedom I had found in Jesus, so devoted to him, always thinking about how I could love God with my heart/soul/strength/mind, and love people.

What does it mean, when I found that many of my non-Christian friends were interested in reading the bible, so I planned and led bible studies? What does it mean, when I got up early to read the bible, day after day? What does it mean, when I KNEW about God's power to change lives, and I prayed so hard that he would change lives on campus and all over the world?

Image source.

I'll tell you what it means, if it's true that "the man must be the spiritual leader." It means I have a very low chance of having a good marriage.

Because where am I going to find a guy who has led more bible studies than I have? Where am I going to find a guy who knows the bible better than I do? And, we all know, the husband needs to be the wife's spiritual leader or the marriage is doomed.

At the time, I knew it. I remember talking with some of the other girls involved in Christian leadership, about how it would be harder for us to find acceptable boyfriends. If only I was just kinda sorta Christian, if only I believed in Jesus but didn't really have time to lead bible studies. It would be so much easier to date. I KNEW that the more I followed Jesus, doing everything I could to spread the gospel, the shorter the list of guys I'd be compatible with.

Every step I took toward God was a step away from the opportunity to have a happy marriage.

I knew it. But I also completely trusted God, and believed that somehow, against all odds, he would set me up with that one perfect guy who had all the required characteristics I was always taught. Or not, if it was God's will for me to be single forever. (And yeah I don't believe in that "one perfect guy" stuff anymore.)

I saw it as a choice between my dating prospects and my God, and I chose God.


Okay, to those who believe "the man has to be the spiritual leader"- I don't care what bible verses you can pull out to support that- how about we look at the big picture, rather than a verse here and there, stripped of its context. Don't you think something is WRONG when Christian women believe there is conflict between having a good marriage and being a fully devoted follower of Jesus?

"The man has to be the spiritual leader" devalues and insults marriage. It suggests that marriage is NOT for the most committed, godly women. That there is something incompatible between being married and following Jesus to the best of my ability. NO! Marriage was created by God to be an awesome good thing. How can it be true that the more a woman serves God, the less she is able to have a good marriage?

Not only does "the man has to be the spiritual leader" not really make any sense, it's HARMFUL and Christians need to stop teaching it.

"But perfectnumber!" you say, "You've got it all wrong! Being your spiritual leader doesn't mean the guy has to have led more bible studies than you. It doesn't have to be the attributes that are typically thought of as 'leadership.' A guy can be a leader by being patient and loving."

Oh, is that so? So now we're changing the definition of the word "leader" so it can fit any man who's generally a good character? We're going to point to a husband's positive qualities, whatever they are, and say "therefore he is the spiritual leader" while ignoring that the wife has a lot of positive qualities too, the sorts of qualities we would have labelled as "spiritual leadership" if she were a man?

Yeah, okay, go ahead and mangle the definition of "leader" until it's meaningless if you want. I will not participate in that.

Christian women, you are not limited to dating guys who are "more of a leader" than you. Instead, find someone with whom you are spiritually compatible.

Find someone who complements you. 

(Kristen at Wordgazer's Words has also written a great post on this topic: "Men Must Be Spiritual Leaders" - Real Life Consequences. Go check it out.)


  1. I don't think "the man has to be the spiritual leader" means he has to have more knowledge in the Bible or leads more Bible studies. Rather, he leads his household to follow God's direction, guides everyone in his family to fully serve God and be a strong spiritual support. Loving and being patient or any other good characteristics are just the fruit of the Spirit.

    But I agree with you that he'll have to be spiritually compatible with me. For example, if I want to be a missionary, he has to also have the desire to be one or at least supports my desire without any hesitation.

  2. So, if, as a Christian woman (who knows the bible and has been a leader in that kind of stuff), I need to find a man who "leads the household to follow God's direction," does this limit my dating options in a way that would not be the case for a Christian man of equivalent "spiritual status" looking for a wife?

    If yes, well then like I said, that's a dangerous message- the more a woman follows God, the less able she is to have a good marriage. If no, then are we going to impose this "the man is the leader" hierarchy on the relationship anyway, even if it doesn't fit our personality types? That can't be right.

  3. Very good article. I love your tone, as well. And, as a Christian husband, I am very willing to admit that men, as a whole, have failed miserably in being a leader in any way. Women basically run the church of today. I think spiritual leadership should be shared in the family dynamic by the husband and wife. But, in order for this to occur, men need to do a lot MORE than they do now.

    I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  4. Some questions: If he "supports your desire without any hesitation," isn't he submitting to you? And if so, why not? Isn't that what Eph. 5:21 may have been envisioning? Also-- do you think it was really God's plan to set up a scenario where a woman says to a man, "You're kind and godly and full of integrity, and I'm in love with you and you with me-- but I can't marry you because God has developed me into more of a spiritual leader than you"?

  5. Thanks for the boost to my blog, Perfectnumber! You make fantastic points! I love this:

    We're going to point to a husband's positive qualities, whatever they are, and say "therefore he is the spiritual leader" while ignoring that the wife has a lot of positive qualities too, the sorts of qualities we would have labelled as "spiritual leadership" if she were a man?

  6. Indeed. Haha, wouldn't it be interesting to look at a given couple, and their characteristics and abilities, and then ask "which one is the spiritual leader" without revealing which was the man and which was the woman. I wonder if proponents of "the man has to be the spiritual leader" would think that was a fair question.

  7. Thanks! Definitely agree about spiritual leadership being shared by men and women- both in marriage and in the church. (And by the way, I do know a lot of men who are great leaders. :) )

  8. "So now we're changing the definition of the word "leader" so it can fit any man who's generally a good character?"

    Yes, yes, yes! Such a fantastic point, and something that constantly grates on my nerves when discussing complementarianism. "Leader" seems to mean whatever it needs to mean to make sure the man gets to keep his crown the conversation.

  9. If we look at church history, we see this idea (of the man being the spiritual, ie more mature, blown out of the water) It is well documented Lydia was the first Christian in Europe. So while she was the only Christian on her continent should her husband be her spiritual leader? And what happened after he (I'm assuming he did) converted? Did he instantly become her leader, though less spiritually mature?

  10. Good grief. As a 30-year-old single woman in ministry, I say YES to all of this.