Single Men in Missions
Have you ever worried about being a single missionary? Have you ever wondered why there don’t seem to be very many single men in missions? Or maybe you’re looking for ways to better encourage and support some of the single missionaries you know. John Hawke shares some of his insights as a single man in missions.
8 Minute Read
By John Hawke
If you look up “Single Men in Missions” online, you essentially get 4 different results.
- Testosterone-filled appeals that feel like an Army recruitment ad. Missions! Battles! Adventure! Dubstep! MEN!!!
- Insightful missions blog posts written by single women. (Which do an amazing job capturing the life, struggles and victories of single women on the field, but don’t really speak into the issues of single men looking to go.)
- Articles from very prominent married pastors calling today’s unmarried men undisciplined and spiritually immature. I’ve seen many go as far as stating that we shouldn’t send single missionaries to begin with.
- Dating sites with HOT CHRISTIAN SINGLES NEAR YOU!
And frankly, as a 31-year-old single man who’s been in missions for almost a decade, I don’t find any of these to be particularly relevant. I’ve yet to find anything even remotely close to a resource for spiritually mature single men interested in missions.
So, if you’re a single man wondering if God could possibly be calling you into missions, this post is for you. And if you’re interested in the thoughts of a single missionary, you’re welcome along for the ride.
To my fellow single brothers, I pray that God continues to encourage, empower and sanctify you as you continue this adventure with him. Singleness doesn’t have to feel like a curse!
1. Remember the end goal and don’t give up.
Some days being a single man in missions is unfathomably difficult, painful and heart-wrenching. I don’t think I’ve ever made it longer than a month without wanting to change careers. And other days it’s unbelievably encouraging watching God work in, through and usually despite “my” ministry. Most days it’s some weird mixture of the two.
But even at the end of my worst, most infuriating days, I keep coming back to the same question: “Is obedience to God’s call worth it?” And that has always been a resounding “yes.”
I don’t know “official” global stats, but everything I’ve seen suggests that single men are far more likely than other groups to drop out of missions. The numbers from our OMF (U.S.) members certainly seem to tell this story. Marital status is still the best predictor I’ve seen of whether or not a missionary leaves due to preventable attrition.
Granted, missions work is difficult for everyone, and I’d give the exact same advice to a married couple or a single woman. But I think it’s helpful to be upfront and point out that for whatever reasons, single men don’t typically last that long in missions.
I don’t say that to scare people away. As I mentioned before, this life path is worth it. But it does help to be prepared, and I wish someone had sat me down and explained this when I started.
2. Know your true identity.
If you’re a single guy, then I probably don’t need to convince you that the church has done a horrific job teaching a healthy theology of singleness. But just to make sure everyone’s on the same page, I believe the church has done a horrific job with the topic of singleness.
At best, we tend to communicate something pragmatic along the lines of “well, single people have more time, so they can work harder for the gospel.” I’m not sure I’d lead with that point, but to be fair, it is in line with some of Paul’s points in 1 Corinthians 7. No argument there theologically.
However, in reality, this mindset usually devolves into something much closer to “Your worth as a single person is directly tied to what you can do for me uh, I mean God.” Even worse, I think this expectation is something we tend to subconsciously put on ourselves as singles.
In general, American society tends to judge men based on what they do or accomplish. It’s always been really easy for me to get caught in the trap of correlating my worth with ministry success (or failure). That church is inviting me to do a training? I’m awesome. That other church just stopped supporting me? Man, I suck. No one believes in me, I’m not accomplishing anything, and I’m just wasting my time.
Throw in the whole stigma of “you don’t have kids and family,” and it’s been really easy for me to get caught in that cycle of equating effectiveness with worth.
As a single man, your worth and identity come as an adopted son of the Father, through Christ’s righteousness, empowered by the Holy Spirit. You are a vital member of the body. You have God-given strengths, gifts, relationships and opportunities. You’ve been made holy, despite your sin, through Christ.
Your value is not based on what you can do. Nor is it based on your label as a “single Christian man.” At least for me, I can’t hear that message enough.
3. Ask leaders on the field to help you find your place.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard blanket statements about how all male missionaries or pastors or church leaders need to be married. At the end of the day, these mandates all boil down to one central assumption. Single men are less spiritually mature.
Pastor and professor Sam Alberry wrote a fantastic article noting the lack of single pastors in the U.S. He comments that we often treat marriage as a “spiritual coming of age” or a “graduation from a more elementary form of Christianity to a more mature form.”
Unfortunately, I think the same line of thinking has crept into our selection process for missionaries. I’ve never seen an agency reject a man solely on the basis of his singleness, but I do see a disproportionally higher percentage of single men not being accepted. If we’re not careful, the underlying messaging can easily come across as “that’s nice, but come back to us once you’ve grown up and gotten married.”
As with the previous points, I think the most damaging way this plays out is internally. I can think of four distinct times where I simply concluded that there just isn’t a place for me in missions because of my singleness. Sure, there may be a very small handful of single men in missions, but they must be the “super-missionaries.” I’m not as holy/mature/effective/whatever as they are. I could never make it.
My best piece of advice is to actually visit a ministry overseas and let the leadership know you’re wondering about what role you could potentially play as a single male missionary. You’ll get a dozen answers in about three minutes.
And if you have the opportunity, try to find a single guy and ask about his experience. What has been challenging? What’s been rewarding? What are the cultural expectations surrounding singleness? (As an example, see one OMF missionary’s take on the cultural expectations placed on single men in Japan.) Most missionaries will be happy to share their story, and you’ll have a unique opportunity to minister to them as you listen.
4. Embrace your unique opportunities.
I still remember the first time I finally realized that my actual state of singleness could be beneficial for missions. No, not just because I had an excess of time, but because I could actually relate to the often-marginalized single men in other cultures. Generally speaking, in almost every culture:
- If you’re single past some culturally-specified age, then something is seriously wrong with you.
- For single women, you’re unlovable.
- For single men, you’re un-valuable.
- If you’re single past some older culturally-specified age, then you’re bringing shame on your family.
- If you don’t have kids, you’re cursed.
- And so on.
Yeah, I can kinda empathize with most of that. And I can definitely share how the gospel speaks into it all. That’s actually kind of cool.
As for single men specifically, consider the following:
- Roughly 25 percent of the world’s unreached people are single men.
- Roughly 1 percent of the global missions’ force is single men.
- Anecdotally from many of our workers in East Asia, single men are typically one of the hardest demographics to reach.
Obviously, that’s not to suggest that your only role in missions is to reach out to said single men. But it is an encouraging idea that I don’t hear discussed enough in missions circles.
5. Remind yourself frequently that you aren’t alone.
It’s easier than ever to feel alone—so much so that sociologists have been referring to our current social state as a loneliness epidemic. While this is certainly a problem throughout the entire process of missions work, I think one of the most isolating times is at the very beginning.
Unfortunately, we tend to have a hyper-individualistic model for getting started in missions, and I think that singles are hit the hardest because of this. This lack of support certainly seems to be one of the primary reasons why singles tend to drop out of missions.
Without a spouse, you simply don’t find very many people who can hold you accountable, provide encouragement and pray alongside you. While I would unequivocally recommend that anyone interested in missions should talk to a coach and find a supportive community, it’s even more critical for singles–especially single men.
So, if you have any inkling that God might be calling you into missions, please talk with a ministry coach! It’s way easier than trying to do this alone.
And if you know any single missionaries (or singles wanting to become missionaries), reach out to them, and listen to their story. The journey into missions can feel really isolating, and I’m sure they’d appreciate the encouragement.
And lastly, if you’re a single man in missions, keep up the amazing work, brother! Don’t forget who and whose you are, and remember that you’re not alone. I know it’s tough. But it’s worth it.
1For the record, I do like dubstep. And adventures. And battles. And missions… I guess I am their target, after all!
2 Sure, a lot of single guys are spiritually immature and undisciplined. But it’s not really helpful (and is sort of insulting) if you find yourself single and not in that boat. Especially when the language tends to come across as all single men.
3“Preventable attrition” implies that something could have likely been done to prevent them from leaving, like having better member care. This is as opposed to non-preventable attrition, like a critical illness or a visa getting rejected.
4Please don’t hear “marginalized” in an anti-feminist, “masculinity is being destroyed!!!” sort of way. I simply mean it as “singleness is not valued in most cultures.”
5Imagine a community of people advocating on behalf of a missionary rather than our lone-wolf, “you have to prove your commitment” model. What an unconventional and beautiful thought, right?
John has almost a decade of missions experience at OMF (U.S.) as a mobilizer-data analyst-coder-teacher-writer. His passions include running, satire, coding, board games, mobilizing the American church and medium-length walks on the beach.
Share this Post