Let’s Talk About Men and Leadership

When people in the Christian churches talk about gender roles, it often ends up being a discussion about women and submission. If you’ve been keeping up with these discussions even a little, you’ve surely learned that good Christian women should view their role as a blessing. You’ve been told that submission isn’t a dirty word, but rather part of God’s ordained order for the church and the family. When we submit, we’re following the example of Jesus Christ and putting ourselves under His authority.

Even though I still hear ministers joke about how discussing submission will get them in trouble, I actually talk with very few women in the churches today who haven’t embraced, or at least acknowledge, the value of being a virtuous woman with a meek and gentle spirit. We might disagree on exactly what it looks like and we all still have much to learn about being a godly woman (though it really should be simple — a godly woman is a woman who’s following God), but we have a pretty good idea what our gender role is.

Let's Talk About Men and Leadership | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: “Father and son” by Lisa Williams, CC BY via Flickr

We talk about men’s roles in the church far less often. Women hear “submission is a good thing. It’s not always easy but it’s part of God’s plan and sometimes you just have to do it.” But how often do men hear, “leadership is a good thing. It’s not always easy but it’s part of God’s plan and sometimes you just have to do it”?

I wonder if one reason we over look this is because we don’t understand why they might not want to take on their role as head, lover, provider, and protector. Why wouldn’t men want to be the ones in charge? Isn’t it much easier to “love your wife” than “submit to your husband”? They should be thankful they get to be leaders in the family, that they’re the ones who hold public ministry positions. After all, that’s the role everyone wants. That’s why we have to talk about submission for woman so much, because otherwise she’d be trying to steal man’s role, right?

But don’t men try to steal woman’s role as well? Or, to phrase it differently, aren’t both gender’s tempted to shirk the responsibilities God has given us and avoid living up to His expectations?

Balance vs. Extremes

As I’m so fond of saying on this blog, people tend toward extremes. Instead of finding balance, we tip toward one side or the other. We all know about the type of extreme masculinity that takes the idea of leadership/headship and turns it into aggressive despotism dominating women and other men. That’s the “toxic masculinity” our culture is so (rightly) against. But going to the other extreme isn’t good either, and that’s what has been encouraged all too often in the churches as well as the world.

We think of the emasculation of men as a modern thing, but it’s not. People have never been in balance with God’s plan. We’re always fighting it. We had the male sentimentality movement in the 18th Century and now we have the movement to destroy gender entirely, especially strong masculinity. I’m sure there have been others, but these are the two I’m most familiar with — I studied female author’s reactions to sentimentality and now I’m living in the other one and seeing the effect it’s having on my father, brother, and guy friends.

Giving Men A Break

My train of thought leading to this post started with an article published on Boundless. In “Give Us Guys A Break,” Ross Boone provides an answer to the question “Why aren’t Christian guys asking Christian girls out?” by explaining the emotional turmoil guys are going through. It’s an argument I’d heard before, and the explanation ( or excuse?) that “asking girls out is too much pressure and I don’t want to risk hurting them” still frustrates me.

As I worked my initial reaction over in my mind, I felt that it’s a deeper issue than just problems in Christian dating. It gets back to the idea of the masculine role involving leadership (which is the reason most Christians say it’s the man’s responsibility to ask a woman out). We don’t talk about giving women a break from their role of submission, so why do we want to encourage men to get comfortable avoiding the roles God gives them? The church should be teaching men how to lead and encouraging them in that role, not making excuses for them.click to read article, Let's Talk About Men and Leadership | marissabaker.wordpress.com

We all have emotional turmoil, fears, and vulnerabilities. That realization should help us all meet people where they are and empathize with them, but stopping with empathy isn’t a loving response. We should also encourage others to live up to their potential in God rather than stay as they are (and, to be fair to this Boundless author, “Give Guys A Break” does address the need to find security and confidence in God).

Counter-Cultural Churches

The problem is that the churches have adopted our culture’s views on gender instead of making a concerted effort to conform to God’s standards. We’re all affected by our cultures to a certain extent, and when we’re constantly bombarded with the messages that submission equals female victim hood and that male leadership sets up a society where men become dangerous to civilization it’s hard not to internalize those messages. There’s the voice in the back of our minds saying that, just perhaps, men really are brutes who will hurt people if they’re allowed to lead.

