Luce was ordained in 1897 and sent to China by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in the same year. In total, he spent 31 years in the country, where his four children, including Henry R. Luce, were born.
Luce was a professor at Cheeloo University in Jinan, China, where he led fundraising efforts and served as vice president for a short time. He also helped to initiate the Yale-in-China Association. In 1928, he accepted a professorship at the Kennedy School of Missions in Hartford, Connecticut. He held this position until his retirement in 1935 .