Complementarianism and the Single Man
Complementarianism affects more than marriages. As a single man, that’s an obvious statement, but I’ve been tempted to think that being a man was on hold until I “grew up” and got married. Wrong.
I’m not going to make the argument for “complementarianism.” For that, check out The Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement, specifically point three, “Creation of Humanity.” Or, to give you the theological and practical foundation for the doctrine, take a look at John Piper’s sermon “What does it mean to be complementarian?”
Being a Christian man means stepping into responsibility and stewardship. This means, whether married or single, Christian men are primarily concerned with leadership, provision, and protection.
So, I hope to offer a brief word from a single man’s perspective on our role as complementarian Christian men.
PRACTICE LIKE YOU HOPE TO PLAY
When I first moved to Washington D. C., from Sydney, Australia, there were many adjustments to be made. Most significantly, I went from living in my own apartment to living with a large group of guys.
Thinking about others, acting in a way that cared for them and not just myself was a harder transition than I care to admit. Having a dozen different opinions, schedules, and ideas of the definition of “clean” was, as you can imagine, rather challenging.
Holding it all together was our house manager. Not until years later did I understand how hard that job was. One night, he returned home to find me reading in the living room. After long day at work, he sat down and asked me “Mathew, when you’re married, who do you think should do the dishes?” Sensing a trap, I ducked and weaved. We both quickly realized that I had no idea how to answer the question, so he stepped in to help me out. Without exaggeration, that conversation about the dishes was one of the most formative conversations I had in that house.
If you claim to be the head of your household, then the dishes are your responsibility; the vacuuming is your responsibility; the budget, taking out the trash, fixing the radiator, where you live, what you do, all the ironing and cooking dinner. . . all of this is your responsibility. They are your responsibility because you are the leader of the home.
Being a man who subscribes to complementarianism does not mean that I plan on barking orders at my future wife—no way! Instead, I aspire to lead and serve her in a way that causes her to flourish in the gifts the Lord has given her. That could well look like me doing the dishes, or asking her to wash while I wipe and put away. But it does mean, fundamentally, that I must take responsibility. To lead means to take responsibility over what appears to be small and mundane; to serve means to consider the needs of others and act with those needs in mind.
As a single man, this responsibility of household leadership is not put on hold until marriage. If you watch the documentary “All Access” with the Ohio State Buckeyes from two years ago, you find out the secret behind their winning the National Championship game this year. “Practice like you play!” Head coach Urban Meyer demands the players go as fast or faster than they expect to play so that they know what it is to excel when game time comes. In the same way, brothers, let’s practice in our singleness the same way we hope to play in our marriages.
What does this “practice” look like? Serve your room mates, take responsibility for the home, clean up after yourself, apply Scripture to conflict, speak gently, don’t hold grudges, and take action with a humble confidence. We so often serve ourselves by pointing out the errors and flaws of those we live with, while neglecting to compliment or encourage the things they do well. We should pray that we’ll reverse that trend in our own lives.
As I stand before the cupboard, staring at the empty shelf where glasses should be, I know what’s coming. I reach down and open the dishwasher; it’s finished and every dish is clean. The question is now clear: “Am I man enough to empty the dishwasher?!”
That said, if the way we interact with our roommates is important, then the way we treat our sisters at church is critical, too.
CLEAR, BOLD LEADERSHIP
The Lord has given me many gifts in this life; one very clear gift has been my friendship with Ken and his wife, Kelli. Ken has been my friend and mentor for over five years. Thankfully, that has meant seeing a model of marriage and safe environment to ask Kelli “single guy” questions. There are very few ladies that I can be open and emotionally transparent with but because of my friendship with Ken, I count Kelli as one of my consiglieres. Kelli’s opinion is valuable to me because I trust her. She loves the Lord and speaks from a perspective I have little to no access to: a woman’s. Single brothers, invest in relationships with families in your church; there are so many benefits.
If your church is anything like mine, then there are lots of wise and encouraging married couples to get to know, and there are lots of single folks. Because of limited space, let’s just cut to the chase. How do we live—and worship—alongside single ladies at church?
