The land of the lost men.

A friend told me recently that as women came to faith in one part of Southeast Asia, they were told there might be persecution.

They were also told that one thing they might face as a part of their new faith is that there weren’t many men who were believers yet, so they might be signing up for a life of singleness.

That thought has settled into the depths of my soul, and I thought — that’s possibly something that should be happening here too — bringing up our girls to actively lean into Christ alone no matter what, but also to be prepared for the fact that following Jesus could mean not finding a Christ-following husband.

Because the numbers are staggering.

*****

The hot cider steamed on the stove, and I scooped another ladle’s worth, curling my fingers around the mug as the warmth crept through the porcelain and made it to my hands. In the next room, a dozen single women in their 30s crowded around a table, eating and swapping stories.

As I leaned back against the counter, the friend who was in the kitchen with me told me about the country she’d lived in overseas, how she’d loved it, how it had been difficult as a single woman … and how she was hoping to go back soon.

I nodded … I knew what she meant. I’d been to her country before. It’s a hard country to live in, even harder if you’re a woman alone. But she was answering the call. Jesus had become immeasurably sweet to her through this journey.

This kind of conversation … this is our generation’s reality.

******

“I don’t think I’m bitter yet, but I feel like I could be one day. And I don’t want to be.”

That confession spilled out of my friend’s mouth as she sat in the corner of a local coffee shop, knees pulled to her chest. The emotional weight of her words hung in the air and made both of us 30-somethings sink deeper into the well-worn floor cushions.

For years now, on the other side of the table behind that cup of coffee, the face has changed but the plot follows a well-worn path. Girl after girl, woman after woman spills over with the deep struggle of her soul — that her life hasn’t gone the way she thought it would. She’s been forced to forge a different kind of life than the one she would’ve chosen for herself, the one she’d always thought was just around the corner — the one she thought was God-designed.

For some, that unexpected life — a life without marriage and a family — has brought deep valleys they have yet to pull out of. It’s brought questions for God that they can’t seem to let go of. For others, even though it’s hard sometimes, their single life has forged a path that’s made God sweeter than they ever would’ve imagined.

This truth is certain — the story God writes for us, the one He creates in the ashes of our dreams is the one that will help us know Him the best. And it’s good. He’s the whole point of our story here, not marriage. In Him and Him alone, there’s joy and life to the full. Forever.

That’s the truth we stake our lives on. That’s where we lock our gaze. It’s all for our good and His glory. A thousand times yes.That part is not a tragedy. It’s an unfathomable gift.

But can we talk about something for a minute?

Where. Are. The. Men.

For months, maybe years, I’ve been hesitant to write this. And even after I wrote it, my finger has hovered over the post button for a while, until this report was posted yesterday by The Gospel Coalition, pulling data from this study. At one point, the TGC article says this:

Stone also finds that when looking at religious attendance, the gender ratios get more severe. Unmarried women are unlikely to find eligible men in their churches—or even in their local area. “Even expanding this scenario to assume that same-denomination churches in a region are a single dating market,” says Stone, “you can expand to five or 10 churches and still end up with a single-digit number of men who meet the basic demographic criteria and aren’t currently in a relationship with someone else.”

I don’t want it to sound like the answer to the single woman’s need for God is a sea of more good men. I don’t want to make it sound like women can’t live in their gifting as singles and be fulfilled — that’s the life I’m hoping to live every day that I wake up. And there for sure may be some who aren’t looking to get married at all. But I also with a little bit of trembling think it might be dangerous not to notice the gaping hole in the Church all over the place. Are there good men in the Church? Absolutely. Strong, Godly men, many if not most of them married. I’m grateful for every single one I know. But are there as many of them as there are women? Not even close.

I don’t want to heap blame on anyone — to be honest, I have no idea what is actually to blame. I think it might be a number of things all stacking up to the reality we have now.

