There’s an ongoing myth hovering around the Christian community that I’ve been wanting to address for a while. It’s a myth that I myself believed for a long time– one that impacted my personal life, my relationships, and even my marriage. It’s a myth that has impacted so many people– from the single women I’ve interacted with, to the married couples I’ve counseled, and even the friends I’ve had.
I’ll never forget this one specific afternoon. I’d met a friend at a local bistro downtown for coffee and somehow the conversation drifted into discussing our marriages. She opened up about how she was struggling with some specifics in her relationship, namely–that her husband wasn’t a “spiritual leader”. She used that tern as she went on to explain that in their relationship- he had never really initiated bible study or devotions. She felt there was a spiritual leadership missing from their relationship, and in turn, she was growing bitter, frustrated, and angry at his lack of drive. The truth is, I don’t really know what is going on in their marriage. The struggles she is having may stem from something much deeper than she shared. But beyond that, this conversation about spiritual leadership really got me thinking and questioning my own beliefs and perceptions.
I hear from many women across every stage of the relationship spectrum who are hung up on this topic of spiritual leadership. Women who are struggling with disappointment, frustration, and bitterness stemming from the lack of initiative on the male’s part to engage in being a “spiritual leader”–namely, by way of bible study or devotions.
It’s a concept I used to believe–one that had been drilled into my brain over the course of my Christian life–and one that I would have agreed with before that conversation I had in that bistro that day.
But as I talked to my friend that day, something inside of me began to shift. I felt the Lord downloading some new perspective into my brain that made me question everything I’d known about this topic. I thought of the men that I considered “spiritual leaders” in my life–including my husband– and the thoughts that began to enter my mind that day have significantly changed my life, my perspective, and my relationship with my husband. Let me share them with you.
1. Spiritual “headship” and Spiritual leadership are not the same thing. You know that verse about “the head of a wife” being her husband (I Corinthians 11)? While there are many different ways to interpret that passage (while I’d love to go into my opinions about what headship means that will have to be an article for another day), the bottom line is that there is a difference between headship and leadership. We often use the two terms interchangeably, though they actually mean different things. This passage, that people often quote for spiritual leadership, is actually referring to something else – it’s referring to headship.
Spiritual “headship” and spiritual “leadership” are two very different things that we shouldn’t get confused.
A spiritual leader is a person who lives their life in the example of Jesus Christ. They lead, spiritually speaking. It’s not a role assigned to a man or a woman, but something we are all freed to pursue as children of God (Galatians 3:28).
Spiritual headship, on the other hand, is something that we engage in when we enter into the covenant of marriage, while spiritual leadership is something that we should seek no matter what our stage of our life–single, dating, or married. It’s not only okay, it’s good to want spiritual leadership as you look at your life and relationships…but it’s important to know what it actually means.
2. Spiritual Leadership is not defined by a man’s (or person’s) ability to engage us in bible study or lead in devotions. As awesome as it is for a man to pull out his bible, share some verses, or do a devotional–if you ask me, that’s not the mark of spiritual leadership, that’s a spiritual gifting – specifically, the gift of teaching.
We all have different spiritual gifts, which is something I’ve been so aware of since getting married. My primary giftings are teaching and evangelism, while my husband’s giftings are faith and generosity. Both of those giftings reflect Jesus in different ways.
If I were to base the “spiritual leadership” of my husband on who initiates bible study and devotions– it wouldn’t do justice to the spiritual leadership my husband displays in all the other areas of his life.
What if our definition of spiritual leadership could be redefined–less by what we do and how we do it, and more by the marks of a great big God at work in our tiny little lives? By how we engage the world around us and allow God’s love to pour in and out of our lives? To me, that is the mark of a true spiritual leader.
3. A Spiritual leader is marked by one thing and one thing alone: God’s Spirit.
Oh how I wish I could have learned THIS in our pre-marital counseling sessions. There have been so many times in my marriage that I’ve failed to see God’s spirit at work in my husband’s life because I was looking for things that didn’t actually describe God’s Spirit. I was looking for leadership qualities, CEO qualities, entrepreneur qualities- more than I was actually looking for spiritual leadership qualities. We’ve allowed our cultural norms to define what a spiritual “leader” should look like, even though those are not the qualities that we see reflected in scripture.
The fruit of God’s spirit at work in someones life are this: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.
When it comes to finding (and becoming) a spiritual leader–it has so much less to do with gender, and so much more to do with allowing God’s Spirit to be at work in our lives. Nothing we do to try and create “spirituality” could ever replace who we ARE when we are allowing ourselves to be continually filled by His Spirit. A spiritual leader is not marked by his ability to teach or preach–but by the ability to love, to forgive, to serve, and to give.
A spiritual leader isn’t one who can lead devotions–but one who lives a life of devotion to Jesus, that overflows into every part of their life.
I think it’s time to redefine our definition of a spiritual leader–and seek nothing less for each of our lives than more–more, more, more–of Him.
Want to hear more about our marriage and our story? Click here!
For great episodes of the Love + Relationships Podcast check out:
- Spring: Is Your Relationship Growing?
- Summer Is When Things Get Hot: On Intimacy
- Colors of Fall: Questions To Ask Your Partner NOT Assume
- Winter: The frost of Apathy and How To Deal With It
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MORE BOOKS BY DEBRA
Get busy learning what you need to know about healthy singleness, dating, and marriage. Check out Love In Every Season: The Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship, Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me or True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life.
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DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of Choosing Marriage and True Love Dates, and Love In Every Season. She’s also the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast. Her popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaches millions of people with the message of healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twi