I’ve seen a lot of talk in my circles recently about Christian women needing to marry a leader. I actually recorded a video on the topic for Instagram but then never posted it.
Let me tell you the tale of two Instagram accounts.
The first will remain unnamed, but it is an account that specializes in responding to bad relationship advice. It blew me away the number of “Christian” men who had absolutely horrid dating advice. Horrid.
Misogynistic, unBiblical “standards” that they are preaching as gospel truth.
Just the other day he posted a video response to a man who said “real” men don’t let women set boundaries, provide for them, or take leadership in anything. I sent the video to a friend of mine with the message, “How do people even think this way?”
The second account is Phylicia Masonheimer. She’s an author and theologian, the founder of Every Woman a Theologian. She also graciously wrote the foreword for my upcoming book. She recently shared a post about her husband, Josh, and this unrealistic ideal that Christian women have about marriage. While many women were grateful for her message of grace in marriage, there were a few who took issue with her.
They disagreed because, “The Bible says we’re supposed to marry a leader.”
One even said, “I expect a chapter and verse to back up your claim that we don’t have to marry a leader. I’ll wait here.”
To be clear, Phylicia’s post was nothing about whether or not Josh was “a leader.” She was sharing about how women need to have grace for their husbands to grow. We make fun of guys wanting to marry “their moms” by finding a woman who will do all the chores and make him a sandwich, but there are plenty of Christian women out there set on marrying some hyper-spiritual version of their dads.
They want to marry a guy who is strong, inside and out, authoritative, well-versed in C.S. Lewis, fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and ready to start the next Great Awakening. Anything less is not good enough.
It all made me think about what do we really mean when we talk about when we talk about “women need to marry a leader”?
Because I’ll tell you the sad news. The sad news is, when some of the women on Phylicia’s account talk about “a leader” they’re actually picturing the knuckleheads from the first account. They’re picturing the aggressive, demanding, machismo man who commands unquestioned authority.
And, frankly, that’s not Biblical. In fact, if anything, it’s toxic masculinity. It’s not leadership.
At best, it’s bossy. At worst, it’s abuse.
But it made me ask myself, where does our toxic image of leadership come from?
One potential source of this flawed view of leadership is, unfortunately, our churches. I was raised in a very conservative Christian church that certainly believed in the unquestioned authority of the pastor.
The pastor spoke for God. Period. We were even discouraged from using commentaries or reading anything other than KJV. The encouragement was if you don’t understand it, try harder. Our church was Independent Baptist. That “Independent” means the church and the governance thereof has zero outside accountability.
Several years ago, a video of an IFB pastor went viral for all the wrong reasons. He stood at the front of the church and began calling out congregants one-by-one. He even addressed one mother during a sermon and said to her, regarding her son, “Momma, you get out of my way when I’m messing with that boy because I’m his preacher. I’m yours when I’m talking to you but I’m his when I’m talking to him and last I checked, he’s a grown man.”
To people who have never been in one of these churches, such an instance may seem like a one-off. As someone raised in these types of churches, I see it as typical behavior. There’s a lot of name calling cand yelling and using sermons to vent personal grievances. But hey! Jesus loves you.
Unfortunately, our churches can be the source of an incorrect, unBiblical view of leadership. When this is in place, you have the perfect environment for abuse and scandal. Look at the number of churches and ministries guilty of a framework supporting and covering up sexual abuse.
The issue is the traits we call “leadership” are also the perfect recipe for predators, but often churchs are blind to it. Instead, when accusations arise, we are quick to circle the wagons and defend the “men of God” against the “attacks of the devil.”
My friend, Mary DeMuth, unpacks some of this toxic framework in her book, WeToo. Unquestioned authority, unchecked power, and lack of accountability are not the qualities of a good leader. They are dangerous and in a marriage relationship they aren’t God-honoring. They are unhealthy.
Unchecked power is not leadership.
It should be no surprise then that another source of flawed leadership is our families. There is this expectation that men are “in charge” of the home. They are the disciplinarians. They are the unquestioned authority and the final say in the home, just as the pastor is the unquestioned authority and final say in the church. The louder they yell and the bigger stick they swing the more people stand in awe of their “leadership.” We praise them for “managing their home.”
Is it leadership if your kids sit still in church only because you’ve threatened to beat them sensless if they don’t?
Is that leadership?
My Grampa was a very godly man, but I feel like this was one area where he struggled. Our family lived under his roof for many years after my dad left. I know some of it is just the era he was raised in, but the structure of our home was very patriarchal. The one anomaly is my Gramma somehow managed to be both the bread winner (she worked as a nurse for over 40 years) and raise 5 children and then an additional 4 grandchildren.
