Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Missionary Support in the Bible (Part 4): Single Male Missionaries

OK, before I start, let me say this. No, single male missionaries are not presented as a major issue of missionary support in the Bible. In fact, this post could just as easily have gone under another heading. However, teams of single male missionaries are evident in the NT. Their benefits to modern field effectiveness (demonstrated in Scripture) and to our current support struggles will be plain, I think.
"For I would that all men were even as I myself (single). . . . I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I (single). . . . I suppose therefore that this (singleness) is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be (single). . . . seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such (the married) shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. . . . But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. . . . And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction."

- excerpts from Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 7, emphasis and parentheses mine
It is clear from 'The Beginning' that God wanted most people to be married, to serve one another, to serve Him, to raise a godly seed. Then, why on earth would Paul encourage the Corinthians to remain unmarried? Well, he states that it is due to "the present distress." Paul anticipated the difficult times that would soon come upon them. He doesn't elaborate on the exact nature of this distress, only that there was something that could help many endure it and remain faithful to the Lord: singleness. This was a somewhat unnatural state to remain in, considering The Beginning, yet is was a recommendation that the Lord moved him to make (7:40).

Notice carefully the marriage realities that Paul emphasizes. He does not rebuke the husbands for caring "for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife." He doesn't rebuke them for not being able to "attend upon the Lord without distraction." No, he merely states these as natural, accepted realities of married life. These are "distractions" which have been built into the marriage relationship by God. It does not mean that the married man doesn't love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. It does mean that his concerns, time, energy, and efforts will be divided between actively serving the Lord and caring for his wife. If he did not care for his wife in this way he would surely be "worse than an infidel" (1 Tim 5:8). He has a God-given responsibility to do so. So, he is rightly "distracted" in caring for things of the world, i.e. pleasing his wife.

Such difficult times may come, Paul says, that the Corinthians would do better to be wholly undistracted. Can we think of any times like these today? Related to missions?

Let me ask it this way. Why are there so few missionaries in the most hostile Muslim areas? Sure, these are often restricted-access nations. But could reservations on the part of a husband be another reason? Could it be that he has Biblical reservations about putting his family in such a situation? I cannot say for sure, but I believe it is a likely scenerio.

Or, why aren't there more missionaries today doing the work like Paul did? Sure, I could think of several hinderances (often illegitimate). But could the demands of such itinerant travel and the hostility that comes upon the family be one reason?

I am married. I am a father. For this I praise God. However, I sense within myself a hesitation about going into such places and doing such a ministry. Why? Because I have a family that I have a God-given responsibility to provide for and protect. Yes, I do not doubt that some of it is a lack of faith on my part, but some of it consists of a natural, God-ordained "distraction." While I believe that I would yet go wherever the Lord led, I do not doubt that I would have much less reservation about going to some more hostile fields if I were not married. I don't mind dying, but I have an instinct and a responsibility that insists that I avoid putting my wife in such situations.

Here we find one of the factors behind Paul's ability to do ministry the way he did. In the above passage, Paul used himself as the standard of distractionless ministry. One of the reasons he was so free of distraction had to do with his singleness. Just a little bit later Paul again emphasizes how he and his team had died to their right to be married in order to better fulfill their ministry (9:5).

What did their single condition allow them to do that married missionaries might be hindered from doing?
  • They were able to be more "reckless" with their lives, not having to concern themselves with the God-ordained care of a wife and children.

  • They were able to move much more rapidly than a family man. In this regard, notice how very, very few are itinerant/Pauline-type missionaries today, and how many use a mission station approach. This allows them to stay in one place, providing stability for their families (for almost all have families).

  • In the end, they were able to plant more churches in a shorter amount of time.

While singleness was not the only factor that contributed to the above, it was no doubt a significant factor (as any married man would surely affirm). It is my conviction that today we should give the same advice that Paul gave to the Corinthians. Only now, it should be given to those considering the foreign mission field. In many churches and Bible colleges, marriage is presented as the only legitimate option. While this is the option that nearly all should choose, the prohibition on singleness is simply not Biblical. Instead, considering "the present distress" in many mission fields, would it not be wise to encourage some to remain single in order to attend upon the Lord and His Work "without distraction," as Paul also recommended?

As a married man, I don't believe that I can do the same type of work that Paul did. I believe that a single man has a much higher likelihood of fulfilling such a ministry even today. Furthermore, I don't believe we are likely to see some fields reached without the Pauline-style work of single male missionaries. However, in order for this to be realized, we must reverse our prohibition on singleness, and some must die to themselves in order to attend unto the Lord and His Work without distraction.

There are a few objections that need to be considered now:

  1. In many of the remaining unreached fields, only a married man will be taken seriously. True, there would be some cultural obstacles. But tell that to Paul, a single man with a team of single men, who preached the Word in 1st century Jewish synagogues, seeing many people saved and churches planted.

  2. This would create too much temptation for the single male missionary. Of course there would be such risks involved. Paul mentions this in the above passage as well (v. 9). It is not for everyone (v. 7). Also, much of this risk could be reduced through team and sending church accountability measures.

  3. The man will not function well without his help meet. There is no doubt that a wife does wonders for the life of the man. God meant for it to be this way. But again, "every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner (married), and another after that (single)" (v. 7). God is sufficient for these things as well.

Recognizing all the difficulties, there are also two benefits that I want to emphasize:

  1. As I have already tried to make clear, singleness has tremendous implications for field effectiveness. This is true in nearly any field, but especially in some of the most unreached.

  2. And the benefit you were waiting for me to get at: there are significant implications for the coming missionary support crisis. If some single male missionaries were sent out in teams, costs could be reduced. It would take much less money for a team of men to survive than it would for a team of families to survive.

Again, in order to realize these possibilities, we must overcome our aversion to male singleness in missions. I pray that we will look to the Biblical precedent and begin utilizing this resource. Not only will we see benefits in terms of missionary support, but we will reap benefits in terms of field effectiveness.

In closing, keep in mind that this is not for everyone. I am not suggesting that all, or even most, should take this road. I did not, and that is no shame. I am suggesting that some should, and this is no shame either.


Dan said...

My man, you've hit this thing right on the head. There's no way around it for sure!

I would love, more than anything else, if a few of the men I mentor would take up this cross. How awesome would it be to watch some true "Pauls" go out into the field.

This is something we should, as a faith, be praying for. Well done on this post!

Debtor Paul said...


Thanks for the generous comments.

I do pray that more would take up this cross. Some may say that it is easy for a married man to make such a suggestion, but it is not. I know what I am asking of them. I know that the conditions that I am asking them to consider going into could take their life. But, I also know that God is sufficient for these things and the Cause is that magnificent. Therefore, I don't feel any shame in asking some (as I make it a practice to do) to consider it. May God help them.

Debtor Paul

landry said...

i'll say you are not fundamental in the fact that you don't use the king james bible. Plus, paul had a wife. if someone had the gift of celibacy, then it would much rather be preferred. i'm not against what your saying, i guess i just think your a little off and asking a little to much. our church supports a widow, she does a lot of work with children ministers in the bahamas. i'm just saying it's much easier to have a life partner to help you when you need it.
I Corinthians 7:2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.(and remember, to even think lustful thoughts of a woman is fornication.)

Debtor Paul said...


Thank you for your comments. Let me say these things:

I want to reiterate that most will and should marry. However, Paul (for the present distress) is clearly suggesting (not commanding) that the unmarried widows and virgins remain as he was, single. Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that he did not have a wife. There is no way to avoid this in a plain reading of his writings to the Corinthians. I realize that many argue that he had a wife, but this doesn't seem to come from Scripture.

Just as Paul, I am asking that this be considered by some in light of certain circumstances. I agree that, for most, marriage is the way to go, for the reason that both Paul and you state.

As for the KJV: this is all I use. If I have misquoted, please let me know where and it will immediately be corrected. If it is in the parentheses or emphases, please understand that these are not part of the text, but merely explanations given along the way as most preachers have done in the reading of their text.

I hope this clarifies some things. Please continue to follow the posts. I appreciate your interaction.

Debtor Paul