But no matter what’s causing it, the numbers show that it’s real. For a while there, I thought it was my church, or my city. But as I’ve traveled around and visited with churches, small groups and mission-sending organizations over the past three years, I feel like it’s everywhere. Groups upon groups upon groups of single women. Dozens of them being commissioned out to serve overseas. A lot of them signing up to be foster moms all by themselves.

And the men just aren’t there.

As I’ve met with groups of single women — sometimes three in a coffee house, sometimes 15 in an apartment, sometimes 100 at a church — in nearly every scenario, these questions bubble to the surface:

What about my desires?

Has God forgotten me?

I don’t understand — why hasn’t He brought me someone yet?

From a spiritual standpoint, I always share what I believe in the depths of my soul — God Himself is all we need. Husbands were never meant to be that. If we have a husband, that husband is meant to help us know God better (and vice versa). But God is the prize, not marriage. He hasn’t forgotten you — in His infinite love, in the midst of the brokenness that’s in this world, He’s drawing you through this pain to lean totally on Him.

But from a practical standpoint, I also think … statistically there aren’t even kind of enough. Like not even close. That’s just the reality of our generation.

I remember at the small Christian college I went to, we joked a lot about the 3-to-1 girl-to-guy ratio. Now I feel like it’s more like 40 to 1. I’m not saying there are zero — but I am saying that it’s dramatically disproportionate.

It’s like our generation of single believing women has found itself in the land of lost men. They exist — census data tells us so. But they’re absent from the Church. In the city where I live, I know dozens of women in their 20s and 30s who are trying to chase after Christ and nip bitterness at the root before it grows. And traveling around the country in recent years, I’ve loved meeting other women doing the same thing, housefuls of women chasing Jesus. It’s messy. It’s not perfect. But we’re trying.

I just look around and wonder what happened … when did it happen … and what will happen to families and the Church in another generation or two if it keeps going this way? At the end of the TGC article, writer Joe Carter says the Church “must also find ways to ensure that young men are brought into the church and discipled in such a way that they have a biblical view of sexual ethics.” He also writes that “if we want spiritually healthy Christians families in our churches, we should do more to help create the pool of marriageable disciples that make such families possible.” I wonder if this isn’t what’s needed — to see it almost as a crisis of discipleship.

I had a conversation about it with a friend a few months ago, and she said that on a recent trip to Southeast Asia, she’d heard that as women were being led to Jesus there, they were told persecution might follow, persecution from their family or from their community. But they were also told that one thing they might face as a part of their new faith is that there weren’t many men who were believers yet, so they might be signing up for a life of singleness.

In the months since we talked, that thought has settled into the depths of my soul, and I thought — that’s possibly something that should be happening here too — bringing up our girls to actively lean into Christ alone no matter what, but also to be prepared for the fact that following Jesus could mean the hardship of not finding a Christ-following husband.

Is Jesus worth it? Yes. Is marriage everything? No. And that’s where I focus my heart every day as I get up, and every Tuesday night as a small group of young, single women meets in my house. I talk with pastors sometimes and urge them to encourage their daughters and the young girls in their church to grow up to be women who love Jesus wholeheartedly and just want the life He has for them, whatever it may look like.

But is the state of the Church what it should be? I believe no — how could it be? What about the vast lostness of our men? And what does that do to families and the Church?

It’s a question worth us asking.

13 Comments on “The land of the lost men.

  1. I just asked God for him to bring more men to him. Then I realized he sees what is happening. I sense God is setting it up that women will be leading the men to the Lord. It must be in the bible somewhere. We have more work, my Dear.
    Love, Peace, Joy
    Patty Greene

  2. Unfortunately this problem is not new. It has been going on for at least two generations or so I have observed in my journey as a 60-plus-year-old single woman.

    Perhaps efforts could be made to reach and disciple boys and help them grow into godly men. But is today’s evangelical church geared more toward women?

    We live in an imperfect world where there may not be a Christian man for every Christian single woman. But God is still good even when it is hard to realize that.

