7 Reasons to Get to the Mission Field Before You’re 30

1. Languages are hard to learn

It is very rare to meet a missionary who learned another language later on in life. A foreign language is not an opponent you want to underestimate. It will handicap you for the rest of your ministry unless you take it down early. Facing the challenges of learning a language like Arabic or Japanese is one of the areas that aspiring missionaries by and large give far too little thought to. Med school is no minor obstacle to becoming a doctor, and there’s a reason that most people don’t start med school at 40. The same is true of the missionary’s language school.

2. The early legwork can be brutal

Moving to another country is no picnic. Neither is starting a church from scratch, for that matter. Or adapting to a culture. The hours are long and difficult. You are constantly in uncomfortable situations. As with the languages, this is not to say that a middle-aged person will be unable to do this. For that matter, I’m not aware of any upper age limit for Olympic athletes – the situation sort of resolves itself.

3. There is a steep learning curve

It is just going to take you a while to figure out what you’re doing. Even the best of training can do only so much to guide you through the pitfalls and dead-ends of early ministry. Intensive learning is going to have to continue for… well, I don’t know how long. Haven’t reached the peak of the curve yet. Still so steep it looks like a wall in front of me sometimes. Each day the missionary faces the temptation to plateau and give up on learning. The earlier you get to the field, the higher up this curve you will be able to climb.

4. Dumb decisions take a while to undo

If you’re not familiar with the roads between you and your destination, it’s wise to leave earlier. On the mission field, you are going to make wrong turns. You are going to get tangled, and it’s going to take a while to undo the blunder. You are going to take some heavy hits, and the longer time you can give yourself to recover, the better. We still wrestle with the consequences of poor decisions we made in our first couple years. And I’m sure the bad choices we make this year will take just as long to straighten out.

5. It will be easier on your family

Okay, I don’t have any kids, but this is an educated guess. If your children don’t have strong roots laid in the States or if they are rootless (due to their lack of existing!) then it would certainly seem that they are not going to be stressed much by being uprooted and transplanted to another country. Especially compared to kids in their early teens.

I do miraculously have a wife, though. And we were married three months before we moved to China. This was the minimum time that my missionary-trainer would allow. But we found that newly-wedded bliss is an effective treatment for the discomfort of culture shock! Virtually the whole of our married life has been in China, and that has made China all the more happy of a place for us.

6. More time means more ministry

Spoiler alert… you are going to die. Sorry if this is the first you’re hearing about this. But the time that we are given to work is limited. And though we have no way of knowing if God will give us so much as one day on the mission field, if you arrive one day earlier you will have one extra day to labor before the last day. Redeem the time. Number your days – they are slipping away from beneath you. Work while it is day – the night is coming, and you will retire.

To get specific, the effects of personal discipleship ministry are magnified in direct proportion to the amount of time invested. The most influential thing you can do in China is to teach the Gospel to someone relentlessly for years on end. I suspect that this is one reason that young guys are generally not in a hurry to get to the field – they perceive the essential task of the missionary to be sharing the Gospel with an unbeliever – a task that can be completed in minutes. If they don’t arrive until they’re 43, they’ll still have countless opportunities for evangelism. But if you define the missionary’s essential task as prolonged training of national believers, you are now counting in years, not minutes. And time is of the essence! Multiple generations of church leadership won’t grow up overnight!

7. Giving your youth testifies to the value of the Gospel

I regularly have conversations with young Chinese men in the churches here who say something like, ‘I want to make my living in the world first, and then – once I’ve achieved financial stability – I will happily give the rest of my years to God.’ There is something deeply twisted about that thinking. My best years belong to me. I am able to and need to make myself financially self-sufficient. God should be happy with anything that I give to him.

But when a young couple leaves their home country, family, and their soon-to-be-grandparents parents and come to settle permanently among a foreign people, this bellows to their audience, ‘Christ is worth your life!’ And that is a message that you want to ring in the ears of young Chinese men. It will give you credibility when you tell them they should give the best years of their lives to God. No life is wasted that is devoted to the Gospel ministry.

There is one related thought concerning the age of missionaries that I would like to address briefly. And that is the idea that Western retirees are somehow especially qualified to go as foreign missionaries. It’s said they have nothing but free time on their hands and a hoard of money to spend. Seems like a strategic fit for the work of world evangelism. Let me qualify what I’m about to say by insisting that I’m for older people being involved in missions and that there are certainly ministries that would benefit immensely from their efforts. But at the heart of this suggestion of sending retirees is a misunderstanding of what is really needed on the mission field. If what we really lacked on the mission field was English-speaking Sunday school teachers and food-preparers, then retired members of the congregation ought to be put on a plane with all haste. But if what is really needed (in most fields) are men qualified to train and lead pastors and willing and able to work hard hours, you might want to get someone else.

As far as retirees’ suitability as missionary candidates goes, they are in a distant second place at best. There is no more suitable candidate for the work of a full-time missionary than a young couple that loves Jesus. The day that the church sends your grandmother to do the work for Jesus that you weren’t willing to do is a shameful one indeed. Maybe she should go because she’s got a wad of cash. But maybe you should go because you’ve got health, years, and a love for the Gospel. There’s more than one way for a retiree to make their money count for eternity – why not use it to take away some young couple’s excuse?

