Why men aren’t eager missionaries

Dalrock critiqued this Piper article from the perspective of women, but I’m going to do it from the perspective of men. It starts off with this question submitted to Piper:

So it’s no surprise, we get a lot of questions from missionaries in the field, and a number of questions from missionaries in training, and a fair number of questions from college students who are interested in giving their lives to missions. Today’s question comes from a podcast listener named Amy, who writes, “Pastor John, I’ve recently noticed that the number of women going to the nations far outweighs men. I looked for more statistics on this, and struggled to even find information. If this is the case, what are your thoughts on this trend, and what do you think are the most probable causes?”

Piper first looks at statistics.

Two-thirds of active missionaries are married couples. Another third are single women. The rest are single men. Well, if that went by too fast, two thirds plus one third don’t leave any room for single men. And it is only a joke in part because it is almost that way.

To be more accurate, the actual situation among most evangelical faith missions is that between 80–85% of all single missionaries are women. It is a rare thing, like two out of every ten, for a single man to make missions his life’s vocation, which results in the overall statistics being that one-third of those in evangelical world missions are married men, one-third are married women, and 80 percent of the last third are single women. Which means that something just less than two-thirds of the total missionary force are women.

It’s interesting because we already know Christianity is feminized in the western world. Already in Churches there is the preponderance of 55-70% of Churches are made up of women. It should really be no surprise that women are over-represented in such endeavors.

Pile onto that the push for cultural achievement of women — the majority of college and graduate degrees are now obtained by women — then it should also be no surprise that Churches tend to push women into ministry and the mission field in droves. This is as opposed to teaching and training women to be good wives and mothers. God forbid we do that.

1) Opinion number one: Let’s start with the observation that many single women in missions would like to be married, not all. Some regard it as a divine calling to serve as a single woman, and they have no intention of even hoping or praying toward marriage. And I thank God for that and for them. But many would like to serve in missions side by side with a similarly called and devoted husband. But by and large, it is men who propose marriage. Women have less control over being married than men do — they can always say no, but I mean taking the initiative in a positive way. Therefore, the single missionary woman who would like to be married is not exactly in the same position as a single missionary man who would like to be married.

Here is a little anecdote. Elisabeth Elliot — I went down and got this from my wife, because I knew she said this once — Elisabeth Elliot told of an interview she had with Gladys Aylward, a single missionary to China who died in 1970: The Small Woman: Gladys Aylward is the name of one biography. Here is what Elisabeth Elliot said. I think she was talking at Urbana when she said this, “Miss Aylward talked to the Lord about her singleness. She was a no-nonsense woman in very direct and straightforward ways and she asked God to call a man from England, send him straight out to China, straight to where she was, and have him propose to me.” I can’t forget the next line. Elisabeth Elliot said, “With a look of even deeper intensity, she shook her little bony finger in my face and said, ‘Elisabeth, I believe God answers prayer. And he called him.’” And here there was a brief pause of intense whisper. She said, “‘He called him, and he never came.’”

Now, that experience, I would guess, is not unique to Gladys Aylward. So, that is my first opinion, that the disproportion of single missionary women to missionary men is that the initiative of proposing marriage among those two groups, singles, lies with the men and not the women.

I’ll summarize these three paragraphs in four words:

Men aren’t stepping up.

Really? That’s the best they could’ve came up with?

There’s no shortage of irony there.

2) Here is opinion number two: Many, it seems to me, of those single men probably avoid missions out of the same personal dynamics that keep them single. Among Christian men who do not get married, say, in their 20s and 30s, they are probably held back from that relationship of marriage by — here are my opinions — a sense of inadequacy that they could be a spiritual leader or a fear that they might be rejected as they pursue a relationship or a lack of purpose in life that would give support and meaning in a marriage relationship. Any of those hindrances to forming a long-term commitment of marriage would also explain why he may have a sense of inadequacy about missions or a fear about missions or a lack of purpose about missions.

In other words, the very things that keep a man single in his late 20s and 30s are probably the same kind of things that would keep him from pursuing a life in missions. On the other hand, single women may not feel any of those hindrances. They would happily marry a godly, mature, purposeful, mission-directed man if he came along. But they can’t make that happen without men doing their part.

Mike Delorenzo: Singles, mission work takes strength — more than you know, but not more than God will give you.

