(Image courtesy of http://www.wheel.ie.)
About a month leading up to our marriage, I suddenly realized I had no idea what it meant to be a leader.  Literally, I was scared to go into marriage because I knew I was expected to lead my family, but I felt unprepared and
incapable to do so.

Now that I have been married for a little over three months, things are becoming clearer to me.  Honestly, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and the example Jesus set for me as a husband to my wife were rather unclear and foggy to me before marriage.  I thought I had grasped hold of them at a younger age, but some things are only learned in time and life experience.  Nevertheless, God has revealed one simple truth to me about a husband's leadership responsibility in the home:

Being a leader means you go first.

Please bear with me if you expected greater insight than this, as I share with you my greater understanding on the subject of leadership.

I love movies like Gladiator and Braveheart.  In fact, as I write this, I am listening to the Braveheart soundtrack, which sounds like swelling bag pipes and smells like clean, green fields of grass.  In these movies, I saw examples of leadership.  Maximus leads the other gladiators in battle and commands them what to do and they do it.  William Wallace rallies the Scottish troops and demands that others join him or else they are killed.  These leaders commanded the troops.  And the troops obeyed.  Generals in war command their troops.  Their troops obey, even if they don't agree, and the battle is won.  Success!

These are the types of leaders I admire as a man and I strive to be like.  But marriage, I quickly learned, requires a different sort of leadership.

While these ferocious examples of bravery and male leadership work extremely well with other males - on the football field, on the basketball court, in the military - they do not belong in the home.  I learned very quickly that making every decision is not what a husband is to do, lest his wife feel inferior and despise him.  In fact, if a husband dictates the home, his wife will not respect him more for his valor and unwavering devotion as they will on the battlefield - the opposite will happen.

It turns out that the ancient manuscripts that some call "old-fashioned" actually still do hold true after all.  (I am referring to the Bible.)  A woman desires to be loved and cared for.  That means in the area of decision-making as well.

I am convicted even as I write this of being a bully when it comes to decision-making.  I have made decisions in the past that were unknowingly selfish and then forced my wife to obey, more or less.  I was not violent or demanding.  In fact, I would make a decision and then ask, "Is that okay with you?"  She would say, "Yes," and I would leave thinking we just made a decision together.  But that's not making decisions together.  That's being a bully to the weaker vessel.

I am aware that sometimes the situation presented above can be reversed and the woman will bully the man who can't say no.  This, too, is a problem and needs to be remedied.  To this man I would say: Make your wife mad by saying no.  Take back the reigns of leadership.  Furthermore, study for yourself in the Bible and other trusted, faithful men's writings and find out what it means to be a leader.

Leadership is taking the initiative.  It means being the first to say, "Let's talk about whether or not we should buy this $120 shirt" and then actually discuss it and come to a compromised (on both sides!) conclusion.

Leadership means being the first to say, "We need to talk about last night.  I'm not happy with what happened."  It doesn't mean waiting for your wife to make the first move - because, honestly, she probably won't.  She shouldn't have to.

Being a leader means being the first to say, "I don't think we are being obedient to God in this.  Let's look at what the Bible says about it and pray to ask for forgiveness."

Leadership means being the first to walk around the house when your wife hears a noise outside - even though you were almost asleep.

Being a leader means being the first to say, "Let me get that door for you, dear."

Leadership means being the first to serve her a bowl of Dutch chocolate ice cream, even when it's the last scoop.

Being a leader means being the first to say, "I'm sorry.  I was wrong.  Would you forgive me?" and then offer to massage her back or fold the laundry.

That's what leadership is in marriage.  It's taking the bold step of initiative into the unknown.  There is fear involved in the unknown.  Many "men" avoid the feeling of being afraid and side-step the issue.  But the real men go boldly forward and courageously bring up the issues that are uncomfortable to talk about.  Like sex and intimacy, circumcision of future sons, and the like.  The real man swallows hard, pushes fear aside, and takes the first step.  Always.

It's hard.  So is being a man.

God modeled this perfectly for us, as He did everything we will ever face in this life, when He sent His Son Jesus to this dark, infectious, and sin-cursed world.  He took the initiative.  He said, "I am so mad at these people I could wipe them off the face of the earth with just one thought.  But I want to redeem them.  I made them, I care for them, I want them back from the curse of sin.  Jesus?  I have a job for You...."  So God took the initiative to win us back.  He did so with great humility in His Son Jesus, "who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-9).

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus..."  Be bold.  Step out in faith.  Trust God.  Take the initiative.  Or do you not think that Jesus was also afraid to take the initiative when His time had come to bear the weight of the world's sin?  "Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44).  Yet the task was finished just a few chapters later....

Allow me to write one final example of leadership.  There is a fantastic television series called Band of Brothers that follows Easy Company through Word War II in Europe.  (It is for mature audiences only because it is very graphic.)  During one episode, on the eve of a battle in a small German village, two officers are profiled.  One speaks very loudly and orders his soldiers around, but they do not love him or even respect him.  They obey only because they know their duty and place.  When the times comes for this officer to lead his men into battle, he shuts down under the heat of enemy gunfire.  He freezes.  He stops in the middle of the assault and hides behind a hut.  The irate General overseeing the attack calls for another officer named Spears to take his place on the line.  Spears is fearless.  He charges straight ahead and leads one group of men to their objective.  But the group is split.  The Nazis have divided the regiment.  Spears, suddenly, sprints straight through the Nazi regiment to the other side of the village and tells the other soldiers what to do.  Then, in an act of complete idiotic courage, he runs back.  The Americans route the Nazis.  Spears is respected and even revered for his bravery.

The family needs more Lieutenant Spears, men who take the initiative even when staring down the barrel of fear.  Take the initiative and lead courageously.  And remember: your wife is a helper, not a soldier!

May God's grace be with you as you seek to lead your family, following Christ's example of humble initiative!

"A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way" (John C. Maxwell).