By the way, this definitely doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t come if you’re past thirty! Probably most of the above difficulties could be resolved. But know what you’re facing. And I hope this will serve as an encouragement to those who are not there yet and are kinda in ‘cruise’ mode. Maybe another post should talk about some reasons to slow down!

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15 Comments on “7 Reasons to Get to the Mission Field Before You’re 30”

  1. momma mia May 1, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    I do not agree with this at all! My husband and I are both 51 and God has called us to China to teach English and we are desiring to obey our Savior and go! We do not want to miss this opportunity God has blessed us with and do not believe that we will not be able to do what God is calling us to. Paul was no young thing and neither was Moses. We are certainly not too old!

    • Vengador May 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

      Hey Momma Mia!
      Thank the Lord for you and your husband! I only hope that I will be faithful in service when I am your age! Very sorry if what you took away from the post is that I don’t want you here! I’m sure you can agree from your experience, though, that we need young couples to give their lives to come to China and fields all around the world! Teaching English in China may very well be one of those avenues I mentioned whereby middle-aged believers can make a strategic difference. Are you planning on learning Chinese or starting a church while in China? If not, I for one am still grateful you’re here. But we’re going to need younger couples to come do those things! Thanks for your comment!

      • daniel-solomon May 15, 2012 at 8:41 am #

        hi ,i am really interested to join you for missions in China. I am bilingual-versatile in Both English and Mandarin. I am a Christian for many years, and now I am 37yr old male, I feel a burden for China. please help.

  2. Septimus May 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    We’re tryin man to get there asap! Had another Church take us on this morning. Good post. I’m 28, need to learn more Chinese, need more counsel no matter what age I am, and need more wisdom to be as effective as I can be. Even Moses accepted counsel from his father in law, sure enough there is safety in a multitude of counsel!

  3. Allen May 4, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    Right on! My wife and I came past 40 and I feel no defensiveness at all about what you wrote…you are spot on. God can use the older ones for sure, but you are right on the money about giving your best years for God. Thanks for writing this.

    • Vengador May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback, Allen! And for contributing your very helpful perspective here! It’s important that we maintain the validity and value of middle-aged couples heeding the call to go. But that doesn’t mean we can’t affirm the unique value of coming when younger, as you just have. If one had to be the exception and one had to be the rule, I think most missionaries would vote for the standard of missionaries coming younger. Unfortunately, the case is reversed (for long term missions, anyway).

  4. Sam January 28, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Hi there. I resonate with your post, but feel that you are overlooking perhaps the largest demographic of missionaries anywhere in the world – single women. If the only thing really needed are young couples, where does that leave the single women who have given not only their youth but for many, their possibility of marriage and a family (due to the drastic gender imbalance in the missions world)?

    • josh March 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

      Sam I would say some of the biggest heroes in missions are single women. But i think because of how many single women are on the mission field right now, it is even more evidence that guys and young couples need to get on the ball and go do missions… especially before they are 30! I don’t think he is selling the women short but emphasizing that more young people are needed.

  5. josh March 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    I love your post!
    Right now I am a 27 yr old and my wife and I have spent 4 of the last 5 years in China working on the campus’. The Lord is doing amazing things in the heart of the students there and more young people and western college students need to put legs to their beliefs and go reach the unreached. It is not a condemnation thing, but it should be an outflow of our love for Jesus and the sacrifice He made on the cross.

    So if you are reading this and are a 20 something and feel that God is asking you to go… make it happen. You won’t regret it. I know that I haven’t at all and am looking forward to many more years I can give to see God’s kingdom grow in Asia.

    • Jake March 29, 2013 at 7:32 am #

      Thanks, Josh! Great point – love towards Christ must overflow in a desire for the unreached to hear! Wonderful to hear about you and your wife’s work in China, too!

  6. Emily November 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    My husband and I laughed while reading this. You were so spot on. We are missionaries in the Middle East learning Arabic. We have been here for a month and are already seeing a long term vision because that’s what the work requires and what God has called us to. We are young (23 and 25) with no kids yet and so glad that we came when we did. To be able to take part in God’s work is the biggest blessing imaginable.

  7. Jonathan December 29, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    I am a native Chinese man. Like this post. Welcome to China mission field. Pray God bless you all.

  8. praymillennials November 10, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

    Reblogged this on Praying for the millennials.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 7 Reasons to Get to the Mission Field Before You’re 30 (from The Gospel in China blog) « jacksonwu - November 30, 2012

    […] Here are some good reasons why you should NOT wait for the kids to get older before getting on the mission field. This is a nice post by The Gospel in China, entitled 7 Reasons to Get to the Mission Field Before You’re 30. […]

  2. Great Posts: Seven Reasons to Get to the Mission Field Before You’re 30 | One Year Challenge - December 1, 2015

    […] From the Gospel in China: […]

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