Many Christians are realizing in their older years, not that they wasted their youth, but that God was preparing them for their later years. “The Lord didn’t design us to coast out on flowery beds of ease, but to make some sort of difference,” said Nelson Malwitz, founder of Finishers Project, “There is a full spectrum of mission opportunities, both at home and abroad, both short-term and long-term.”
As the Baby Boomers continue to pass into retirement age more mission agencies and churches have had to rethink the concept of people moving onto the mission field at a later stage in life. The typical first-time missionary is still a twenty-something new Bible School or seminary graduate, but more and more people in their 40s, 50s and 60s are taking on missions for the first time.
Missions is statistically a young person’s game. With youth comes enthusiasm, energy and a heart for adventure, all great qualities to have on the mission field. But, with age comes experience, wisdom and patience, also great qualities for a missionary. Yet, too often we assume older Christians are not cut out for missions. Occasionally, it is even offered that seasoned Christian disciples shouldn’t waste the resources by going on the mission field. Older Christians should be encouraged to prayerfully consider their role in missions, and if they feel a strong calling to the mission field, churches should pray for and support them.
Scripture affirms there is an esteemed place for older Christians in our church ministries. The Bible tells us wisdom and understanding (Job 12:12) allow Christian disciples to bear great fruit into old age (Ps. 92:14). Grey hair is a crown of glory (Prov. 16:31) and a splendor for and older believer (Prov. 20:29). Both older men (Tit. 2:2) and older women (Tit. 2:3) have important roles to play for the kingdom.
The Bible values the contributions made to the local church by older Christians. Nothing says the mission field should be any different. If missions is a corporate mandate for the church, every member of the church should be allowed to make a contribution as their giftings and resources allow.
Many have questioned if the traditional western view of retirement is a biblical option for Christians. Did God provide us with a lifetime of blessings so we could spend the final 30 years of our lives collecting sea shells, hitting golf balls or playing bingo? We will not venture to tackle that question here, but instead refer readers to John Piper’s book “Rethinking Retirement.” In that book Piper says, “Live dangerously for the one who loved you and died for you in his thirties. Don’t throw your life away on the American dream of retirement.”
There is no question a Christian who saved and invested for decades could greatly glorify God with the additional time and financial security God has provided him. How glorious to use a pension, 401(k) or IRA toward God’s glory. A Christian who has the extra time, flexibility and financial security to dedicate to fulltime missions is a great benefit to the kingdom.
God provided you with your education, job, and financial blessings. God did not provide you with all that so you could add to your personal comfort and security. Certainly a financially secure retired Christian can benefit and serve the local domestic church, but, how glorious to give all that earned experience and wisdom for the reaching of the nations.
God is calling fewer younger Christians to the mission field and more older Christians. Those who send missionaries have been forced, in recent years, to rethink their views on sending older missionaries and most organizations have developed “second career” or “retired missionary” programs. “Most mission agencies are trying to work with this trend that 20 years ago was unwelcome,” said Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. “Today, most realize it can be useful to their work.”
Many Christians are realizing in their older years, not that they wasted their youth, but that God was preparing them for their later years. “The Lord didn’t design us to coast out on flowery beds of ease, but to make some sort of difference,” said Nelson Malwitz, founder of Finishers Project, “There is a full spectrum of mission opportunities, both at home and abroad, both short-term and long-term.” Older Christians are answering the call to fulltime missions and mission agencies and churches are responding with open arms.
Our western culture flies contrary to Scripture when it comes to our plans for old age. The world tells us, “you earned a break,” and “you deserve a rest.” That is in conflict with God’s biblical call to serve him. Quitting your job, selling your home and moving closer to your grandkids are all wonderful options. While God has set up our lives so we could have more time, he never wanted us to use that time for selfish gain, but to glorify him and expand his kingdom.
God provided for every step of your life, how glorious to live our final years serving the next generation of Christians. Missions is a viable option for Christians of every age. Older Christians have much to offer and should be encouraged to embrace the call to global evangelism. Allow the Lord to work through you no matter your age, and lend your world-wise experience and financial flexibility to the reaching of the nations.
Mike Pettengill is a missionary serving in Equatorial Guinea with Mission to the World. He previously served seven and a half years as a missionary in Honduras. To learn more about the Pettengills’ mission work visit Pettengill Missionaries.