You Are Not Her Spiritual Leader

I want to continue to try to answer a question that reader Stephen asked me a few weeks ago. Here is the question.

Everyone talks about women wanting guys who “lead”, who “aren’t pushovers,” who “aren’t nice guys,” etc. Question: what does this mean in the context of DATING. NOT MARRIAGE. Its fairly obvious what this means for married men. But when I’m asking a woman out for the first, second, or third time, the only things we’re going to disagree over, or have to decide together, are whether we’re going to Chipotle or Olive Garden. What if I really don’t give a darn? How am I supposed to “lead” while I’m casually dating a girl? I’m not an integral part of her life, I’m not her primary counselor, I’m not even likely to be *informed* about serious decisions that she has to make. 

I tackled the general nice guy question previously, but I think Stephen raises a very interesting question when it comes to leadership.

First of all, let’s clear a couple of things up.  Nowhere in the bible is the phrase spiritual leader used.  It’s kind of inferred in several places but we’ve sort of created this phrase so that we don’t have to use words like headship.  But regardless of all of that, and no matter what you call it, when you are dating someone, you are not her spiritual leader or head of anything. You are not saddled with that and you don’t have to love her as Christ loved the church (any more or less than you would any other person) and she is not called to submit to your leadership.  Ephesians 5 is not about dating.

At the same time you can show leadership.  You’re not her “leader” but that doesn’t mean you can’t lead.  In the restaurant example from above (a great simple example) I’d say on the fist date you should just have a plan and do it.  Just lead.  This is where I’m taking you tonight.  Go someplace that you like that you think she might also enjoy. Don’t show up and say, “where do you want to go?”

Now once you are dating, I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking her what she’d prefer, but I’d ask her that before you show up.  Leadership is more about an attitude.  It’s more about the conversation that night than the menu.  (A note to the ladies here – for the love of all things, if the guy asks you if you prefer mexican or italian and says he is great with either, and you have a preference, express it.  Don’t make him guess and then say, “well I really wanted mexican”.  Men like food.  We don’t care.)

While the above is sort of a practical answer to the fist couple of dates, I think this question begs a deeper one.  What is leadership and what does it look like in a dating relationship.

Leadership is sort of a funny word in our culture. It seems that everyone wants to be one, but very few are seen as one.

Which brings me to the first important point – in order to be a leader, you have to actually be going somewhere.

If as a guy, you know who you are, and remain confident in that, you can look for someone who will come with you.  In terms of attractiveness, knowing what you want, and passionately pursuing it aren’t going to hurt you.  Frankly it’s also often more effective when first asking someone out to invite them to go with you versus a general ask.  “Will you go out with me sometime?” is a lot more pressure than, “I’m going to the game this weekend, come with me.”  I get that isn’t always the preferred method, but the general idea of having a plan and inviting her to it is good.

But here’s another funny thing about leadership.  It require followers.  If no one is following you, you’re not actually a leader.  Also, just because someone has followers doesn’t mean they are leading the right way – just that they have leadership ability.  Hitler had followers.

I say all of this because it’s hard to have a conversation about men leading, be it in marriage or dating, if we don’t sort of have that down.

So here are a few thoughts on how to lead in dating.

  • Be going somewhere yourself.  What are you about?  Where are you heading – big picture and tomorrow.
  • Invite her to that – the simple small stuff at first (go with me to the game?) the bigger vision later (where do we want to be in life).
  • You set the boundaries – physical and otherwise – and honor them – even when she doesn’t want to.
  • Don’t follow her around.  Pursue her, get to know her (which is leadership), but don’t chase her.
  • Make decisions about things you do together.  (Again to clarify, the more your in the relationship the more that becomes joint – but you can still lead the conversation).
  • Lead in reconciliation and forgiveness, but not out of fear – instead out of concern for her and the relationship.

These are just a few examples.  Maybe some commenters will have more.  Keep in mind that no one leads well all of the time (I for sure don’t) and over thinking it and crushing yourself when you feel you don’t lead is totally counterproductive.  Every guy screws this up.  But we need a target.

One final thought here – if you lead and the woman never follows – reconsider that relationship.  Especially when it comes to following Jesus.

16 thoughts on “You Are Not Her Spiritual Leader

  1. Of course you know that all guys are not called to lead a woman in romance. But that’s what the world expects. Honestly, it makes it much more difficult to tend to God’s concerns.

  2. This is a practical reply Justin. The first I have seen concerning Christian dating that actually gives solid advice instead of “just go up and ask a woman out, they don’t bite”

  3. I love that you are telling men, “YOU set the boundaries,” when what we usually hear “the guy will go as far as the woman will let him.” You’ve posted before about how men are getting tired of always being labeled as the “bad” one of the pair, and I agree that is totally unfair. If any men are NOT setting boundaries, I hope they will take this to heart; it’s another way to be respectful AND respected, not to mention totally appreciated by any woman he dates!

  4. I am learning social dance (West Coast Swing, specifically), and so much of what I learn there is analogous to a Christian romantic relationship. Going somewhere, setting boundaries, making decisions, and making sure your follower is actually following you: all of those are what you soundly recommend men do as romantic leaders, and those are exactly the same instructions our leaders get in dance class.

    There’s a beautiful theology to partner dance, and although it is possible to dance very well with someone you have zero romantic interest in, I can only imagine how the sparks must fly when you dance with your beloved.

  5. Hi Justin

    I’ve been reading your articles for a couple of months now and I’m finding them really helpful and encouraging.

    I do have a question regarding leadership in dating, I have been going on dates with a girl I met at church about 3 months ago (we’re both 25) for just over a month (we’ve had 5 dates one-on-one and see each other at church and church-group nights) and last date she told me that it’s important to her for us to get to know each other a fair bit better before saying we’re ‘officially dating’.

    This is the first time I’ve been out multiple times in a dating context and I want to know your thoughts on how exactly I go about the whole leadership thing with progressing the relationship and still respecting where she is at. I know that full leadership only comes into its own when married but I’m unsure about how to ‘practice leadership’ while dating as I don’t think getting married will just flip the switch.

    This also relates to a question about pursuing a girl rather than chasing her (I’ve read your article on not chasing a girl) and I’m unsure as to how to go about pursuing, I can’t seem to find any good answers on that one


    • James

      Thanks for your comments. You bring up some good questions and the last one is probably worthy of a blog post. I’ve been slammed and so not writing much lately but I’ll get something up in the not too distant future about pursuit. Here are a couple of quick thoughts. First as far as leading from where you are at now. You can lead the conversation. You can continue to ask her out and lead in the basic ways of this post. Don’t force it and don’t fall into the telling her how you feel trap. Make sure you avoid the friendzone here.

      As far as pursuit vs chasing. Really in some ways it’s more about how you carry yourself than each thing you do. But in general I would say pursuit looks more like trying to get to know her vs. trying to “get” her to like you. Does that make sense. Noticing the books on her shelf = good. Going out and buying the books because she has them = bad. More as soon as I get time.

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  10. If the term “spiritual leader” is not used in the Bible, does that mean a man is not a woman’s spiritual leader even after they’re married?

    Women have their own freewill, they can study the Bible and know right from wrong on their own, and the Holy Spirit convicts everyone directly. And the Bible says we will all have to stand before God and give an account for our lives. Are not women responsible for their own faith? Why would that change in marriage?

    I know a woman who witnessed to the man she ultimately ended marrying. If women are capable of being disciples and witnessing to people, don’t they too have the responsibility to set a good example?

    And I remember your saying before in response to another comment of mine that you write this website to help men, and that I have to focus primarily on my actions. But a man has to know what to look for in a woman sooner or later, right?

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