The Spiritual Leader

2:00 AM

People always told me that the guy I married needed to be as smart or smarter, as strong or stronger, and as spiritual or more spiritual than I. Otherwise I couldn't respect him. Otherwise things wouldn't work out. In short, I needed a spiritual leader who could one-up me on theological know-how, Christian experience and zeal. Good Christian girls say the same thing: "I'm looking for a leader. A spiritual leader" (because none of us want bums with no purpose in life -- true and beautiful fact).

My first conversation with an acquaintance about me dating a new Christian didn't go over very well. The problem was he couldn't be my spiritual leader because he was brand new. The problem was further compounded since I, apparently, became his spiritual leader by virtue of walking with Christ longer.

It's not that I don't agree that a boyfriend shouldn't be a leader. It's not that I think there is no male headship in a husband/wife relationship. It's not that I'm independent and dislike leadership in general. It's just that I think we girls -- and Christians in general -- get this whole idea of spiritual leadership mixed up completely.

When Scripture talks of husbands being the head of the wives, the apostles don't line out a "what he must be" list: he must be a profound speaker, he must know more theology than his wife, he must be able to lead a church, he must be a Christian at least 3 years longer than his wife, he must be the president of a company, etc. No. In fact, Scripture's definition of a leader and a husband's responsibility is surprisingly short and non-leader-like. It says, "Be like Jesus" -- in what way? -- by loving and laying down one's life. Trust me -- if you find a guy like that, keep him. Because even most visible leaders don't abide by this principle.

Leadership is not primarily about striking a pose, sword stuck out to the heavens, and leading troops to charge the enemy. It's not primarily visible and prominent. It's a position and a posture.

A spiritual leader is one by virtue of being put into a place of spiritual leadership -- a husband, an elder, a deacon(ness), a pastor, a father, a mother. This means that s/he deserves respect and submission regardless of his or her ability to fulfill the role according to our expectations or definitions. An elderly gentleman walking with Jesus for years could easily look down on his new pastor fresh out of seminary and claim the young man could never be his spiritual leader. However, this elderly gentleman is required to heed his pastor's decisions, learn from him, respect him and follow him. Even though the age/maturity differences might make this a challenge in some ways, the young pastor is no less a spiritual leader because someone in his congregation ups him on age or maturity.

I face this situation quite a lot in my church because I hold to different theological beliefs. Sometimes I disagree with my pastors/Sunday school teachers/deacons. Sometimes I disagree strongly. Still, I listen and consider their sermons and their advice; I submit to their authority when teaching my own Sunday school lessons; I look up to them and ask them questions even if I'm not entirely sure I'll like the answer. This gives them a chance to get to know me and shepherd my soul. Their spiritual leadership, in a sense, depends on both of us -- their role and my response to that role. If either of us fails our duty, the spiritual leadership becomes null and void -- even if the leader is the most commanding, charismatic presence in the entire church.

Spiritual leadership is also a posture of humility and servanthood -- not necessarily good speaking skills, a strong grasp of theological terms or tons of powerful encounters with God. Interestingly, leadership is listed as a separate gift that some men may or may not possess. I think that gift involves traits we typically associate with leaders -- good communication, smart, strong, authoritative, charming, out-in-the-front, visionary, etc. It fascinates me that theoretically a wife can possess the gift of leadership while her husband does not yet the husband can still hold the place of spiritual leadership in the home. For my part, I possess traits of leadership and good communication which will create an interesting dynamic in a marriage: I love theology; I'm opinionated; I'm good at speaking and writing and being in charge (though I prefer being second-in-command, personally). Whether I marry a seminary graduate or a new Christian, I will have to adjust to learning how to respect my husband when he disagrees with me or when I "know better" or perform better than him. (Because realistically, there is no single man on earth who is always right, always smart and always wise. They're all human. Hence, helpmeets.)

Of course, the requirements for shepherds of the flock include that a leader must not be a novice in the faith: he must know his stuff lest he or his flock be led astray. A teacher must possess the ability to teach. A pastor must possess the ability to shepherd. Yet the requirements for a husband do not list a certain spiritual gift other than professing Christ and loving and serving his wife more than himself -- just like Jesus did.

I used to look down on my daddy because he didn't fit the visionary/leader role touted in most Christian relationship guides. The traits I most admired in him didn't seem very "leader-like" at all: being a good listener, doing fun things with us kids, showing grace when I messed up, giving me advice when I trapped him in a long car ride from somewhere and asked him hard questions that he didn't really know the answer to. I didn't realize that these gentler, quieter things that made me feel loved or helped or encouraged were actually the most beautiful embodiment of spiritual leadership -- never mind that I disagreed with him on theology or that he couldn't answer all my questions. He loves. He serves. This heart posture fulfills his position as spiritual leader in my life. That's why I ask him questions and encourage him and go to him with my problems and decisions.

I grew up hearing that leaders were authoritarian and visible, that leadership was about power and authority and delegation. No. Not at all. Leadership is about humility. Leadership is about service. Leadership is about love. Leadership is about submission -- choosing to identify with the group one leads, focusing one's attention on others, coming alongside them to achieve the group's or individual's goal. My boyfriend talks about leading by example as opposed to merely occupying and exercising a position. His definition of leadership is far more relational than what I used to believe. Leadership means that the leader works right alongside the group, noticing and challenging weaknesses, identifying strengths, encouraging all along. Even though I know more theological terms, even though I have walked with Christ longer than he, I look up to him and respect him, letting him lead by example, support my weaknesses, praise my strengths and speak love into my life.

Frankly, I don't think a girl needs to require much else.

I believe a male spiritual leader in the home is a man who loves his wife and family, expresses that love often, prays with and for his family on an individual basis and corporately.  He should be an active participant in his church and his family should see him in that role.  He should read scripture often, be seen by his family doing that, maybe listen to Christian media in the car.  He shouldn’t live a life of hypocrisy, he should admit when he is wrong, be strong – but gentle.
From here

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5 impressions

  1. I never thought the whole had-to-be-saved-longer thing made much sense, but nobody else seemed to understand it any better than I did. Thank you for touching on this. It's much clearer now.

    Also, your boyfriend's idea of leadership sounds an awful lot like my pastor's... and we've had guests from all over the country tell us that Mikado is one of the best churches in all of America, with one of the best pastors.

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  2. I AGREE! Very well said. Too bad others won't think so. Hope u don't mind us dropping in to read sometimes. Just found your blog tonight. Got a lot of catching up to do with reading. Take care!

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  3. Hi, Bailey.

    Thank you for linking to my blog.
    Did you read that post of mine that you linked to? It actually quoted the "I believe a male spiritual leader ... strong - but gentle" to say why the idea does not make sense.

    If something is equally right for both the leader and the follower - like loving your spouse/ praying with your family/ participating in church/ reading scripture, then doing so is not a definition of leadership.

    I am not my husband's leader because I love him, pray with him and read scripture, so neither is he mine by doing that. The definition of leadership must lie somewhere else.

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  4. AMEN AMEN AMEN and YES. exactly. leadership is not how charismatic or powerful or visionary or politician-y you are, but how sacrificial, humble, and most Jesus-like you are. that's the bottom line and true essence of spiritual leadership -- being like Jesus.

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  5. Retha: >facepalm< I DID read the entire article and then wrote mine several weeks later, so I failed to remember the context when I grabbed the quote. Your point is valid, and I agree. I guess I was just intrigued by defining leadership by something different -- to me, like I said in the article, it's simply a different position where you live out the same life as any other Christian. If that makes sense.

    I apologize for failing to preserve the point of your article. :/

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