News Articles

Today’s ’30-year bonus’: What will you do with it?

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Two scenes recently witnessed:

— An investment counselor asks a group of Christian workers what they want from retirement. “Not to have to work!” one quickly replies. Another looks forward to traveling. A third responds: “I just want to maintain my standard of living.”

— A middle-aged Southern Baptist on a volunteer mission trip stands on a street corner in a city teeming with millions of people — but only a handful of Christians. A successful businessman and smart investor, he’s already thinking early retirement. He whispers to a fellow volunteer, “My wife and I could move here” — and help reach this lost megacity for Christ.

What’s wrong with the first scene? Nothing. The answers are what you would expect from folks hoping for a secure, enjoyable retirement. But the businessman wants more: to use his approaching freedom to go on mission with God.

America’s 82 million baby boomers (born 1946-1964) are getting older. They started turning 50 in 1996; an estimated 21 million of them will have passed that milestone by the end of 2001. But time hasn’t dimmed their desire to change the world — or to be the “first generation” to do all kinds of things.

Thanks to the nation’s long economic boom, they’re certainly the first generation to be able to afford early retirement in significant numbers. They also are the first generation to seriously challenge the whole concept of aging.

Average life expectancy for Americans is nearing 80 years — up from 47 a century ago. Millions of older boomers are healthy and well off, and that gives them many choices of how to spend their extra years.

In his recent book “The Third Age: 6 Principles for Growth and Renewal after Forty,” William Sadler calls this gift of time a 30-year “life bonus.” He spent years studying people who’ve decided to pursue an exciting “second growth” rather than accepting traditional notions of late middle age.

“If we come under the spell of aging, we will set aside ambition, anticipation, passion, idealism, and discovery,” Sadler writes. “I contend that we should not deny aging, but rather transform it with a new growth process.

“We have the chance to create a second half of life that is very different from what our parents or grandparents experienced. Instead of being diminished by time, our lives can become richer. It all depends on how we spend it … . This constitutes the third age, a new frontier with tremendous potential for growth.”

More than 4 million American boomers over age 50 are evangelical Christians, according to Finishers Project, an agency that mobilizes boomers for missions. Many of those are Southern Baptists, and International Mission Board enlistment specialists are eager to tell them about service opportunities.

“The 50-65 age group is one we’re really focusing on, because that’s going to be the largest segment of our population in the next 15 years,” says Randy Rains, IMB associate vice president for mission personnel. “A lot of these folks are at a point where their children are launched from home, and they don’t have to worry about the money thing anymore. Their drive is to do something meaningful.”

One man counseled by Rains had completed a military career, then quickly risen from managing a retail store department to overseeing the whole store. “He’s in his early 50s, has lots of logistical and administrative skills, but told me, ‘There’s got to be more to life than managing a retail store.’ So he and his wife are going to Africa,” Rains reports.

The IMB Masters Program, introduced in 1999, is designed for Southern Baptists like him: age 50 and over, sensing God’s leading toward missions and willing to serve a two- or three-year term. More than 230 Masters had been approved for service by late 2000.

Shorter terms are available through the board’s International Service Corps (ISC), an umbrella category that includes Masters. More than 1,000 ISC missionaries over age 50 were commissioned for up to two years during the ’90s. By late last year, nearly 350 ISCers age 50 and over were serving overseas — a third of the total ISC force. Some of them have served multiple terms.

On the mission field, they’re stable, valuable partners for career missionaries. “What these folks bring to the table is a real sense of maturity and world experience,” observes Glenn Prescott, leader of the board’s ISC/Journeyman Mobilization Team.

They bring another advantage, said Rains:

“Because of their age and the color of their hair — or their lack of hair — they have built-in respect, because in most cultures age is respected. That’s a quality only time can give.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: EXCITING NEW OPPORTUNITY. For more information on Masters and ISC mission service opportunities through the International Mission Board, call 1-888-I CAN GO, e-mail [email protected] or click on www.imb.org.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges