Single Women Serving Faithfully

Dear Amy,

Recently, you wrote to ask John Piper a question about a trend you noticed in people serving on the mission field – namely, that the vast majority of them are women. Specifically, you noted that there are significantly fewer single men than single women engaged in full time missions, and you wanted to know Pastor Piper’s thought about why that might be. Pastor Piper offered several thoughts in reply, ones he was careful to note were grounded in opinion, rather than fact. For that reason, I feel emboldened to add on to what Pastor Piper proposed. The Ask Pastor John format is notably short, and it’s possible there wasn’t sufficient time to note possibilities beyond what he offered, so here goes:

  1. Single men have many more avenues of full time ministry to pursue than single women. In the sector of evangelicalism in which Pastor Piper and I live and serve, men with leadership and communication gifts have a wide number of full time ministry or vocational options they are encouraged to consider. A pastorate, a professorship or administrative position in a Christian institution, or even simply a senior leadership position in a secular professional field are all vocations that men are coached to pursue. So, it’s just a matter of basic math that, if missions is only one of a number of ministry options a man has from which to choose, the number of men who choose each individual option will be fewer.
  1. Some single men wisely discern that, like pastoral ministry, the mission field is a matter of calling and gifting, not just willingness, or a fall back option when nothing else is working out. Some others, well, don’t. Some single men think the solution to their bad grades or battles with lust or laziness will be found living in a remote jungle. far from the temptations and turmoil of Western life. Those men will be wrong, often in ways that hurt many others beyond themselves. Wiser men take note, work out their issues at home, and if they continue to struggle, see that as confirmation that the call to missions is not theirs, and they should feel confident in that decision, rather than discouraged.
  1. Some single women have taken a long, honest look forward at the cultural trajectory we’re on, and a look back at the way their mothers navigated life, and realized this moment requires charting a different, more intentional course. Women in previous generations were encouraged to be certain of the likelihood of marriage and children at a relatively early age, with men having an array of professional and ministerial vocations they were taught to pursue with a mind to pursuing and providing for a family, and everyone planned accordingly. Today, porn culture is robbing men of both the interest in or ability to pursue marriage, while unfettered technological advancement is narrowing the types of work available to men (and women) to pursue in a way that ensures economic and familial stability, let alone fulfillment. Simply put, single women today can be far less certain that marriage and children will be part of their future, whether at a young age or at all. Taking Dr. Piper at his famous words, they’re not going to waste their life waiting for what may never come. They’re going to start spending it for the cause of Christ now, and are entrusting Him with their future.

That so many women have made this commitment and are remaining faithful in it may not necessarily be a problem in need of a solution. It may, in fact, be God’s plan for this current time in history. And if it is, women who resist the secular siren call for wealth and comfort and power in secular professions AND the presumptive temptations the church can unwittingly entangle them in about waiting for marriage, should be praised, encouraged, and supported accordingly.

I hope this helps.

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2 thoughts on “Single Women Serving Faithfully

  1. These are all good points, but the phenomenon of more single women on the mission field than single men runs throughout most of the history of modern missions – I sometimes get the feeling, reading the salutations in Paul’s letters, that there may well have been similar proportions in the missions of the early church. I had the opportunity to do over a year of short-term missions and the station where I was had eight single women, of whom I was one, with four married couples. There was no single men. The backbone of that particular station had always been the single women – there had been terms when only the single women were present to run the station. In talking to them, it was clear that the primary motivation behind their service wasn’t any of the reasons that Pastor Piper or this blog post have listed, though those reasons sometimes played into it. The primary reason had been an unmistakable call to go. One told me of her great reluctance to go at all to that particular area, but she had been unable to ignore the call. Another had walked away from an engagement when her fiancée did not share her firm conviction – decades of faithful and valuable service had proved her decision to be correct, but it could not have been easy. Another had been widowed after a brief but happy marriage before getting the call to missions. Most had never willingly chosen singleness, but they had chosen to follow God’s leading even when it took them to a region where they would probably never find a husband. So, my question would be, why are so many more single women called to work in missions than single men? That is a question that only the Lord can really answer, but I sometimes think that it has something to do with that passage in I Corinthians 1:26-29:

    For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [ESV]

    In the culture of the place where I worked, women were treated as second class. Unmarried women had the lowest standing of all. Women were felt to be naturally immoral and unstable, so marriage was considered a necessity for them. So it was a testimony to the power of Christ that those single women could work, year after year, with the people of that culture and gain their respect. It was a very difficult and unrewarding work, but their determination, despite ill health and other physical dangers, was unshakeable, because it came from God.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for these helpful additional thoughts, especially that last paragraph. The point you emphasize is the one I wanted to as well – that the fact that single women play a unique role in missions is something to be affirmed, not examined as a potential anomaly because they’re waiting to get married or men aren’t stepping up.

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