Now, I am sure the matter is way more complex than those two opinions have hinted at, but those are possible explanations for the disproportion number in the single missionary force — like 80% women and 20% men. So, the way I would like to end is by taking the words of Mike Delorenzo who works for Africa Inland Mission (AIM) and close by reading his challenge. Thinking of single men as opposed to single women in missions, he said,

Yes, it may be harder for [men]. Harder to cut through the lies and the apathy. Harder to raise money in a self-reliant society. Harder to enter into relationally-driven cross-cultural missions. Harder to find your ministry in your vocation. But the gospel needs men. The Christian life is a battle, so much so that the Bible calls us to put on armor. And the mission field is a battle field, where a man’s strengths and passions are called upon to be spent for the greatest cause creation has ever known: the cause of Christ and His redemptive work to save this world — and I mean really save this world. It takes courage — courage to step out of your slumber and into the fray. It takes humility — to be willing to fail or at least be deemed a failure by your peers. And it takes strength — more than you know, but not more than God will give you.

Honestly, I had to do a double take. Piper’s “other option” is that men feel inadequate and/or are not strong enough. Hence, they don’t pursue missions or marriage.

In other words: Men are not stepping up.

Piper literally gave two options and they’re basically two different ways to blame men for not stepping up on the mission field or marriage.

It gets better

What are some reasons why men would generally avoid the mission field?

I’ll walk you through a multiple examples of actual reasons Piper could have used but is too blind to see.

  • Most men have a strong sex drive. Most men want to marry. What is one way that has been ingrained into men in our culture that is required to get married? “You need to have a good job to be able to provide for your family”

Funny that. Missionary work doesn’t typically come with or segue into having a job that is able to reliably  support a family.

  • Most men don’t want to beg others for money to support missions work.

Surprise surprise.

  • Churches/families/others tend to support women more than men with monetary donations for missions. Women in need are worthy of support, but men are not. See: Vast majority of the homeless population = men.

This goes back to the fact that men are supposed to be able to provide for themselves no matter the circumstances at minimum. If not, you’re a failure akin to living in your parents basement.

  • As stated before, the Church is already feminized. No surprise that there are a majority of women in various “Christian” activities.
  • As stated before, Churches/Christians push Christian women toward “achievement” both in college, graduate school, and not surprisingly ministry and missions.

All of these are clear cut reasons why men tend to avoid the mission field and why women are pushed toward it. Yet, all we get from mainline Christian leaders is that “men aren’t stepping up.” Maybe if the Church actually focused on mentoring men for leadership positions and teaching them to be masculine and cultivating masculine traits there would be more of such men. But I digress.

You gotta wonder how long the blame game that “men aren’t stepping up” can be perpetuated by these Christian leaders.

P.S. Real life is still super busy, which is why I’m not posting all that much at the moment.

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32 Responses to Why men aren’t eager missionaries

  1. shredifier says:

    A good article DS, it’s no surprise that John Piper spouts his “man blaming” garbage though, as I’ve found that he can’t be trusted with sound doctrine at all
    Catering to women, even Christian women seems to be the thing these days unfortunately

  2. Rachael says:

    I wonder if more single women become missionaries because they are convinced that is the ultimate way to serve God. In the church I was raised, missionaries were exalted and since women can’t be pastors, becoming a missionary was seen as the next best thing because it proved how much you love God. No one ever said anything about loving God by becoming a wife and mother and raising up children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. That was seen as second best somehow. My grandma trained as a nurse even though she hated it because she wanted to be a missionary. she thought that’s what women who really love God do. Luckily, she got sick and dropped out of school and married my grandpa so it all worked out. But she could have saved herself a lot of trouble.

  3. Zhou says:

    “Maybe if the Church actually focused on mentoring men for leadership positions and teaching them to be masculine and cultivating masculine traits there would be more of such men. But I digress.”

    I’m not quite sure if it’s just that. That, to me, sounds like it’s also blaming men. However, I do agree that the whole “men-bashing” thing just needs to stop. We hear so many times that men are buffoons and what-not. Partly contributed to the fact that many churches are not a welcoming environment for men. Lack of apologetics, “feelings”-talk, etc…

  4. an observer says:

    As said, women are supported in feminist culture to do whatever they want men. A woman who virtue signals to a fluffy bible college for a couple years, or to some mission field is hailed as a saint. Any man who does that is accused of being a shirker who can’t deal with real life.

    Plus, the culture around mission work is often quite toxic. I had a lo to contact with numerous group sin my twenties, and their cultures were all warped. Masculine behaviour or thought (like rationality or common sense) was often unwelcome, or portrayed as unspiritual, reflecting popular cultures hatred of all things masculine.

  5. I guess I’ll be the one to go there: Why are *any* single women doing “missionary” work? (Though there’s a difference between field-work and “in the local area” work within this topic.)
    If the “work” is covered by a majority of Women (Married + Single would appear to take up around 55-60%), then the work isn’t that difficult nor rewarding. Women, in mass, don’t stretch themselves in that way. (An individual Woman may, but that’s fairly rare.)

