“A man should be the spiritual leader in the home.”
This is one of those phrases, like “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” or “God helps those who help themselves” that many people think is in the Bible, but actually isn’t.
It seems like people are taking this from the end of Ephesians 5. Only there’s no command there for men to be spiritual leaders. There’s a command for men to love their wives—but the example given is quite practical: “as their own bodies.” Nothing profoundly spiritual about making sure your wife is fed and clothed.
There's the example given of Christ's love and care for the church, but unless you actually believe that husbands somehow are able to save and sanctify their wives (and I'm afraid that's heresy), it's clear that this is given in the way of inspirational example, not practical scope of activity. Paul quickly ties it back down to earth with the analogy to the body again. The passage as a whole reads like this: See how Christ cares for the church spiritually, as part of his spiritual body? That's how you should care for your wife physically, as if she were your own physical body.
There’s also a description of the husband as being the “head” of the wife, but, first of all, a description is not a command. It’s the way things are, not the way they should be. Second, there’s nothing about being a “spiritual” head. Obviously a man is not physically the head of his wife, but there’s a vast logical gulf between being the “head in a metaphorical sense” and being the “leader in spiritual matters.”
And that’s before we even get to the question of what “head” means, which is a theological and linguistic question above my pay-grade, so I’ll just point to the problem with the common “leader/decision maker” interpretation that is obvious from a general familiarity with the Bible and other ancient books: in ancient times, the heart, not the head, was spoken of as the seat of decision making, faith, and spiritual power.
Well, but so what? Is it bad for men to take the lead in spiritual things? Shouldn’t we encourage them all we can?
The trouble is, once you say “the man should be the spiritual leader,” you’re implying that there is something fundamentally wrong in a house where the wife is (or thinks she is) currently more interested in spiritual things than the husband. This often has more to do with perception than reality—since many women are more verbal, more duty-driven, more sociable, or simply have more flexible schedules than many men, they will often act more in ways that fit the public perception of “spiritual” than their husbands will.
So then what? Does she try to curtail her own spiritual growth so that she can let her husband be the leader? Does she suffer in silence? Does she try to maneuver him into spiritual leadership? Whatever happens, you’ve created a lot of discontent and tension in a situation where, quite often, the husband was doing just fine at loving his wife as his own body, but now is judged inadequate because he doesn’t like to get up early for family devotions, or whatever it is that currently counts as “spiritual leadership.”
Over time, people grow and change. At times one spouse may have greater spiritual interest, at times the other. This is not a problem. We should all be following Jesus. We should all be considering how we can encourage each other to good works. We should all be seeking to be a servant, which is God’s standard of spiritual leadership.
And by the way, I have never met a man who did something more eagerly because he got a good guilt trip over it.
(Another passage this idea could come from is I Corinthians 14:34-35, and while that’s another can of worms—here’s a good discussion—it doesn’t contain a command to men either.)