The church has to stand against this false doctrine and encourage our young men what it means to be godly men with the same dedication that we’ve been teaching girls how to be godly women. I am seeing more of this in my younger brother’s generation, the ones just graduating from high school, but my heart breaks for so many men closer to my age, and older, who were told they didn’t fit into a very narrow stereotype of “manliness” or who weren’t allowed to be Wild At Heart (which is the title of a very good book that several young adult men have told me changed their lives). click to read article, Let's Talk About Men and Leadership | marissabaker.wordpress.comIt’s time for the whole church to step up and support men in becoming confident leaders and protectors who are submitted to and following Jesus Christ’s example of Headship. And we should do this for all the men in their everyday lives, not just the ones with a titled “authority role” in the church like elder or minister. We must also keep in mind that shoving people into stereotypes isn’t healthy either — how we fill our roles will depend on the personalities God has given us and our gifts, as well as our genders. Let’s all be “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” to do and be what God has called us to, as men, as women, as Christians.

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13 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Men and Leadership

  1. So many men in my family defy the stereotypes in Wild At Heart (and the women also defy Captivating); they’re not outdoors-men, or raving sports lunatics, or into automobiles – they’re betrayed by a book that tells them that they’re not the right kind of man or manly enough. Perhaps its the same way with leadership – not every man is hard-wired for it the same way that others are. That’s why some men are politicians and others aren’t. Some men are captains of their team and others aren’t. Some men are pastors / elders / deacons / teachers and others aren’t. Leadership exists in varying degrees and quantities in everyone and in some it is more nurtured than in others. It’s important to note that Christianity isn’t a religion of many leaders and many followers; but of one leader (Christ) and a great many followers (everyone else) – when men set themselves up to be in the place of Christ, the intermediary through whom women must go to get to Christ, they can do much more harm than good.

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    • Thanks for your comment! Perhaps I’m not remembering correctly (and I’m sure I read it differently as a woman), but I thought Wild at Heart was more about encouraging men to find their confidence in God and embrace their role as spiritual warriors than saying “all men are outdoorsy/sports fans/auto-obsessed’, and that they did address men who defy stereotypes (not as much as they should have, though). As people in general, I think we rely far too much on stereotypes when discussing gender. That’s why I made sure to note that “how we fill our roles will depend on the personalities God has given us and our gifts, as well as our genders,” and also that the church needs to support men who aren’t in what we think of as “leadership positions.”

      For all men, including those in the pastor/elder/deacon/teacher role, the aspect of their role that involves leadership means submitting to the leadership of Christ. Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean standing in front of a group and speaking a sermon. Leadership involves modeling what it means to be a godly man for the younger generation of boys, showing what a man wholly submitted to Christ’s leadership looks like, providing for those in need, serving in the church by following Jesus Christ’s example of service. As you said, it should never be about setting themselves up in place of Christ (I’m glad you added this point in the comments — it probably should have been in my post!).

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      • Leadership involves modeling what it means to be a godly man for the younger generation of boys, showing what a man wholly submitted to Christ’s leadership looks like, providing for those in need, serving in the church by following Jesus Christ’s example of service.

        The same can be said of women: “Leadership involves modeling what it means to be a godly woman for the younger generation of girls, showing what a woman wholly submitted to Christ’s leadership looks like, providing for those in need, serving in the church by following Jesus Christ’s example of service.”

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    • Hi Jamie – Wild At heart is one of the most confusing books out there from a male perspective because it seems so right as you are reading it, I read it early in my walk with Jesus and it seemed like it made so much sense. I thought it was brilliant at the time , but upon closer inspection it fails miserably in one crucial way — to teach men how to be manly like Jesus and not be manly like our culture says how to be manly.

      Comparing the loving, gentle, humble, meek Good Shepherd who gave up His life in willful submission to the Father with the picture of the macho manchild out to indulge the wildness of his heart set out in Wild at heart does not end well for John Eldredge.

      Jesus came not to be served but to serve — it is all that leadership is about, not whether we are tough or can rock climb.