How are we, single men, called to relate to our single sisters? A good question, one that was put to me by a sister recently. She pressed me to not just come up with general advice, but to point to Scripture. Well, what about Ephesian 5? This chapter gives a helpful framework for how married men are to serve their wives, a good model that singles should seek to apply and emulate, as far as it goes. Galatians 3 speaks about fruits of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 13 outlines what love looks like, and 1 Timothy 3 describes what a Christian leader looks like. A mosaic of those texts leads me to respond this way to the question of how we are to relate to our single sisters: “Loving initiation of friendship and fellowship marked by leadership, protection, and provision.”
Practically, this means, we take the initiative and lead your friendships with your single sisters in the church. Breaking it all the way down, how about this: Walk over to a group of girls and start a conversation. Know what you’re going to say before you go over there; don’t be that awkward dude who just wanders over and stands idly by. Serve your sisters by planning events, and think about how you will protect them by not sending them into the night without a ride home. If it’s dark out after church, offer to walk them to where they are going. If it’s raining, hand over your umbrella, and walk on the outside of the sidewalk so you get splashed, not her. And never ever demand recognition; it’s the quiet faithfulness of those unseen acts that brings God glory. Sacrifice your comfort for the protection and provision of your sister; though you are not married, think about how you will walk in the role of the man in Ephesians 5.
HOW TO LEAD FRIENDSHIPS
Let’s resolve to carefully thinking about how to lead friendships. Let’s speak gently and patiently and carefully to our sisters. Encourage and affirm them; be specific and heartfelt. Point out the ways the Lord has used them in your life as your friend and sister in Christ. But brothers, above all else do not be mysterious about your intentions. Don’t allow your emotions to take control of how you lead your relationships. Confusing your intentions by acting in a way that does not line up with your words does not serve her well, and is not loving.
But if it is time to “become more than friends,” then don’t wait for your sister to get frustrated and confused at your intentions; even in this—no, especially in this—you’re called to lead. So, lead. Men, we are to be bold; and if any ladies are reading this, please do serve us by being clear in your response.
HOW TO LEAD DATING RELATIONSHIPS
You’ve read this far, so let’s get to the fun and slightly terrifying bit. How does complementarianism affect dating? Others have written books on the topic so I won’t try and replicate that, but, here are a couple of thoughts that speak to the topic considering your role as a single man.
First—and I can’t say this enough—be bold.
Take the initiative, show her what you’re made of and step forward. It’s been helpful for me to remember that men are called to be “bold” and our sisters are called to be “clear” in dating. Set the pattern from the beginning. Be thoughtful, careful, patient. But most of all, be bold in the way you initiate. “Boldness,” though, does not mean simply dramatic action, but rather clear and intentional action. Thoughtfulness and servant leadership here looks like understanding the best way to communicate your feelings to your sister. If she needs time, doesn’t like a crowd, and would be served by having space to process, then being “bold” does not mean, among other things, making the announcement of your affection at church in front of everyone.
Second, lead the relationship.
This means that it’s your responsibility to move the relationship forward at the right pace. “But what’s the right pace?!” you cry. I don’t know, dude, but you have to figure that out. Read your Bible, pray a lot, get good council from godly and married brothers (not just your other single buddies), and pay attention to her. Ask good questions, and keep asking good questions; work hard to understand her, not just what she is saying but how she is feeling. The toughest part about being the one who is leading is understanding what’s going on in her heart and mind. But this is part of your responsibility, so work hard at it. And listen to her when she talks to you; don’t simply try to intuit what you think she means by “reading between the lines.”
Third, come to a decision.
The most dangerous boat to be in is one whose rudder is not in the water. If you’re drifting then you’re in trouble. Fight the urge to abdicate your responsibility to lead; it’s on you, brothers, to take the lead and continue leading. The pattern you are setting is the pattern set out in Ephesians 5, laying your life down for your wife as Christ, in love, laid down his life for the church. Sacrifice your comfort by making hard decisions about what’s next. Again, seek the Lord and seek godly and married men’s council.
The gift of singleness is often returned, but while we have it, single brothers, let’s lead well by showing up to church, loving our friends, and dating our sisters well. Let’s date in a way that leads to a decision, serves our sisters, and displays the gospel to the people around us.
God has designed us uniquely for his glory. For me, a single man seeking to bring glory to God, it often looks like trying to love my roommate, being a leader (sometimes awkwardly) at work, and caring for my sisters at church. I pray that the Lord would one day bless me with a wife and that I would be a good servant leader to her, but until then, I rejoice in the awesome responsibilities he has given me to love, lead, and serve.