  3. It is, indeed, a “complex situation with many layers of problems”, as Harry said above. One observation I have made in my church/area is that there’s a cultural hole in our community of Christian men; some types of men fit in quickly but there’s a swath of others who don’t find a ready connection point. This seems to happen here for men who aren’t “academic” – who may be very, very intelligent, but who aren’t into books, debate, or theological niceties. They often seem to get the impression that Christianity is a faith of words, when we know from looking at the life of Jesus that it is equally about bold and communicative actions. These men often seem to drift away to find communities in their gyms or workplaces because there was nothing to DO at church.

  4. Insightful post. I cannot speak for any man but myself but I can share a little insight to what I have seen.

    I firmly believe, after having survived a deep wilderness with God, that there has been a systemic rooting out of men from following Jesus over the past 150 years. I see some troubling movements.
    1) Both world wars of the last century hollowed out a great many men from the world. This led to a
    2) Post World War 2 generation of fatherless sons which led many young men to pursue
    3) Pornography, lust, greed and lust for power which made them impotent as men. This led to a
    4) Rise in feminism, a backlash against the abuses of grown up boys. This exacerbated the feelings men had of impotence and unimportance as society embraced that men are toxic.

    Frankly it is a mess. I do not blame anyone but satan and the ‘self’ nature within us all for what has happened. What I do find is that there are lot of men out there that just don’t have fathers, either physically or spiritually. Because of this men don’t know how to be men so they just continue being boys. A man is someone who has grown up spiritually. He knows how to decide and act decisively. He is honest, vulnerable and transparent. He knows how to be humble, repentant, sacrificial and loving. He has learned how to lay down his own ‘self’ nature for others. This is the kind of father Jesus will teach a man to be in the wilderness

    Although the above sounds like the ideal it is not. It is the norm for a man. This is how God designed man to be. Unfortunately what we have today are grown up boys. What we are lacking are those fathers, who have learned to be men, leading young boys into the maturing process. I am sorry but there are not many who qualify for this position. The reason for this is that a boy has to go through a very difficult process in order to spiritually mature. The path to this process to fraught with distractions and pits which many fall into and end up failing. Those that succeed are few and far between.

    The lack of men today is understandable considering how much satan has tried to destroy the whole concept of father in our society. A father is not one who supplies the seed to create children, he is one who takes children and trains them to become adult men and adult women. Without them we have people running around that can do nothing but act like children. Turn on any television and you will quickly see this.

    The answer, however, is not religion. Religion has failed to help men grow up and, in fact, has done a great deal of harm. No man can mature in today’s religious environment. It is too toxic for anyone to grow spiritually mature in. The whole premise of religion is antithetical to growth because it seeks to have a docile base of people that will financially contribute to its growth. Maturing men and women cannot be controlled. They are learning to use their will to make decisions for faith and face the consequences thereof. Inhibit that exercise of free will and you destroy the person. No, Jesus is calling men and women out to meet Him in the wilderness.

    In this barren place God teaches us how to lean on Him for our being. Here our Heavenly Father demonstrates for us how to be a father. He teaches and guides us to what His nature is like. He gives us practical lessons where we have to exercise what we have learned until it is ingrained in our muscle memory. In short, it is in the wilderness, with its fires, where God the Father creates in us the character of Jesus. Once a spiritual boy goes into the wilderness he will come out a spiritual man, IF he does not quit. Therein lies the rub. The spiritual desert is a harsh and unforgiving place. There is no room for ‘self’ there. This is a battle to the death. Either spirit will win and ‘self’ will die or ‘self’ will win and the boy will forever remain a boy. This is the black and white choice a man or woman faces when he/she chooses to follow God in complete faith.

    I do feel for the women out there and the appalling lack of men walking in faith. This is something that has grieved me for years. My own marriage of 30+ years has taken tremendous amounts of effort to grow and mature it into the beautiful garden it is today. When my wife and I married we were very much spiritual children. Our journey into adulthood has been one of trial and suffering but that is a good thing. The struggle has changed us. We have become people we would not have been without the lead of God. Every sacrifice we made, the homelessness, destitution, rejection etc. was worth it for the reward of spiritual maturity and deep intimacy with Jesus.

