On today’s “Ask Pastor John” episode, posted here, John Piper* is asked why so many single missionaries are women (80-85% of all single missionaries), and Piper responds that he doesn’t really know, but has a couple opinions, that are in short:
Single missionaries by and large would prefer to be married. Proposing marriage falls on men, so the type of man that is single because he lacks the courage to propose marriage also lacks the courage to become a missionary, which takes grit, courage and strength.
One thing I agree with, is that missions work takes grit, courage and strength. However, I have different opinions than Piper on this phenomenon of single women going into missions. Mine are,
- Conservative evangelical women who are gifted in leadership and teaching may only be permitted to use those gifts on the mission field.
- Conservative evangelical men who are gifted in leadership and teaching may use those gifts anywhere, and are often funneled into local ministry as young men and so do not need to look so hard for opportunities to lead.
My opinions come from personal experience as a young woman who aspired to be a missionary, and as an approaching-middle-aged woman who has been thinking and reading about gender issues in the Church for several years now.
I grew up in a pastor’s family, and my father loved missionary work so he was always planning missions trips and inviting missionaries to come to our church, where we would personally host them in our home. I remember as an 8 year old hearing about Amy Carmichael‘s missionary work in India in a Sunday School lesson. I am not someone who remembers every detail of my life, so a snapshot like this is usually significant, an a-ha! moment in my identity formation. Amy Carmichael is my earliest hero.
My family also spent three years living in Bolivia and Paraguay, South America, working in a boarding school for missionaries and filling in for missionaries on furlough in jungle and city locations. We met many single missionaries, all female except for four males (two of which were dismissed for molesting children).
Having been raised in the Conservative Baptist denomination, I never saw women in pastoral leadership. No one ever told me that with my leadership in the youth group and award winning speech contest record, that I could be a pastor one day. If a young man had demonstrated these qualities, he would have been invited to preach and been encouraged to pursue pastoral ministry in his schooling. When it was time for me to go to college, I only thought about two options – music ministry or missionary work. These were the only leadership roles that I had ever seen women in, and it was the entire scope of my imagination for my own life.
I had great love for God’s Kingdom and wanted to participate in bringing God’s redeeming work to the world. I studied music in college because I felt that was my spiritual gifting. And then I went to seminary and started out with a missions degree, but let my aunt and uncle talk me into a more ‘practical’ degree that could be used anywhere, Educational Ministries. I fell in love with my husband, a former missionary to Romania, and imagined us working overseas together. I was devastated when this didn’t come to pass, as it was my entire identity. I was going to be a missionary. I couldn’t imagine how I could use my gifts for God here in the USA.
One day, God had to out-right spell it out to me in an audible voice: “Ruth, I want you to co-pastor with your husband.” Logan had been talking about church planting, and I was saying, “OK, whatever,” but feeling zero passion personally about being involved in a church plant. I knew I would be relegated to babysitting and cooking and would be left out of the dreaming, teaching, leading part of ministry. Now I understand that dreaming, teaching and leading are aspects of my God-given design for co-dominion with my husband (Genesis 1:28).
I began reading voraciously about women in ministry. God began introducing us to couples who co-pastor. It was an exciting and enlightening time. It was also hurtful to realize that I had catching up to do in preparation for pastoral ministry, because I had never been guided as a young person towards leadership.
For the first time, I began to see how women in the Bible were leading all along. I began to learn about women pastors in the USA. At one time, there were more female Baptist pastors than male. However, they were serving in rural, impoverished churches while men had more desirable positions in cities and east coast towns. As rural towns became more prosperous, denominations began tightening their belts on women in ministry so that men could take their churches. Our own church in Maine had a history of female pastors generations ago. There has been a steady move away from allowing women in ministry in recent decades. It was not that long ago, 1987, that the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was founded, and it was in 2000 that the Southern Baptist denomination stopped endorsing women’s ordination.
Of course, another avenue for women in ministry was mission work. On the field, women could teach and lead even the [non-white] men. There are aspects of classism, sexism and racism intersecting with the issue of women’s ordination. While women may not teach men in wealthy, white, Western churches, their work in Africa, Latin America or Asia is admired. Women may not preach in many of our churches, but a visiting missionary woman may “share” her experiences on the field with her sending church, sometimes even from behind the pulpit.