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      • It really shocked me to learn that a Mexican drug cartel (La Familia – “the family”) views the book at required reading and bases some of it’s beliefs off of it – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/09/AR2010070905154.html

        Somehow, these teachings about masculinity have become another gospel, if not “Wild at Heart / Captivating”, there’s “Love and Respect”, “Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti” … the church elder once tried to have all the singles study “Covenant Marriage”. I really don’t hear any sermons talking about following Jesus these days, it’s all marriage, masculinity, femininity, and Genesis 1-3.

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        • Don’t know the other books, I don’t read much in that category. My thinking is that if I have time to read on a subject I will read what the Bible says about it.

          As for sermons, sorry that is your experience but there are lots of good simple Bible teaching churches out there – I may not be eloquent, but my goal for every sermon is to preach the text faithfully, preach the Gospel and point people to Jesus and His glory.

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          • At this point, all I ask is that for every sermon preached on marriage and authority/submission; there be one preached on singleness out of 1 Corinthians 7, letting the other half of the church know that God loves them where they’re at even if the church is so focused on marriage that it marginalizes them unintentionally. Much of the masculinity discussion is focused on the roles of husband and father that single men seem to be at a loss for how to be a man outside of those roles.

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          • Jamie, my sister has complained about the same thing in relation to single women. It is frustrating, especially for those who don’t want to get married (or can’t right now). I don’t actually hear all that many sermons on the topic of gender roles in my churches, but I agree it would be nice to have more acknowledgement of singles’ role in the church. We’re all called to follow Jesus whether or not we’re married, and churches should be careful to avoid implying (even unintentionally) that walking with God is in some way dependent on getting married.

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  2. Hi Marissa,
    Good article — I agree that the problems with men and leadership go back further, all the way to the Garden when Adam stood idly by as Eve was deceived and ate of the fruit followed by he himself knowingly eating in rebellion. As men it has been our sin motivated tendency since that time to hang back and let our Eve’s handle things. Eve has been subject to the desire to rule over her husband leading to what we see so often in the church today, the woman out front and handling all things as the de facto ruler of the family the man hanging back and letting his wife lead.

    They should be thankful they get to be leaders in the family, that they’re the ones who hold public ministry positions. After all, that’s the role everyone wants. That’s why we have to talk about submission for woman so much, because otherwise she’d be trying to steal man’s role, right?

    Both positions, pastor/elder and Father, require the holder to not only give an account for themselves before God but also give an account for each of the folks under our care while we walk this earth, including our wives by the way. Dads and Pastors are held to a stricter standard by God. Both positions require that we lead the way in laying down our lives for others, love your wife like Christ loved the church even dying for it, and when done correctly involve leading in following Jesus, taking up their cross daily and following Him.

    Lots of guys don’t want to lead as Jesus lead because it involves living for others and the stakes are high, yet they should because it is just what Jesus did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment, Thomas!

      I’m a congregation right now with several women who are ordained, though they don’t serve as ministers where I attend (they have other congregations and visit this one). I’ve talked with these women and I don’t feel they’re consciously trying to “usurp authority over a man,” but I also don’t really think it’s “right” (or scriptural) to take on that role as a woman and that makes me uncomfortable around them. I really think we women need to let men lead (and encourage them to do so!) instead of giving into that tendency to take charge and try to “rule over” Adam.

      I love your comment about living for others and it got me thinking … that’s what we’re all called to do. They way we each do that might look different, but for both men and women living God’s way of life involves surrendering to His will and following Jesus Christ’s example of living for others rather than ourselves.

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      • Yes, I agree that living for others is what we are all called to do and that it will look different for everyone. It is the picture set out in 1 Corinthians 12 — the Body of Christ. We all are gifted differently as chosen by the Holy Spirit, none is better than others and we all use those gifts in love for others.

        As for the women ministers, it is often out of good motives that women take the lead in the family or the church.

        I think my wife is a lot better at some things that I am and early on in this thing we call faith I would rationalize my sitting back and letting her take over those things on the grounds that in my judgment it was just easier and better for everyone involved.

        The question though is not what I think is better but what does God say is better cause His answer is always better than mine. It is Saul and Samuel in the OT — Saul always had a justification for doing what he thought was best regardless of what God said to do through Samuel and often they made sense in a worldly sort of way — the problem was they involved not obeying God and doubting His power and nature.

        Since my wife and I turned things around and I stopped being Adam our family just works better.

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