Do single men really not go?

A recent blog on the Crossworld website prompts me to comment on the issue of there being so few single men on the mission field.

It is of course not a new phenomenon in missions but its significance, as the author points out, is that it becomes hard to mentor men for maturity.  It can also lead to a church full of faithful women, which does not seem attractive to male unbelievers because it does not model an image of strong masculinity despite its focus on a male saviour.  So let’s consider some potential causes.

1) Statistics: There are generally fewer men in the church, so fewer are available to go, whether single or married.  In many UK churches the single women outnumber single men 4:1, so there are bound to be fewer single men going. Those single men who do go to the mission field are outnumbered even more, frequently by 8 or 9 to 1.  This increases opportunities for them to marry, so many do not stay single very long.  Thus the problem is perpetuated.

2) Ministry fulfilment: do men have more opportunities for ministry on the home side?  Although the percentage is steadily increasing, women still only make up about 1/3 of Anglican clergy in the UK[1].  In October 2015 Christianity Today reported that around 10% of US churches have women in the sole or senior leadership role (though twice that percentage attend seminary)[2].   Some traditions do not have any formal role for women in leadership.  Perhaps this means that men can more easily find an expression for their Christian service within their home church or denomination, so technically it is not that fewer men are going into overseas mission, but more women, as they seek an outlet for their desire to serve God which is harder for them to find at home.  But the result is that more single women go.

A bigger question is not why there are fewer single men in cross-cultural mission, but what are we doing about it?  Here are some suggestions:

Churches  –

  • Do you actively seek out men you think might have a future in the mission field and challenge them to go? Do you suggest to young men looking to start out on a career that they might consider a life serving God abroad, or even a few years?
  • Do you promote mission as an equal opportunity and not just for women? Do your male leaders model a mission heart or is it only your women who talk, pray or go in mission?
  • Do you tell stories in your sermons of brave and heroic men like St Paul, Francis Xavier or Robert Thomas who took the gospel to far-flung places at great cost to themselves because of their one true love – Jesus?
  • Do we teach a high view of singleness as a way to serve the Lord?  Do your young men have accountability relationships so they have an opportunity to focus their attention on developing godly character?

Agencies –

  • Do your placements seem attractive to single men?  What can you do to make your mobilisation more appealing to them?
  • Are you thinking through what their needs are? Do you try to send teams of men so that there are other men around for them to build friendships with?
  • Do you foster a culture which allows men to express their masculinity appropriately?  Can they truly “feel like a real man” when they are engaged in the activities you co-ordinate?
  • Do we mentor single men in the field so that they can be fulfilled in their singleness and not struggling?

And for all of us –

  • Do we unconsciously model disappointment if our sons sacrifice a good career to go into mission, while we think it’s a great opportunity for our daughters?
  • Do we think mission is a good place for those poor women who have not been able to find partners, but expect men to marry and settle down?
  • And do we pray that more single men will listen to the call of God on their lives and follow him to the ends of the earth – and do we encourage them to do so when we think he’s calling them?

Or was Gladys Aylward right (see John Piper’s Desiring God Podcast) – do the men called to the mission field just not listen to God as well as the women do?


[1] Statistics for Mission 2012


FYI – Church of England votes for schism?

In a move which clearly prioritises principle over church unity, the Church of England voted on Saturday night to reject a proposal to provide for traditionalist parishes to opt for male bishops to preside over formal events once women are installed as bishops.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York had both laid their personal authority on the line in an appeal to maintain the unity of the 400 year old church after some traditionalists had threatened to leave if women bishops are introduced.  Yet the General Synod narrowly voted down the Archbishops’ compromise measure, paving the way for the introduction of women bishops in the near future.  Interestingly, the majority of Synod members voted for the proposal, but the clergy didn’t, and since changes have to be accepted by all three houses of the synod (laity, clergy and bishops), the clergy effectively vetoed the will of the wider church.  Whether this was out of loyalty to the principle of male leadership, or simply dislike of working for a woman, is not clear.

Liberals have accused the Archbishops of being weak in their concessions, suggesting that the church has dallied over this issue for far too long and that traditionalists who don’t want women to become bishops can ‘go to Rome’.  Pope Benedict XVI already muddied the waters by last year holding out the promise of ‘fast-track conversion’ to disgruntled Anglo-catholic priests.  Yet many of the conservative clergy who voted against the proposal would not have been traditionalist Anglo-catholics, but evangelicals.  They will have no desire to join Rome, so will be faced with the dilemma of staying within the Church of England or leaving it.

Liberals are also disgruntled over plans to appoint a new Bishop of Southwark to succeed Tom Butler.  In an apparent leak from the Crown Nominations Commission (which may have been orchestrated by conservatives) it was suggested that Canon Jeffery John was in line for the post.  Canon John was forced to revoke his acceptance of the role of Bishop of Reading in 2004 after an outcry over his long-term relationship with another male priest.  They subsequently entered a civil partnership together.  If the traditionalists’ goal in raising a hue and cry over Canon John was to prevent him being considered, it seems it has worked, as the CNC has confirmed that his name is not on their list of candidates.

Over the centuries, the C of E has been remarkably successful at not being dogmatic about belief and creating room for those with differing opinions to shelter under the one roof of a very broad church.  These two issues do however seem to be in danger of tearing the C of E apart as the liberal and conservative wings become increasingly strident in their demands.

Please pray for the members of the General Synod as they continue to debate these issues till Tuesday 13th July.  Pray for the Archbishops to have wisdom and grace as they lead a dividing church.  Pray for a spirit of unity to prevail, and for a loving sensitivity to be shown among Christian brothers and sisters who disagree passionately about these issues.


For Your Information – Bishop of Durham returns to academia

Fans of popular evangelical writer Tom Wright will no doubt be pleased to hear that the theologian, who publishes his more academic works under the name NT Wright, has announced that he is taking early retirement from his role as Bishop of Durham in order to concentrate on his theological work.

Wright’s work has some influential followers such as James Dunn, Rowan Williams and Tim Keller, despite having been challenged on a variety of fronts  – particularly his ideas on the key doctrines of justification and atonement – by both liberal Christians and conservative evangelicals, notably John Piper.  This controversy has not dented his popularity and his works have been bought enthusiastically, and even read, by thousands of Christians worldwide.

Being freed from the work of a bishop will allow Wright to return to the world of academia, and he is taking up a role as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews.  The academic and ecclesiastic worlds are two passions which have long struggled for pre-eminence in Wright’s life, since he studied both classics and theology at Oxford, before studying for the ministry.  He then resumed his academic career, which he combined with chaplaincy before becoming a dean, canon, and bishop.

Tom’s departure will be keenly felt by the Archbishop of Canterbury, for whom he was a crucial ally in holding the Church of England together.  As a leading representative of the centrist evangelical group, he is a figurehead for a large group of Anglicans keen to maintain the traditional teaching and values of the church while remaining committed to staying within the existing church.

It would appear that Wright has finally realised that being a bishop is a full-time job that does not sit easily with being a writer.  In a statement issued by the Diocese of Durham he said

This has been the hardest decision of my life. It has been an indescribable privilege to be Bishop of the ancient Diocese of Durham…. But my continuing vocation to be a writer, teacher and broadcaster, for the benefit (I hope) of the wider world and church, has been increasingly difficult to combine with the complex demands and duties of a diocesan bishop.

Syzygy hopes that he will continue to publish vibrant, readable yet challenging books for many years to come.