    If you’ve made “doing the Lord’s work” somehow that safe, then it’s not hard to explain the problems that exist in modern Christianity: it isn’t the Lord’s Work you’re doing. Which really is the crux of the issue. Why would any Man sign up for playing puppet for a pathetic god? Instincts are instincts and people operate on them.

  6. @ Rachael

    I wonder if more single women become missionaries because they are convinced that is the ultimate way to serve God.

    I’ve also seen that, but it wasn’t a super overarching theme among churches, which is why I didn’t include it in the post.

    There’s too little emphasis on the body of Christ and the gifts of the Spirit. Yes, some people have the gift of evangelism, but it is to be used within the local Church. There’s a much smaller percentage for evangelism worldwide.

    That’s a huge problem within the western Christian Churches… evangelism to “poorer countries” is seen as “noble” while evangelism efforts within the “local area” are “meh.” Something ain’t right in the neighborhood.

  7. @ Zhou

    IMO, there’s a difference between “blaming men for not stepping up” and “outlining steps leadership can take to mentor men.”

    One is complaining. One is doing something about it.

  8. Daniel says:

    Consider the pool of men an women who want to go into ministry. 12% of American congregations have women pastors, so 88% of those jobs go to men. That leaves a lot of women who want to go into ministry who become missionaries.

    Consider that many missionary wives followed their husband to the field and would not have gone otherwise. Out of 100 missionaries we have 33 men who married and took their wives into the field, 7 single men, and 27 single women. Its not skewed in the way that the article would have you to believe.

  9. dvdivx says:

    Women are not supposed to be missionaries. Period. The ideal candidate for missionary work are men in their 30s-60s. The main reason women are eager is a chance to sleep around with foreigners while no one is watching and to make themselves feel good not to spread the good word. The bible already has examples for missionaries to follow its just that no one does follow whats in the bible anymore.

  10. ballista74 says:

    There’s a few points that beg some more detail (mainly ones not said), but “pretty much” pretty much sums this one up. I thought about making a response/post myself and sending it there, but I can’t find a good e-mail contact (naturally).

  11. Don Quixote says:

    Rachael says:
    January 6, 2017 at 12:08 am

    I wonder if more single women become missionaries because they are convinced that is the ultimate way to serve God. In the church I was raised, missionaries were exalted and since women can’t be pastors, becoming a missionary was seen as the next best thing because it proved how much you love God. No one ever said anything about loving God by becoming a wife and mother and raising up children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. That was seen as second best somehow.

    I suspect there is an acute shortage of older women who are able to teach the younger women what to aspire to:
    the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands,

    No direction from mature christian women.
    No direction from the pulpit.
    What’s a girl to do?
    If you would like to read an authentic testimony about how God works in missions read the following:
    http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/14168.htm

    Now, hands up all those who want to go through that wringer?

  12. feeriker says:

    IMO, there’s a difference between “blaming men for not stepping up” and “outlining steps leadership can take to mentor men.”

    One is complaining. One is doing something about it.

    As a purely practical consideration, I have to ask: who, exactly, would be the ones to mentor men in masculine Christianty that would prepare them for leadership? The answer, most assuredly, is NOT “those men who are currently pastors and elders.”

  13. SFC Ton says:

    I have done mission work in the past, but it was the kind of thing most missionaries wouldn’t approve of. When I was in Africa the more traditional missionaries worked against us as we tried to give African Christians the tools and skills to not be victims

    Let’s face it, it’s not much of a mission trip or much in the way of mission work if women can do it.

  14. Robin Munn says:

    If you would like to read an authentic testimony about how God works in missions read the following:
    http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/14168.htm

    Now, hands up all those who want to go through that wringer?

    I want to highlight this story. If you haven’t read it yet, definitely do so. I first heard it as part of a sermon; the pastor read the first part of the story, and stopped at the part where three-year-old Aina was now heading back to the U.S. with her adoptive parents. He then asked, “Now think about all the suffering that David and Svea Flood went through, just to save one soul. Was it worth it?” Then at the end of the sermon, he read the rest of the story.

    And in my experience as a missionary myself (just over a decade: about 2 years raising support, 4 years serving at the mission headquarters in the US, 1 year in West Africa, and 4 years in SE Asia), and having met hundreds of missionaries, I can say that most of the ones that I’ve met are coming to the mission field with the right attitudes. When dvdivx says, “The main reason women are eager is a chance to sleep around with foreigners while no one is watching and to make themselves feel good not to spread the good word,” well, I’m sure there must be women like that SOMEWHERE on the mission field, because there’s always going to be some. But I haven’t met anyone on the mission field (male OR female) who gave me that vibe. In my personal experience, women with that motivation don’t join missions organizations (which have a SERIOUS vetting process, and take long, hard looks at your personal character and growth — my application to join the mission I’m working with took almost 8 months from when I started the process to when I was accepted) as a general rule. Instead, they join the Peace Corps, or UNESCO, or some other “Look at me being good and helping the Poor People Of The World™” organization similar to those two.