Still it was always Grampa’s roof. His way. His rules. No questions. Children were to be seen and not heard. Emotions were not allowed. Needs were essentially ignored. He managed his home through bellowing, spanking, and threats.
Grampa was a skilled craftsman. He could build you anything and fix anything. He was always out in the barn tinkering or in the garden. But Grampa did nothing in the home- no laundry, no dishes. When Gramma ended up in the hospital with heart problems, he complained about having to eat a candy bar for lunch. Some family members even chided my grandmother for not thinking about him and packing him a lunch… before she went to the hospital.
Sure, we know you were in cardiac distress, but the least you could have done was make him a sandwich before you got in the ambulance.
That sort of emotional aggression and manipulation continued even after we had all moved far away. I often fought with my Grampa over his insensitivity to the needs of other people. His way was always the right way. His opinion the only one that mattered. He reduced a family member to tears because she didn’t do what he expected her to do even though she was a grown adult and no longer living under his roof. But people on the outside praised him as the leader of our family.
Manipulation and aggression is not leadership.
What kind of leader is God?
I had to think a bit about why men (and women) who claim to love God believe this is what leadership looks like. I asked myself where they get the idea that this is ok. Where do we get the idea that unquestioned authority, demands, and aggression are the things that constitute leadership.
What if it’s all rooted in a flawed view of God Himself?
How I view God will always have an effect on how I view my own role and the role of others.
If I picture God as some unrelenting, demanding, forceful, all powerful Father with unquestioned authority, then it makes sense that my view of leadership will look a lot like that. It makes sense that I would use tactics like shame and threats if I believe that’s how God interacts with me.
I struggled with this for a long time growing up. My own father was abusive, manipulative and demanding. When he left the male role models I was left with were not the best. When people started talking about God being my father, I was terrified. I imagined God as this impatient, demanding, constantly frustrated being who didn’t have time for my issues, emotions, or questions.
But is that the example of leadership we have?
It was interesting to realize that a lot of times when you encounter these leaders, they will talk about “God” and what “God” expects for them to do. That sounds really Godly, doesn’t it? But I wonder if it’s because we are uncomfortable with the idea of the leadership of Jesus.
The passage people often cite when it comes to leadership in marriage is Ephesians 5 where Paul says,
“Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church…”
Who is the husband meant to reflect? Christ.
And how? Through heavy-handed leadership? Through aggression and threats? Through depriving her of any rights and voice?
Through love. Through sacrificial, selfless love, willing to give himself up for his wife.
That implies grace. That implies compassion. That implies a tenderness that makes a lot of alpha-male ego-centric Christians uncomfortable.
This flips the modern Christian narrative of submission on its head. It’s not about the man “being a leader” but about a man and a woman who love each other like Jesus and each submitting to him. It doesn’t talk about who does the dishes or who takes out the trash. It doesn’t talk about who changes diapers or who wipes the snotty noses.
While it might be easy for someone to picture God sitting up in Heaven uninvolved with the daily grime and grit of life, it’s a little harder to argue with the servant leadership and love Jesus showed. While we’re debating about whether “real” men change diapers, Jesus wiped the disciples feet.
It’s bad news when Christ’s love threatens your model of leadership.
Before you get it in your head that you need to marry a “leader,” you need to get the idea of the wrong kind of leader out of your heart.
There are arguments either way for complentarian or egalitarian homes and which is more Godly. In my marriage, we tend to be more egalitarian. My husband isn’t “the leader” per se. We work together on things. We come to decisions together. We play to our strengths and abilities. I manage the money, not because I’m trying to usurp him but because I literally worked for five years in accounting. I am a spreadsheet nerd. Our budget is a beautiful file full of functions and colors and I take great pride in it.
He helps with the trash and the dishes and the laundry, not because he’s feminine but because he helps make the trash, and the dishes, and the dirty clothes. He also helps with the children, because he helped make them.
We’re in this together. If we can’t agree on a decision then we defer to whoever the decision affects most. Many decisions are never “50/50.” If a decision will affect him “70/30” then his feelings on it carry more weight and vice versa. For instance, if we were talking about whether or not to homeschool our kids, we would discuss it, but since I would be the one doing the bulk of the work, my “vote” carries more weight. He doesn’t just tell me what to do. I don’t tell him what to do. We discuss it.
That doesn’t make him less of a man or less of a leader, because leadership doesn’t look like marching around and barking orders.
If you’re looking for a leader, it’s not about finding someone stronger than you. It’s not about finding someone who can meet your fire and outscream you. It’s not about finding someone who can beat you into submission. That’s unhealthy. That’s abuse.
You marry a leader when you find a man who is chasing after God’s heart, who loves like Christ does, and you can say in your heart, “Yeah, that’s someone I can get behind. That’s someone I can love and support.” And then you do that, through all of the ups and downs and all of the growth still to come.