This article is reprinted by permission from Pulse (October 9, 1991).
My golfing partner and I sucked in the crisp morning air while we limbered up on the first tee. “Sure beats work,” we laughed, getting into high gear for the day, when suddenly appeared — a woman! — obviously prepared to join us for the round. We struggled to keep our inner groans from any outward expression while we exchanged brief pleasantries. But in one devastating moment our chauvinism dissolved as quickly as her drive first exploded and then descended into the luscious fairway turf some 200 yards away.
Change the scene to a packed seminar room where a visiting missions strategist poured out his new plans for a country suddenly open to Westerners. He unveiled sound ideas for training leaders, an obvious need crying to be met. A certain refrain echoed off the walls: “We’ll train so many men here, and we’ll train more men in this city, and we have a great opportunity to train men there.”
“Men...men...men...” bounced around in my brain as I drove back to the office. How did the women in that room feel? What about the women in that country who need and want training? Why weren’t they mentioned? Probably because male prejudice thrived as well in the seminar as it did on the golf course. Ask a missions leader, “Don’t women need to be trained?” and his answer would be, “Yes, of course.” But look around at the preferences given to men, and listen to our speeches, and read our publicity, and look at our budget allocations, and you’ll see that women for the most part are just overlooked and left out of our considerations.
Ignoring women is just as easy as slipping into your car and pulling the lever into drive. Sure, neutral and reverse are important — we couldn’t live without them — but they just get in the way of the drive. That’s exactly how we slight women habitually and unconsciously, all the way from long-range planning to our preaching and writing about world missions.
The needs, potential, and qualifications of women have been shrouded in the mists of interminable squabbles about women’s roles in the church. Whatever your view about these matters, our fights have done nothing to erase the deeply ingrained prejudices of men toward women. We cannot continue our rather brutish behavior, thinking that our patient Christian wives, friends, and fellow workers don’t really care. We mistakenly assume that because they are not radical feminists they have no feelings.
Change begins with our language, because what we say and what we write reveals our unchallenged assumptions about women. Beyond that, however, we must change our missions commitment to include evangelizing and training the world’s women. Women leaders from Africa and Asia have correctly exposed the blind side of church and mission strategies in this regard. If we contemplate new ministries, without taking into account the huge potential for significant leadership among Christian women, we enter the field with one arm cut off.
Too often we act as if missions history means nothing. How many times do we ring the changes on William Carey, Hudson Taylor, and Jim Elliot, without ever mentioning Mary Slessor, Gladys Aylward, and Helen Roseveare? What does such oversight say to women in our schools and churches? If mission work sounds like the private domain of an exclusive men’s club, we aren’t going to attract capable women.
Perhaps the strongest signal we send women is the role we give, or do not give, to them in mission leadership. Some of our institutions would be better served if the wives of the men in charge were given the job. In these cases, the wife is gifted in management and administration, while her husband’s gifts are in teaching, preaching, and counseling. The point is to use people in their strengths, regardless of their sex. The work of God could be considerably expedited if we got serious about developing women for leadership in world missions.
Men, it’s long past the time to change.