    And that brings me to one of your points, DS. You gave as one example of why men would avoid the mission field:

    Most men have a strong sex drive. Most men want to marry. What is one way that has been ingrained into men in our culture that is required to get married? “You need to have a good job to be able to provide for your family”

    There are lots of things I could talk about at length regarding this, but I’ll limit them to two: being able to provide for your family, and the opportunity to get married in the first place.

    1) As far as providing for your family, that’s not excluded in missions work, it’s just that it looks different. In most jobs, your pay is directly related to how well you do at your job. But missions work (at least, if you’re following the traditional full-support model — some organisations use the “tent-making” missions model where a whole different dynamic is at play, but I won’t get into that now) divides pretty neatly into work on the field, and support-raising back home on the “home assignment” / “furlough” trips that you have to take every 3 or 4 years. And if you’re a missionary, whether you work hard or slack off on the field makes almost NO difference to your salary — but the one-year period of support-raising work makes a HUGE difference to your salary. It’s ultimately not under your control what the results will be, of course, but the harder you work at support-raising, the better off your family will be in the next 3-4 years. So this particular psychological need for a man CAN be satisfied on the mission field, it just takes a slightly different form than a “traditional” 9-5 job.

    2) Then there’s the opportunity to get married. Here’s where the story of David & Svea Flood comes in — because most people who’ve gone to the mission field have heard many stories like that. And more specifically, the single women who go to the field (most of whom would LIKE to get married) know the numbers, and know how very UNlikely it is that they’ll be able to find a husband on the mission field, given that the ratio of single men to single women is around 1:3 or 1:4 in most areas. Which means that for a single man who’s going to the mission field, almost every single woman that he meets has been pre-vetted for putting God first and her own desires second: the kind of woman that would make a terrific wife for a man called to lifelong missions work! Not every single woman missionary will be like that, of course, but many are; my wife was one of them. (We met on the same mission field where we’re currently serving). Doesn’t mean that you don’t have to filter for many other things, and the selection pool will be much smaller — but it’s already filled with a much greater percentage of high-quality candidates. (And since that’s the pool of women I’ve been surrounded by for the past decade, I’m not too surprised that I spent a long time going “Wait, wait, NAWALT” when I would read Dalrock’s posts. Because I just wasn’t seeing ANY of the bad ones, because the bad ones almost never come to the mission field).

    And one more quick comment before I post this, about your next point: “Most men don’t want to beg others for money to support missions work.” Yep: this is a big problem, and it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the theology around raising support. I could write a whole essay on this one too, but the gist is “You’re not begging for money, you’re offering an investment opportunity for Kingdom work, and letting people make their own choices about WHERE to invest their money into Kingdom work. If they listen to your presentation and choose to support a different missionary, you’ve SUCCEEDED. And when they do choose to support your ministry, your job is going to be to be honest with those funds, because it’s not your money, it’s God’s money that has been entrusted to you.”

    I could write way more, but that’s more than enough for this comment.

  15. @ Robin Munn

    Good points. Thanks for sharing.

    Some of the few women I have met that have gone on long(er) term mission are indeed ‘sold out’ so to speak which IS good, but from what I’ve seen they’re not always the sharpest on practicalities and hardships.

    On money, I agree with you. I also think that the viewpoint I put forth is one of the most common prevailing thoughts. Unfortunately, that is one of many pieces of poor financial outlooks within the Church today (even aside from prosperity gospel).

  16. Don Quixote says:

    Robin Munn says:
    January 7, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Then there’s the opportunity to get married. Here’s where the story of David & Svea Flood comes in — because most people who’ve gone to the mission field have heard many stories like that. And more specifically, the single women who go to the field (most of whom would LIKE to get married) know the numbers, and know how very UNlikely it is that they’ll be able to find a husband on the mission field, given that the ratio of single men to single women is around 1:3 or 1:4 in most areas. Which means that for a single man who’s going to the mission field, almost every single woman that he meets has been pre-vetted for putting God first and her own desires second: the kind of woman that would make a terrific wife for a man called to lifelong missions work!