    As I stated at the beginning this is only my experience and how I see things. Thank you for the post.

    Blessings,
    Homer Les
    http://www.uncompromisingfaith.ca

  5. As always your words reflect my thoughts. I live and serve in SouthEast Asia and I have these same thoughts. I interact with Western young women as they volunteer and have started having these conversations. Jesus All.

  6. Really appreciated your thoughtfulness in this, Grace. I read that TGC article yesterday and was intrigued by the data as well. As a mom to three little boys, I’ll say that it definitely is something I think about often in my discipleship of them, and I’m grateful for the reminder that the way we shepherd them now really will impact the church in years to come. Keep writing, sister. It’s exciting to see your gifts at use in this season of your journey.

    • So grateful for you, your family and the way you’re raising your boys. The significance of that is huge, friend. Grateful for your faithfulness.

  7. I came to Christ in my early 20s just 3 months before marrying my girl friend of 1.5 years. She came to Christ at the same time. So we had much growing up to do and the marriage took a beating because of it. I lost her to a rare cancer at age 54, after 32 years of marriage. For the 4 years she was ill, we fought the cancer together. We also healed the marriage.

    I decided pretty quickly after my wife’s death I wished to marry again, and “do it right” this time. I found that the great majority of women that were claiming to be Christian were indicating that about any man’s expressed “spiritual” belief would be good enough for them. It was rare to find a woman who was insisting on a high spiritual standard. I was seeking a true Christ Follower. I was rejected by one woman I had an honest interest in, who said I was “too much into it…” although she was a regular church attender. Many I never reached out to because they checked every religious box including Buddhism, and New Age. I was matched with the right one by EHarmony after about 1 year of looking. What amazed me was in addition to who she was, a devout Christ Follower determined to “do it right”, she was/is a beautiful woman. So I think maybe I’m a guy who might rate a “6” (to heavy, bald, glasses), and this woman was/is a solid “9”. Also in her mid-50s, we would walk into a restaurant, and men would turn and stare. Yes, that beautiful. We’ve been married over 12 years and are in our late 60s. She is still beautiful physically but more importantly more devoted to Christ than ever. So I recommend the advice above, to cling to Christ, don’t compromise, don’t “settle” for less. Ask him what the sexual boundaries should be, If the answer isn’t Biblical, challenge him. Take care of yourself physically to be as good as you can be. No, not everybody can be 9. I didn’t need a physical 9 to be happy, but I’m not complaining it worked out that way.

  8. Great post Grace. I have been to churches in South Asia and those attendance were predominantly women. Those signing up as missionaries are mostly women. I believe it is a discipleship problem along with a cultural problem. Our culture has tried to blur the lines concerning gender and it has resulted in young men not knowing how to be a real Christian men or else afraid to be one.

    • Quite likely feminism plays a role. But Harry, that still does not explain young men leaving the church in greater droves than young women. Most churches teach women to treat their husbands like kings. So why would the guys go into the world in order to fornicate with Third Wave man haters?

      Perhaps all the divorce the church has been really lax on is partly to blame. Women bringing up boys without dads within the church.

      Another thing is Christianity has traditionally been a religion for “women and slaves.” Underdogs glad to know the King of the Universe hears their prayers too and views them as valuable even if we are losers in the eyes of the world.

      Christianity is dying in the West because of the Pride of Life. Like the Laodiceans we think we don’t need God. Thanks to the “empowerment” of feminism women (as a whole) are at least as arrogant as men. Not good at all. :(

      • Historically, I believe there has always been more women than men in the church but as Grace’s post correctly points out, we have hit a critical point today. Yes, I think the lack of Godly men in the households has resulted in boys not being properly mentored (discipled). The home should be the primary place of discipleship. Many young men in their twenties are not assuming the responsibilities of adulthood. It is a complex situation with many layers of problems. I appreciate your insights.

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: