I read an article last week speaking to women who felt called to the mission field, and finding their “place” in life. Now, let me give you a tidbit of my background. When I was in High School, my family started attending a fairly large church that was trying to wade through the transition from being activity-oriented to disicpleship-oriented. The youth grew drew in a few hundred students from the city, and we knew how to entertain them. My parents had connections with other ministries and sent me on international mission trips in the summers, and by the time I graduated High School, there was a driving theme in the youth group of calling students to full time ministry. There were many who responded who are not even active in a church today.
Then I went to college, was active in Campus Crusade and then to Seminary, where many people had an interest and professed a calling to international and full time missions. Interestingly, it was predominantly women who professed this desire. But we all know how life goes, you go off to college with big dreams and then you learn how life is “supposed” to go: get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, save money for retirement, and fight to make ends meet in the meantime. If you don’t do all of those things, you are missing out and you are not just crazy, but you are unwise. So people, who professed a passion for dedicating their lives to the Lord and to the Kingdom work, slipped into normal life, preparing for retirement.
Then I came across this article, supported by a prevailing voice in my denomination, that was written as advice for women who feel called to the mission field. The thesis of the article was this,
According to God’s Word, God’s highest calling for most women is being a wife and mom.
And these are the two verses the author used to support her claim:
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
– Gen 2.18
“…so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,”
– Titus 2.4
The author continues her argument for single women thus:
“If you are called to singleness, you are still created to be a helper in a general sense to the body of Christ, but you are also able to maximize your giftedness in a unique, devoted way (1 Cor. 7:32-35).”
There are two giant, red flags that we need to point out, and fight against in this article. First of all, God did not create women for men, He created women for Himself. God taught in the beginning, and Jesus reinforced in the New Covenant that our first and primary command is to love and serve God. God is always and will always be our number one.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
– Deut 6.4-5
And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’
– Matt 22.37
It is only through loving God that we can rightly and truly love our spouses. Men and women’s call in life is always, firstly, to serve and love God. In fact, Paul teaches us that it is better for men and women to not marry so that they can most fully serve God.
Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
– 1 Cor 7.7-8
Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you…But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”
– 1 Cor 7.26-29, 32-35
Scripture clearly teaches us that it is better to remain unmarried, because one who does not have a spouse and children can fully devote his and her time to the Lord. Getting married is not a sin (I am married, and am extremely thankful for my husband), but it is a distraction and divides our time and energy. Single women, if God is calling you to a life of singleness and to serving Him with all of your life, you have not missed the “primary call” of your life. The Southern Baptists, who have the largest mission boards both internationally and nationally, send out women to men in the ration 2:1. For every man on the field there are two women. That means at least half of the women who are serving on the field are single. And not only that, both the international and home missions boards were begun and are still recognized by their women founders: Lottie Moon to China and Annie Armstrong who founded the Women’s Missionary Union.
If you are a wife, and you feel the calling to the field, then you need to discuss this openly and honestly with your husband. Most missionary families who are on the field did not receive the calling at the same time. Many couples will tell a testimony of one spouse hearing the call before the other. But God is faithful, and if it is His intention for you to serve internationally, He will draw both units of the couple, and will open the door to service. Most mission boards will not send a couple or family unless both husband and wife can articulate their personal calling to the field. If one spouse (husband or wife) does not believe in the calling, the unit will fail. And if wives go simply to raise the children, as soon as the children are raised, she will have no purpose and the unit will fail. Women, you are not a wife to a missionary, you are a missionary.
The passage that this author applies to women’s calling as a helpmate alone, actually teaches the opposite:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
– Titus 2.3-5
Women will disciple and teach women. Men will disciple and teach men. If we only mobilize men to be missionaries, and if women only support the ministry of the men on the field, then half of the population will be left un-ministered to. Paul taught a similar logic to Timothy in regards to men:
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
– 2 Tim 2.2
This is what we call complimentarianism. Men have a role in ministry, in marriages, and in life. Women also have a role in ministry, in marriages and in life. God teaches us that the men are the Spiritual heads of the household (Eph 5.23), and the financial provider (1 Tim 5.8). But we also learn from Proverbs 31 and many other go-to passages that women, while they are mothers, are also praised for working, helping provide for their families, and being active in ministry. As our culture continues to change, many families cannot survive on one income, and many women are offered high-paying jobs. This is not a sinful thing, it is her being a praiseworthy wife, according to Prov 31.
Consider the Muslim world. Men and women rarely socialize together in the Muslim world. If male missionaries meet with men, reason with them, and lead them to faith over a long period of time, the day that man comes to faith, he will go home to a wife who has never heard the name of Jesus and the Gospel. He is not prepared to reason with her, and often times, because of their culture, he will simply inform her that this is their new identity. Shariah Law does offer her an escape, if he leaves the Muslim faith, but then she is left without a husband, still in her faith. Either way, the picture is grim for her. So most mission boards, to combat this tendency and problem on the field, are focusing on “household evangelism and discipleship”. Many of the movements that have started throughout the book of Acts and the history of the Church began because an entire household came to faith. And this requires the ministry of the husband and the wife in much of the Muslim world.
When people get married, their spouses and families automatically become priority number 2. Husbands are Christians first, husbands second, and profession third. Wives are Christians first, wives second, and profession third. Thus we would appropriately apply 1 Cor 12:12-20 to husbands, wives, and everyone who would consider themselves a Christian.
The second red flag here is the implication that women cannot lead a ministry. Just because God set up the familial structure that husbands are the head, does not mean that women cannot have a ministry of their own. The point has been made clearly already that God intends for women to teach and disciple other women. This will not be the ministry of these women’s husbands. This will be their ministry. If an older woman teaches a younger woman how to love her husband and children, this is between them. My mentor’s role in my life is not her husband’s ministry to me. And if a woman is led to start an orphanage, a school, a house for women being rescued from the sex-trade, this can and rightly should be her ministry, if her husband is busy doing something else.
This is where we often get confused: Scripture gives us guidelines for the qualifications of a pastor. God has reserved the role of the pastor and elders of a church for men. We see these clear qualifications outlined in the books of 1 Timothy and Titus. Missionaries, however, are not pastors or elders. And leading a ministry does not put one in the role of pastor or elder. All mission boards appoint women as missionaries, but sometimes we forget that these qualifications – while solid and helping us evaluate the character of would-be missionaries – do not prevent women from service, because these women are not seeking to be pastors. They are seeking to go share the Gospel with anyone who will listen. Women can share the Gospel with men, and men can share the Gospel with women. But long term discipleship will (and should) happen gender-specifically.
Single ladies, if you feel a calling to be a missionary, and if God has given you a peace about remaining single, you have not missed out on life. Scripture teaches that you have a higher calling, and in reality, you are more like Jesus. Jesus never married. He devoted His entire life to the service of God. Married ladies, if you feel a calling to ministry or missions, pray for your husband and that God will guide your family where He has you. But you are not thwarted from serving God by your husband’s lack of faith or calling or whatever. You cannot drag your husband halfway around the world to be a missionary if he is opposed – just like a husband should never try to drag his wife halfway around the world if she does not hear the calling. You are a team. You will and should minister together. And God will place you where He desires you to serve.
Being a wife (and mother) is priority #2 for wives. Being a husband (and father) is priority #2 for husbands. Being a servant of the Lord is priority #1, it is the highest calling, for all Christians. Ask the Lord what it is that He has for you to do, and for your family to do, in service to Him today and throughout your life. And do not quench the Spirit’s calling on your life just because you are a wife and mother.