I would be remiss to not point out that Jesus never married before beginning his ministry, and Paul taught us to remain single for the sake of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 7:7-38). Too often, marriage is placed on a pedestal and given too much importance in the Evangelical tradition. Certainly, married couples can work together as a “Blessed Alliance” for the sake of the Gospel. But young people do not need to be married to serve the Lord. And I would guess that 80-85% of single people serving the Lord right here in the USA are male.
Let me share some more resources for further reading on women in ministry on the mission field and in local congregations.
Missiologist Jenny Rae Armstrong wrote a powerful piece about our privileged Western cultural perspective on womanhood and gender roles in this piece, “On Being a Woman After God’s Own Heart.”
Founder of Youth With a Mission, Loren Cunningham, believes women should serve in ministry alongside men. Here is a short video from the YWAM website:
Here are a couple articles on the History of Women in Missions, Women in Mission: A Protestant Tradition.
I saw this astute comment on the Desiring God FB post:
God has gifted all of us for Kingdom work, and churches should be empowering the Priesthood of all Believers rather than setting a few up in a hierarchy of power in the Church. We should be guiding all of our church family to uncover their giftings and callings and make room for them in our congregations. It is a waste not to use each person to their full potential.
*John Piper is a pastor, theologian and co-founder of the complementarian organizations, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, The Gospel Coalition, and Desiring God. He is an influential force in conservative, reformed, fundamentalist evangelicalism, with a large following. On Facebook, he has 438,000 followers, 879,000 on Twitter, and his writings and sermons reach millions around the world.
Here are some rebuttals from Egalitarians to Tweets and sermons Piper has produced recently:
In 2012, John Piper said that Christianity had a “masculine feel” and Ben Witherington responded to his address with this excellent article: “John Piper on Men in Ministry and the Masculinity of Christianity.”
Spiritual Sounding Board tried to decipher some of Piper’s strange tweets and shared a particularly disturbing tweet. Zack Hunt has written on The Monstrous God of John Piper.
Sojourners Magazine includes John Piper in their great article on Kissing Sexist, Racist Christianity Goodbye.
John Piper is not at the fore-front of this post by Tim Fall, but he is in the background and Fall’s piece is great, so you should check it out. Silencing Women – the guaranteed way for men to stay in control.
Jory Micah responded to another Ask John episode about egalitarians and complementarians dating in this post.
Thanks for visiting The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors! We have a Facebook page where we share posts from around the web everyday dealing with women in ministry, gender violence, Beautiful Kingdom Warriors who inspire, etc.
Piper’s response is utter nonsense, and he knows it. He draws 7 (yes, 7) wrong conclusions in his answer, and they all tend to favor men, right. Men this, men that, men God…
Ruth, your two reasons are the real deal, but let me add some more. True missionary work (not the Calvinist way) is not glamorous enough, you know? There’s no TV feed, you know? You are not in the spotlight, you know? And women get way more done than men, in general, especially when it comes to sharing the true gospel and actually being compassionate and sensitive regarding eternal matters.
Yes, I do think you’re right. White, Western men are socialized to see themselves in influential, powerful positions. It is out of their scope of imagination to see themselves voiceless, behind the scenes, etc. Not that there are not humble, servant-minded men, just that they are not socialized in the Western church to be that way.
Thanks for sharing some of your personal history, Ruth. I agree with your assessment. 🙂
Thank you, Denise! 🙂
I’m reminded of stories like that of Lottie Moon, arguably one of the most famous women missionaries in the Baptist denomination. She found herself being interfered with by the men who called the shots – it got to the point where her funding was cut off in an attempt to get her to come back home. She ended up finding an alternative source of support and went back to China – further up and further in to try to reach as many as she could. Her immortal quote: “Simple justice demands that women should have equal rights with men in mission meetings and in the conduct of their work.” isn’t the sort of thing that the church leaders have crafted her myth to say – erasing her independent nature and re-writing the story to craft one they can use to inspire to people give money to them in her name. The truth is – she had no love for the rules that only men were supposed to be teachers and spoke against them; she wrote how the women in China were more receptive to women teaching them and wouldn’t admit men so that the rule that men were the main missionaries were hindering the gospel. She talked another time about how some men had came to her and asked her to teach and she told them that it wasn’t the custom of the church for women to teach – but there weren’t any men to teach them, so she followed the example of her shepherd and began to teach. At this point, the myth of Lottie Moon is so powerfully used, her true story has become harder to find – probably because the church doesn’t want to admit that it’s policies had let her down and let women like her down even today. (You can see more on her story here:
Thanks for including me in the list.
