It must be one of the most ironic reasons out of our 5 for why the unengaged and unreached people groups in the world are still unengaged and unreached. We’ve already seen that the evangelical church scene is plenty large enough to reach the world with the good news of Jesus. But then yesterday we saw that a fair percentage of us have little awareness that there might be different needs or priorities other than the immediate on our own doorstep. So little priority or energy gets put into reaching the unengaged world (that has no church, few [if any] Christians and sometimes even no Bible in their language).
And so today we tackle reason 2:
2. The Church in many areas of the world is greedy to keep its “best”
As you look round the mission field of unengaged and unreached peoples in the world, you will find many incredible individuals. Many of them are women who have responded to Jesus’ words to go to all nations/peoples, and have given up much at home to do so. They’ve moved far from their loved family and friends, given up jobs, wealth, status, comforts and far more, and have landed in what so often is the back of beyond, in harsh environments, where women are often treated as second class citizens.
Many of them as the years have gone on have realised as they’ve looked around even at the largest of their mission conferences that their organisations run, that for those that desire it, the chance of marrying anyone with the same heart as they do, is negligible. Why? Because there are no single males there.
Nada. Zero. Zilch. None.
My sister, a missionary in an unreached people group, who always wondered whether she would be able to get married.
Mission team, after mission team, are so often comprised of a few missionary families, and a bunch of single females, some of whom are happily living the single life and many others who would rather have married or are still looking, particularly for those reaching out in cultures where being single is (sadly) the most abnormal, socially bizarre thing possible. Shame and rejection by their communities would be felt every day for such single women in some parts of the world.
So where are the men?
Well a small bit could be down to the statistics of gender ratio in the church in general (supposedly there are far more females than males in the western evangelical scene). To consider that, there are plenty of other places we might turn to see what could be done (restoring a right view of preaching in the church, and fighting a dualistic understanding of the world that tells us that the physical is bad, might be two brief ways I’d start).
But the more directly connected thing taking males away from unengaged peoples and the mission field, is complementarian, conservative evangelicals.
Another town which is technically “unreached” in Ireland, where I’ve been reaching out this summer.
Yes, you heard me right. One of the top 5 hindrances to world mission is complementarian theology.
But before you start to complain, let me first confess that I label myself a complementarian (someone who considers male and female to, although equal, have different roles and giftings in life and particularly in the church). And secondly let me say that much as this is a consequence of such a theological view, it need not be. Now let me explain…
- Church attendance in Europe and (north) America is in decline (regardless of whether you think true Christianity is in decline in these areas)
- There are many denominations with many buildings that house now dwindling congregations
- The denomination is left with several choices that I could perceive:
- Keep the church going and trust God will turn things round and see genuine conversions (the ideal world?! But few match that reality.)
- Re-plant the church, to get rid of old attitudes and make it more likely to engage a modern-day audience (high intensity, needing more man-power)
- Keep the church going until it fades out (uses one minister for a small flock)
- Join the church with another in the denomination, miles away (one minister is stretched to the maximum capacity, trying to cover double the work, and what was meant to help the church, often hinders it in the long-run)
- Bi-vocational ministry (where the minister is asked to take on another job to supplement a part-time role with the church). Often resisted by those with a particular view of “calling” to the ministry, but often successful at re-engaging with the local community, as the minister does a “normal” job.
- Join the church with another from another denomination (rarely is such humility seen to allow this to happen)
- Shut the church (rarely is such realism seen to allow this as a progressive option)
- Most denominations for various reasons, despite many of them having other evangelical churches nearby, opt for 1-4, which are the labour intensive options. They need a full-time workforce and that in conservative evangelical circles is a man or men.
- Where should they get these men from? Well, we’ll start to emphasize it early on, and make sure we get them young before they can do anything else. And so, as many of the smaller congregations aren’t sustainable, all the young men from the bigger churches become the workers in the smaller churches.
And there we have it. Regardless of how your church denomination works (or whether you’re independent), I could guess you’ll fall into similar issues, often unconsciously. It can be from the best of motives, and from the greatest statements of faith (we want to believe God can still grow the church in the west), but ultimately all the male workers are being used for our small patches in areas which have had gospel witness over centuries or at least decades.
At the same time as many parts of the evangelical church scene look to train up men for ministry, often the development of female gifts and roles within church life are not being given as much of an emphasis (sadly). Females within a congregation can, regardless of theology, be left feeling like second class citizens.
United Beach Missions in one of Ireland’s oldest Christian heritage sites, but one that would fall into Europe’s “unreached” category. Here, female giftings are grown and developed in public proclamation of the gospel in a setting to kids.
But on the positive, many of them take this freedom from responsibility to end up going overseas, pioneering evangelism, and shaping the Christian scene overseas, some in ways that their churches probably wouldn’t even allow them do back home (rightly or wrongly)!
They are the heroines of our Christian scene today. The drivers in world mission. By conviction, and also just through pragmatically being part-ignored by a western church obsessed with keeping churches going and training every possible gifted male to fill those pre-existing gaps.
It was United Beach Missions that drilled into me the great blessing of sacrificially giving of the best that I had, so that I would receive the blessing of living in light of the God who gave the best that He had (Himself) to rescue a dying world. It was my church families and actual family who bathed me in such a good news of a generous Father, that I revelled in knowing Him, in growing in the knowledge of His will, in the likeness of His Son.
Our good God, relentlessly revealing to us greater depths which we can dive into of His goodness, deeper than the deepest sea. Photo taken 30/07/17, Aberdeen
And it was people like Lindsay Brown in IFES World and Kinsale Baptist Church plant who practically gave me the example of Christian mission, that cared not about keeping their young people for their “own cause” (small and struggling as some of the teams/churches were) but freely giving them to the needs of the world Church.
And the small, struggling, local churches that have sent their “best” have often been blessed out of proportion because of it. They get to participate outside their context to what God is doing worldwide. They get to understand contextualisation better for their own setting. And they often get wiser, more experienced workers coming back to them in a few years, buoyed on by what they’ve learnt, and ready to serve back home.
What a joy!
This joy and blessing of looking outwards is why when some friend approached Lindsay Brown recently and proudly declared that his life calling was “to reform the Church of England”, Lindsay said to him:
“Only that?! That’s not much. Your God has a worldwide Church that He is building.”
As we revel in His goodness, may we pour ourselves out as drink offerings, and praise our God for His army of women across the nations, who are sharing glimpses of what they have received from Him!
Titus: 3: 3-7
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.