Do Missionaries Retire?

Did you know that there is no word for “retirement” in the Bible? The concept cannot be found in Scripture.

The closest thing to it is in Numbers 8:24-26: “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”

There God instructed that full-time priestly “tabernacle” responsibilities end at age 50. Remember, this was physically “demanding” work with large livestock. Priests older than 50 continued to “assist and serve” as advisers or supervisors, but the full-time physical “labor” was done by the younger men.

However, this was not “retirement” as practiced today. Retirement as we understand it is quite a recent concept.

The first nation to introduce a “social insurance” program for the aged was Germany in 1889. The emperor, William I told parliament, “Those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state. The nation initially set retirement age at 70. Life expectancy at the time was less than 50 years.

For most of human history, people expected to “work” until they died. If they became too “infirm” to do so, the family was supposed to “care” for them. But in modern society, people believe that once you’ve “put in your time,” you deserve a decade or two of “work-free lounging, traveling or playing golf.”

One factor driving the “push” for retirement is an “aversion” to work. A Missionary, however, has a positive “attitude” toward work and views it as the “calling” it is.

Work provides opportunity to design, produce and maintain, to embrace challenges, to interact with and serve others. God always works. In his defense Jesus said to them “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” John 5:17.

Obviously there is nothing that says you have to “stay in the same job” your whole life. But disengaging from a “life of service” and turning wholly toward simply seeking your “own” enjoyment is a trap, and ungodly.

That’s not to say an older person cannot “enjoy” extra leisure or family time, these are wonderful blessings in the “sunset” years of a productive life. But one must beware wanting to “withdraw” from serving and contributing. We must keep “active, industrious, diligent, alert and constantly improving and decry idleness or laziness.”

As I get older doing the “dynamic” work of God I am surrounded by brilliant, intelligent, capable, industrious, hardworking younger people, many coming out of college every year. Part of my job is to continually keep “ahead” of them!

God gave me a head start in years. But if I’m not on my “toes” constantly, some of these alert and eager young people, and those approaching middle age, would leave me far behind as a “has-been”, which I have no interest in.

Another major reason retirement has grown popular is the notion that a person’s productive years end around age 65. This reflects a terrible prejudice in Satan’s society against the aged. “People seem to assume that after the 50s, the human mind is supposed to decay,” especially in China where retirement begins at 55.

Perhaps some few, accepting the “myth,” have bogged down and grown senile. That is a tragedy. It happens only to the “mind” that has not been used. A mind improves with “use” and age. Wisdom comes with “experience” and age.

In my personal experience, I have produced my greatest “accomplishment” since I hit the calendar age of 60. The most important “knowledge” has been learned since then. I work today with more “vigor, effectiveness and power than in my 40s.”

Moses started his real life’s work at age 80, and he never retired. Work produces goods and services for others, it produces physical and mental growth and development in yourself, and it provides a way to financially support others and to support God’s work. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21.

Some people are “forced” into retirement because of declining health or other reasons. Lack of financial planning also has caused great “heartache” for many elderly. God definitely promotes wise “financial” planning to secure prosperity for your family.

“A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.” Proverbs 13:22. This requires lucrative productivity and excellent planning. An ideal to strive for is to be financially “capable” of not working, but continuing to work by “choice,” even if only part-time, certainly to stay “productive” and keep your “mind and body” active, as long as able.

Adopt a lifelong “mentality” of embracing work. God works, and He made us to do the same. After all, we are preparing for an “eternal” life of noble, fulfilling, productive work!

Remember God’s promise in Psalm 92: 12-14 “The righteous will flourish…They will still bear fruit in old age. They will stay fresh and green.” 

You know, it’s true that supporting a missionary is more “costly” than your average product in a Christmas catalog. Its more costly, less tangible, and slower to produce that “bang for your buck” satisfaction.

But it’s a real “investment” nonetheless. Perhaps the “greatest” investment we can make. Because when we “mobilize” a missionary, we’re not just sending off “food, clothing or literature.” We’re sending out a person to go embody the “Gospel” to a lost community.

And aren’t we glad that our Father did the same for us: “Sending not just gifts or a book from heaven, but sending a real person, Jesus Christ to save the lost?”

Missionaries don’t stop working until they die—and actually, not even then.

Building Leadership Communities and Citywide Movements