Piper’s take on how men who can’t get up the courage to ask a woman to marry them being the same as men who don[t have what it takes to be a missionary is hooey. The two are not the same thing, for one, and for two how does he know there’s a correlation unless he’s done the research. Real research, that is, like the kind that sociologists and statisticians are trained to do.
Exactly! Thanks for your comment, I’m honored to have you here. 🙂
“Proposing marriage falls on men . . .” is surely one of the silliest reasons ever for explaining the phenomenon of women wanting to be missionaries.
And, by the way, I was the one who popped the question to my now husband of over 30 years.
Your two explanations, Ruth, make much more sense and ring true.
Ah! I am so honored to have you read this, Marg! Everyone go to newlife.id.au now!!! 🙂
Yes, Tim, Marg and Ruth, I cannot believe Piper said that and it has me reeling: “Single missionaries by and large would prefer to be married. Proposing marriage falls on men, so the type of man that is single because he lacks the courage to propose marriage also lacks the courage to become a missionary, which takes grit, courage and strength.” Doesn’t he realize he’s insulting men and women equally even if he does favor men? This is insulting to men, too. He seems to me to be an equal opportunity offender. Ugh.
I agree that he is offensive to men. Struggling to be ‘man enough’ feels like a millstone to me, legalism. We should all be trying to be more Christlike, not more manly or womanly. These gender roles are cultural constructs that Jesus’ life defies. Shake them off! 🙂
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I absolutely agree with your perspective. The harm that CBMW has done in making unBiblical distinctions part of Christian theology is one that evangelical men & women are just now coming to terms with, including myself. Praise God for our freedom in Christ which makes us all free to serve Him as He gifts and leads us!
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A bit late to the game, but I’ve just now discovered your blog and I have to say, it’s quite refreshing and thought-provoking. I actually consider myself an atheist, but I have a friend who is desiring to be more involved, to the point of full-time, in ministry. She’s recently been struggling with the concepts of gender roles, however, and it’s been so discouraging to see the responses to her and the conclusions she’s coming to. Your article reminded me of her throughout: she has the strengths of leadership, teaching and dreaming, but is involved in a church-planing ministry which is thoroughly complementarian and the only possible way for her to serve in that case is in missions rather than as an elder, leader or pastor.
She’s being told that the Bible teaches giving up your rights, not selfishly desiring leadership roles, that submitting is not a bad thing, and that you should be faithful with the role you’ve been given. (Of course, these admonishments are only given to the women, not the men, unsurprisingly.) She’s reading about how gender roles were put in place with Adam and Eve, and of course the instructions in Timothy etc about women’s roles in the church. The sad part is that her one goal in life is to be as obedient to the Bible as possible, and she’s surrounded by a pretty literal and conservative crowd.
I so so wish she could open up her mind to what you’ve got on this blog but since I’m obviously looking at the Bible from a non-believer’s perspective, my opinions aren’t exactly taken as seriously. I want to link her to some of your articles, though, for her to see that there are others who desire to be faithful to the word as well, yet come away with vastly different interpretations. I just see her with these gifts and talents being shuttled into the missionary and mother role because other avenues and leadership are not available to her. And like you’ve said too, there’s the barrier that if she ever did start thinking a bit differently, she’d be labelled with the “feminist” tag and not be taken seriously, or worse. In fact, there’s another woman in this church-planting ministry who believes that women can be elders and equal in ministry, and there’s talk about “confrontations” and interventions because her heresy might be spreading downstream to new churches and converts.
Anyway, I guess all that shows how important what you’re doing is! Good stuff here, thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Thank you so much for your encouragement both to me and to your friend! As well as my blog, I would also send her a link to the FB group Biblical Christian Egalitarians where great conversations take place (https://www.facebook.com/groups/BiblicalChristianEgalitarians/), and http://www.margmowczko.com for egalitarian Bible scholarship. I have link pages too with lots more resources. Keep being an awesome and loving friend!! 🙂