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Is the Way We Think About Male Spiritual Leadership a Myth?

man with bible by lake
Is the way we typically think of spiritual leadership just a myth?

When I came across this title on Twitter, it intrigued me: ‘He’s Just Not a Spiritual Leader,’ and Other Christian Dating Myths. The author, Marlena Graves, describes the premarital counseling she did along with her husband, Shawn, and how shocked she was when a couple whom she thought was very compatible had broken up. According to the young lady, she broke up with her boyfriend because “he just wasn’t a spiritual leader.”

Graves started questioning what it means to be a spiritual leader:

It seems that initiating prayer, Bible study, and other similar devotional activities is a litmus test for male spiritual leadership in some branches of the American church. And the common complaint by women on our campus is that men are failing in spiritual leadership; they aren’t passing the litmus test. They aren’t initiating.

But after Shawn’s comment that day, I started wondering about all the godly men who may have other spiritual gifts—just not the ones traditionally considered ‘male’ spiritual gifts. For example, what about men who have the gift of mercy or hospitality or service or encouragement, and who are full of the fruits of the Spirit? Do we devalue them simply because they’re not at the helm or out in front but rather operating alongside their partner? Is initiating devotional activities within a relationship really what it means to lead?

Having grown up in the Christian culture that said finding a guy who is a spiritual leader was a non-negotiable; I’ve looked for this quality in guys I’ve dated. I remember going out with a guy I met at church, and when he didn’t pray before we started our meal, I was a little disappointed.

But over chips and salsa, we talked about our home churches and worship styles, and I saw his heart for God and the depth of his faith. What I saw as “not leading” by not praying before dinner became a non-issue based on our later discussion. But looking back I wonder about the unwritten rule that said he had to be the one to pray. I easily could have been the one to pray over our meal.

But Graves reframes the very definition of being a spiritual leader:

A spiritual leader is someone who is full of the Holy Spirit—someone who evidences the fruits of the Spirit in increasing measure. Some women prefer that their partners initiate prayer and Bible study. Of course, they’re free to have such preferences, and even to believe that such initiation is a “male” spiritual gift. But we, as the larger Christian community, should find ways to recognize the men who don’t initiate devotional activities and yet model Christlike leadership because they display the fruits of the Spirit. And likewise, we need to consider whether men who display the more visible pastoral and teaching gifts are truly leading in Christlike ways.

Further, those of us who are married ought to examine what litmus tests we are using when deciding whether or not our husbands are leading. Our husbands’ leadership styles/gifts and our own may be different. If we give thanks for and honor the gifts and fruits of the Spirit we observe in our husbands, we just might see they are more like Jesus than we imagined.

What do you think? Is the way we typically think of spiritual leadership just a myth? For the married folks, how do you see spiritual leadership modeled?

Copyright 2012 Ashley Boyer Hendley. All rights reserved.

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