I’m Retired and Want to Do Missions — What’s My First Step?
Our fifth year of podcasting is ending. Our sixth year is about to begin. And of course it all happens by grace and because of listeners who listen in regularly, who pray for us, and who sacrifice financially to support the work of desiringGod.org — so thank you for your role in all of this.
Of course, new years bring with them new beginnings and lead to sweet questions like this one from Jennifer in Indiana: “Hello, Pastor John, I’m a long-time listener. One of the many ways you have impacted me is that I have a whole new excitement for my retirement years, which I have just entered. I just read your little book ‘Rethinking Retirement.’ My husband and I do not want the American dream. We want to go to unreached peoples with the gospel. Can you give those of us who want to do this a practical plan for how to take our first steps? How do retirees like us go to the unreached? Do you have any examples to help envision us?”
Oh my. This is just too good to be true! This is too good to be true. May there be millions of Jennifers out there. This is amazing. This is glorious. I just want to come out of my seat when I hear that.
A Work Force
There are 74 million baby boomers. I assume she’s in that category. I’m probably the oldest of the baby boomers — 71. I was born in January 1946 of all things.
“When you call out to God for help and for guidance in this matter, you are not going to be left to yourselves.”
People who began reaching so-called retirement age five years ago are the baby boomers. The baby boomer will go on reaching the age of 66 for thirteen more years. Then another generation picks it up. Perhaps a fourth of the 74 million baby boomers are self-professed, Bible-believing Christians.
Millions of those 18 million or so retiring Christians are financially stable. Millions of them are. And by global standards, rich — really rich. I don’t care if they’re on fixed income. By global standards, they are really rich.
Oh, what a force for good they can be in the world (“we can be,” I should say). So amen. Praise God for Jennifer. God is moving in you to talk like that. So in answer to Jennifer’s question, my inclination is to simply make two or maybe three important and practical suggestions. And then close with encouragement.
First, when we hosted the Cross Conference, a bunch of other folks and I tried to persuade these 18- to 25-year-olds and inspire them and equip them for long-term, cross-cultural missionary work to the unengaged and unreached peoples of the world, who don’t have the gospel and are perishing. The closing service of that conference, which happens every three years, was always a call to commitment. The form that we have chosen to give that call goes like this: “Do you resolve now, God helping you, to seek the confirmation and guidance and support of your local church?” That’s what we’re asking for in order to get to the people group God may be leading them to.
In other words, we put a huge priority on the involvement of the local church in the future ministry of these young people. We don’t believe in lone-ranger Christians or lone-ranger missionaries or lone-ranger, post-retirement, radical servants of Christ.
So my first suggestion, Jennifer (and everybody else I hope — lots of people I hope), is that insofar as it’s possible — and I know that not all churches are equipped to do this very well — but insofar as it’s possible, seek the involvement of your church in determining your gifts, confirming your sense of calling, helping you discern the needs that you can meet, and formulating and pursuing those new goals in this chapter of your life. Then have them get behind you in prayer and other ways for the next season. That’s my first suggestion. Be as local-church oriented or rooted as you can be.
Second, this is really specific. There is a group called the Finishers Project. The tagline of that ministry goes like this: “Finishers Project provides Christian adults with information, challenge and pathways for discovering and processing opportunities in missions — short-term or as a next career.”
“Seek the involvement of your church in determining your gifts and confirming your sense of calling.”
So I think, as far as practicalities go, you will find there that you’re not alone in this dream. Lots of people are dreaming with you about this. It’s their burden. This group has the burden to help people precisely in your category, in your stage of questioning. They want to help you see how you might process and discern what the opportunities are and how to get there.
Lord of the Harvest
I almost thought I would stop with just those two ideas, but it probably shouldn’t go without saying that God is so full of joy over your resolve not to waste this last chapter of your life. I say that because of the way he responded to the prodigal who came home after wasting his life.
He will absolutely not fail you. He won’t. When you call out to him for help and for guidance in this matter, you are not going to be left to yourselves. He’s not going say, “Whoa, we’ll see if we can find a place.”
No. He’s the one who said, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). And if you find that in your praying you are becoming the answer to your own prayers, the Lord of the harvest knows exactly where you’re needed.
If you cry out to him in all radical submission and obedience — keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking — he’s not going to stand by and let you waste this last chapter. He’s absolutely not. He’s going help you.
The last thing I want to say is about encouragement and exhortation. I would say be on guard against being lulled to sleep by a dozen conversations that you’re going have with retired believers who have no dream of making their lives count for the glory of Christ and the suffering of the world.
They will be talking about their different toys and their different houses and their different travels and their different vacations and on and on and on. They’ll be talking. And if you’re not careful, that’s going to start sounding normal. You’re going get sucked in and formulate your dreams that way — where the new condo is going be, how free for yard work you’re going be, how many fun things you can do, and on and on.
“Be on guard against retired believers who have no dream of making their lives count for the glory of Christ.”
Only a mighty work of grace — a glorious work of sovereign grace — can keep you from fitting into the American way of acting as if heaven and all its rest and pleasure begins at retirement instead of death. Heaven begins at death, not sooner. Let me say it again. Trouble-free heaven begins at death.
And until then, we say what the apostle Paul said: “[My passion is] that Christ will be honored in my body” — my whole aching body — “whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). That’s the great passion of our lives — to make Christ look magnificent and to live to make him, not comfort, look wonderful.
God bless you, Jennifer. God bless you — you and your husband — as you find his pathway into the greatest joys of this next really fruitful season of your lives.
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