What is the Place of Women in World Missions?

by R. Nyman

“What is the place of women in world missions? Jesus said, ‘You [and the word means all of you, male and female] are my witnesses. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.’ And there have been countless thousands who, without reference to where they came from or what they knew or who they were, have believed that Jesus meant exactly what he said and have set themselves to follow. —Elisabeth Elliot

One joy of my life is coaching and mentoring women for effective engagement in launching movements to Christ. Yet often, I discover missed opportunities surrounding the role of women.

Sometimes I hear: “I felt called to the field. I came with a passion to labor alongside my husband. I don’t want to take over. I just want to be involved! Yet my organization only makes CPM training and coaching available to men. Now that we have children, I get the subtle message that my only job is supporting my husband and caring for our kids.”

Single women have shared: Men leave us out of strategy discussions. We don’t have a lot in common with women on the team who have husbands and children, and when we talk about ministry, some moms seem jealous that we have “time” for ministry.

I see this repeatedly: Husbands and wives come to the field to make an impact, yet when the wife doesn’t feel she is contributing, this may become a reason the couple goes home.

And the problem goes deeper. A local colleague told me, “Please tell Western women not to come if they aren’t going to make reproducing disciples. When they don’t, they model disobedience to the Great Commission!”

In many cultures, men can’t interact with women. Often, especially among Muslim UPGs, women are gatekeepers for their households. Who, if not women, will seek out Women of Peace to open their oikos to the gospel? And as new movements emerge, who will equip first-generation women leaders?

Regarding equipping missionary women, I sometimes hear mission leaders say, “We don’t want to burden women or make them feel guilty.” Is the best solution to not equip them for multiplication? Isn’t it better to help women follow Jesus in ministry appropriate to their season of life and prepare them to help launch a [movement]?

Will the global mission community make stewardship of missionary women a priority? Will we equip missionary women with competence and confidence to be and do all He calls us to be, especially as catalysts in launching CPMs?

How can the Body of Christ best steward missionary women? How can we support, inspire and equip them to thrive and bear multiplying fruit in all stages of life?

Why Focus on CPM?
Kent Parks, President of Act Beyond, notes that today there are twice as many people with no access to the gospel as there were in 1980. In 1980 there were “only” one billion unevangelized. Today that figure has risen to 2.1 billion!

This unjust trend requires that we do something differently.

And we can! Since the days of Jesus and Paul, the Church has repeatedly grown faster than population growth through movements – with women playing a key role. The 1900s offer extraordinary instances of movements in China and Korea fueled by women missionaries. 

Women as DMM Practitioners
All of us (men and women) are to delight in and declare God’s glory, developing intimacy with God. Out of the overflow of this intimacy, we are to “be” and “do” in Christ and seek to reproduce Jesus in others. For all who follow Jesus, reproducing disciples is a privilege as well as a command.

Essential CPM elements include: extraordinary prayer, searching out persons of peace, discipling groups of new believers, and equipping leaders. We need missionary women as well as men for these tasks.

Being a wife and mother is one of my greatest joys and privileges. In highlighting points of engagement for women in CPMs, I don’t at all mean to suggest that women short-change their God-given roles as wives and mothers. For me, life is integrated: more like a woven tapestry than distinct compartments.

Regardless of their stage of life, the vast majority of female missionaries with whom I have interacted passionately want to have eternal impact. May this article [first published in Mission ] help them do so.

This article was first published in Mission Frontiers, it was edited with permission.

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