    Thanks for your response Robin.
    The ratio you mentioned is that: 1.3 single men for every 1 single woman, or 1 single man for every 3 single women?
    If its the former then the odds of marriage are good.
    If its the later then it’s a wonder any work gets done at all! [I image they sit around all day talking]

    Oh, btw, where is south east Asia did you serve?

  17. Don Quixote says:

    just thinking of the old Beach Boys song:
    “Two girls for every boy”

  18. Robin Munn says:

    That’s 1 single man for every 3 single women, more or less. (It varies quite a bit by region).

    As for where I served (and am, in fact, still serving), I’d rather not say in public where it can be Googled by people hostile to Christian missions work. (I’m not in a sensitive area, but some of my colleagues are, and I prefer to err on the side of caution). But email me at (my first name) dot (my last name), courtesy of Google’s free email service, and I’ll tell you by email.

  19. Don Quixote says:

    Wow, so that’s where all the unicorns have gone!
    What must the locals think …?
    Its great to hear from someone actually doing the hard yards. God bless your efforts in Jesus name.

  20. @ Don Quixote

    There are no unicorns 😛

  21. mark says:

    My 2 cents after being a missionary in East Asia with Cru for 14 years is that I think it depends on the style and values of the organization. Cru if anything has a higher percentage of single men than women serving overseas. They were/are fairly strategic, risky, ballsy, James Bond-like. That all appealed to me and other men. The pitch to go wasn’t quite so much a compassion motivation as it was (unofficially) let’s go kick butt together for Jesus and build movements. This was similar to the missions quote Piper had at the end of his article. I also agree with Robin that the women I worked with there were of the NAWALT variety. We all jumped through tons of hoops to get there.

  22. Charles says:

    men shy away from fields women start dominating in
    tis has always happened
    http://courtneyreissig.com/blog/2016/8/16/the-olympics-and-celebrating-strong-women
    Yet Christians like this comple whatever from cbmw think women should be allowed to accomplish the same things as men…

    why do these people think men are dropping form the workforce…

  23. Douglas says:

    Am I missing something here? 2/3 of missionaries are men who happen to be married. The fact that their wives go with them shouldn’t be surprising but it also shouldn’t be assumed they are co-missionaries in any sense other than they are supporting their husbands. So the real complaint is not that men aren’t “stepping up” but that men don’t want to go into a mission field without taking a wife with them. My wife dated a prospective missionary before we were married and dumped him after coming back from a trip to Africa with him because she didn’t want to be a missionary’s wife. So a few months later he got married to another woman and took her to Africa instead. Guys aren’t stupid. Being a single male missionary is a sexless job, which most Protestant men aren’t interested in. Single women can deal with it better, especially since a lot them go into the mission field because they lack the necessary physical attractiveness to land a husband. The mission field is their second choice.

  24. Pingback: Single Missionary Man – Ballista74's Blog

  25. ballista74 says:

    I had a brief opportunity to gain a little knowledge that would be more than academic. I posted it here.

  26. Pingback: Lessons From The Single Missionary Man – Ballista74's Blog

  27. Don Quixote says:

    I’ll just leave this here:

  28. Spike says:

    I’d like to posit another reason: Women do missionary work because it is the Christian equivalent of what every secular woman wants.
    if you ask young women about their life’s plans, one will be “to live in another country and experience another culture”. This takes place after finishing college / university, a type of ”tick off on the Bucket List”. The female Christian missionary gets to make it a sanctimonious endeavor, because it is ”Christianized”. Not to worry that she’ll only go to a place and give Christianity a bad name.
    All of them expect to marry “when they are thirty”. When you point out that finding a house, buying a house, settling into a stable income stream, are prerequisites for that, they will say, “No…I’ll marry a guy who is rich”.
    When you also say that conceiving and bearing children after this is harder because you are older, they inevitably eject you from the conversation by telling you that you are a sexist creep.

    Single man missionaries? Give up on the idea that you can get married. You will be a poor bastard, a beggar. Further, you will be taking a woman – raised to be ”strong and independent” – away from Western high living standards. You would have to lead her, literally, and she will avoid that like Dracula avoids a wooden stake.

  29. Pingback: Stop telling women that God will give them a husband later if they delay marriage now | WINTERY KNIGHT

  30. Original Laura says:

    I would say that marrying a woman who worked as a missionary in a poor area for a year or more without grumbling is probably less materialistic than average. Somebody who has gone to a great deal of trouble to be selected to live and work among people getting by on $5000 per year or less is probably NOT focused on having the most expensive car or a closet full of shoes.

  31. ofmcreative says:

    Read the quoted article here. It offers a broader list of possible reasons for the disparity, many of which this post has highlighted. http://aimstories.com/blog/2013/05/i-write-to-you-young-men/

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