What age is too old to be a missionary? What are some things older missionaries can and can’t do?

“Check out Finisher’s Project.”

Many agencies have organized together to help you if you are an older adult. For full details visit Finishers Project, a ministry of MissionNext. Though they now work with prospective missionaries of all ages, they have their roots in helping those who want to make a mid-career or second-career transition.

Also see the list of top needs so you can easily find a specific compelling assignment that fits you. Each entry contains facts and a summary description. There are several ways to sort the list.

“Today’s mission force is diverse!”

There was a day when many missionary sending agencies would not take missionaries past a certain age, but now this is rare. Some organizations (and host countries) may have a mandatory retirement age, but even this doesn’t seem to be very common. Your age is usually not a significant factor, not as long as you are healthy, effective, and qualified for ministry. 

Today’s technology and relative ease of travel also make it possible for missionaries to split their time between their home culture and their host culture if need be. We know more and more missionaries who continue to serve this way as they get older. For example, they may live in the U.S. most of the year but make regular trips to continue or serve alongside ministries in Africa or Asia. 

Though your age may not prevent you from serving, it may still affect how or where you serve. Especially if you are just beginning to serve cross-culturally, you may be more likely than younger colleagues to face certain kinds of challenges. For example, you may struggle more with living in physically difficult environments, recovering from illnesses or injuries, or learning new languages.

You may find it more difficult to raise support (or replace support lost when donors, aging as quickly as you are, are no longer able to give). That doesn’t mean you are too old for missions. Just “pick your battles” and adjust your expectations for yourself in some of these areas. 

It should be noted that older missionaries have some great things to offer in missions, not least of which is the ability to come alongside younger coworkers who lack life experience and wisdom to navigate some of the challenges they, too, face, and maybe more than you do, such as cultivating contentment, resolving messy interpersonal conflicts, raising families, and accepting their own limitations. 

Answer from AskaMissionary.com staff.

“It’s not too late.”

I was a mechanical engineer and my wife was an elementary school teacher. At the time we had mountainous debt and no theological training.

Over the next seven years we eliminated our debt, studied the Bible for a year, found a mission agency, raised full support and then left for the desert of Northwest Kenya. We have never been sorry and we have never thought we were too old.

God led us to a mission agency which believes that “second-career” missionaries bring valuable maturity and life experience to missions that is not available from younger graduates. In recent years, more agencies have begun to appreciate these same values.

Answer from Jeff who has served in Africa for nine years with United World Mission.

“If you’re in good health, you’re never too old.”

I was over 60 when I first went overseas for an extended time. But the past 12 years have been among the most fruitful in my life. The big asset we older people have is life experience.

In our country of adoption, younger missionaries are actually somewhat despised. The nationals feel it insults them to think they need to listen to youngsters.

Our work is primarily in mentoring key leaders in church-planting movements. My USA experience as a pastoral leader and church planter has been very useful to them. And that’s the other point I would make: don’t go unless you have something the nationals want and need.

My first trip was to help my MD wife begin work with HIV/AIDS, something with which she had experience. But when the nationals found out about my disciple-making and church-planting skills they excitedly invited me back… and the rest is history.

Answer from Ronald, who served with Hope in View in Ethiopia for twelve years.

“Considering your time of life.”

While all Christians are commanded to be witnesses, at home and abroad, we might want to consider the time of our life and the mission field before signing up. 

For example, we’ve noticed over the years that many missionaries are coming to the foreign field (with a foreign language and culture) later in life than back when we came, in the 1980s. They are in their forties, have teen children, and they left behind their house, family, friends, and an established lifestyle.

We’ve observed that sometimes it’s difficult for teens and preteens to adjust to a totally different culture.

Also, the parents are starting from zero to learn a language, and they’re easily frustrated. Some have very little ability to learn a second language, which is even more frustrating. Though most come with the best of intentions and much Christian zeal, they don’t usually last long.

I believe the remedy for this issue has two parts: 

1. Learn a language when you’re young, so that, should God call you, you’ll be ready to communicate with other people groups. You could also take a test to see if you are a good candidate for language learning. Or, go to an English-speaking mission field. 

2. If you are taking teen children to the field, make sure all the family is involved in your deputation and in the ministry on the field. Make it a family missionary venture. (We’ve known one family who did this very well. The kids actually came as missionaries!) And, don’t expect things anywhere else on earth to be like in America.

I still personally believe that the ideal time to leave for missionary service is when the missionary couple is young. It is easier for adaptation, the children grow up on the field, and it is easier to make it your home. But, I know God calls at many ages, and I don’t think there should ever be an age limit.

Answer from Lou Ann, missionary in Spain for 31 years, now with World Wide New Testament Baptist Missions.

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