The Importance of Male Leadership in Romantic Relationships
Ever since Joshua Harris kissed dating goodbye in 1997, the dating versus courtship debate has raged within the evangelical community. While not as controversial as it once was (as far as I can tell), the question of whether Christians should “date” or “court” is still a hot topic within the larger church.
I do not intend to enter that debate directly here. Rather, I want to lay down a few vital biblical principles to help you to think carefully about romantic relationships, regardless of whether you think dating or courting best facilitates the implementation of these principles.
Men: Initiate the relationship and keep on initiating.
The idea that God has designed and called men to bear a unique responsibility to lead in their relationships to women has been challenged ever since the fall (Gen. 3:16). In our contemporary context, however, there seems to be a particularly acute and nuanced resistance to this notion, and areas of male leadership that were once assumed are now questioned as outmoded at best, and patriarchal and misogynistic at worst. Adding further difficulty to an already difficult situation is the reality that men, also since the fall, have an inward propensity toward passivity: that a man should initiate a romantic relationship and continue to initiate that relationship is a principle that often either sits uneasily upon the conscience or is simply disregarded as unimportant.
But the relational structures that God has put in place will inevitably rise to the surface of our experience, and men and women will often find they are most satisfied when the man takes the helm of leadership in the area of romance. This is not to suggest that it is wrong, in every circumstance, for a woman to take the first step; what matters is not so much who takes the first step, but whether or not the man initiates the relationship from that point going forward.
What does it mean to initiate a romantic relationship? It means, practically, to find ways to talk to the woman in whom you are interested. It means asking her to coffee, explaining your intentions, seeking her parents’ blessing, and so on. It also means that you don’t stop initiating.
Don’t stop initiating.
It is convenient for us guys, once we’ve exercised leadership a few times, to retreat back into passivity and neglect to purposefully pursue the relationship, choosing rather to let romantic momentum or our girlfriends take over. Why? Because it’s just plain easier. (And trust me: the temptation to yield to passivity in this area is a tendency you will have to fight in marriage as well.) But intentionality must characterize our conduct during the entire relationship, not just the beginning. This means that you continue to plan time together, guide the conversation to edifying topics, and regularly communicate your intentions.
In the past when I’ve asked guys about their intentions with the woman they are dating, I’ve often heard the biblical-sounding language of God’s will. “If God wills, we will get married,” or “I would really like to marry her, but only if the Lord wills,” and so on. It is good to live humbly under God’s sovereign will, for we cannot ultimately determine our future (James 4:13-18), but in his wise design, God has left it largely up to the man whether or not he will get married. Actually, this language of God’s will can often be a pious guise for fearful indecisiveness.
Be careful of defrauding your girlfriend.
Yet, merely continuing a romantic relationship is not necessarily a sign to your girlfriend that marriage is really on the horizon. I’ve seen far too many Christian men tow their girlfriend along in relational haze, neglecting to provide them with any certainty that their current dating excursion will eventually lead to marriage.
Men, when you indulge in this passive approach to dating, you will soon be guilty of defrauding your girlfriend. That is, by continuing to enjoy the benefits of the relationship—companionship, emotional intimacy, the delicate joys of romance—without clear intentions and solid plans to bring that relationship to a fitting consummation (marriage), you have become a deceiver. How can I use such strong language? Because by your reluctance to express and act on your intentions, you are giving the impression that this relationship is moving directly toward marriage, when you are actually just driving in circles.
Men, to lead in a romantic relationship means, at the most basic level, that you are dating with the express intention of determining whether or not you and your girlfriend should get married. That’s why I usually tell guys that, if they are dating, they should be ready to marry within a year to a year and a half.
Are you ready to be married in a year and a half?
So guys, ask yourself: Am I in a position to be married within the next year to eighteen months? Here are a few factors to consider:
1. Are you assured of your salvation? Are you sure you are a regenerate Christian? If not, then you are not ready to enter into a romantic relationship. Why? Because the most important aspect of your life is presently in question. You must settle this issue before you enter into a romantic relationship, because you will not be fit to lead your girlfriend and future wife while you are on such shaky spiritual ground.
2. Can you provide for a wife? Are you able to provide for a wife or be in a position to provide for a wife within the next year to eighteen months? If not, you are not really ready to be dating. College freshmen who believe they met their future wives at orientation may balk at this statement. But the fact of the matter is that if you can’t get married within the next year and a half, you are in a precarious position: either your relationship grows and you both find yourselves without an appropriate outlet for your maturing affections, or your relationship sputters and stalls because there is no immediate hope for marriage.
3. Are you walking in sexual purity? The primary question here is whether you are presently caught in the habit of viewing pornography. Are you ensnared in the daily, weekly, or monthly habit of viewing pornography for the sake of sexual stimulation and satisfaction? If so, then you are not yet ready to be in a romantic relationship.
4. Are you firmly established in and accountable to the local church? Are you well rooted into your local church, under the spiritual care of your pastors and elders, and accountable to a group of believers within that congregation? I place this question on the list of considerations because God has designed the local church to be the place where our faith is grown, sustained, protected, and preserved (Heb. 3:12-15; 10:23-24). If you are detached from the local church, you will soon be spiritually adrift and taking your girlfriend with you.
If you find that you have answered “no” to one or more of these questions, do not allow yourself to be swallowed up in despair. Rather, ask yourself: What is keeping me from changing my “no” to “yes” in each case? The answer is nothing. God has given you every resource you need to have the assurance of your salvation, to provide for yourself and for a family, to put sexual sin to death, and to develop gospel relationships in your local church. Instead of focusing on unproductive self-loathing, let these questions spur you on to greater diligence in these areas.
Derek J. Brown currently serves as professor of theology at Cornerstone Seminary in Vallejo, California, and associate pastor at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley where he oversees the college and young adult ministry, online presence, and publishing ministry, GBF Press. Derek blogs at fromthestudy.com.
Editor's note: The text of the original article was amended based on some helpful feedback from BCL readers.
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