Retirement: Another Stage of Growth
Part 2 of a series on Retirement
by Kel Willis
Interact Magazine 1991
Volume 2 Number 1
Medical experts tell us that our physical decline begins at about 28 years of age and from there it gathers momentum. This thought probably pulls most of us up with a bit of a start! Of course the rate of decline varies from person to person depending upon diet, exercise, stress, attitudes to life and genetic tendencies within our bodies. However it’s commonly accepted in our culture that somewhere around the age of 60-65 the decline has brought one to the end of one’s useful working life and so we either choose or are forced to retire.
After retirement there is for many a decline in both status (often derived from one’s vocation) and financial resources as income decreases. By far the worst decline occurs in the minds of those who accept that their useful lives are indeed now over. The fear of old age with all of its associated problems sets in. This problem is often compounded by feelings of rejection and loss of value, because so much of our culture is geared to those who are ‘young’. This can be especially so in our churches where an over-emphasis upon ministering to the younger members of our congregation can have the effect of displacing retirees. They can be made to feel a mere addendum to the church’s activities.
Quality of life at any age is dependent upon a number of factors including a clear sense of meaning and purpose, a perception of personal worth and value (both from God’s perspective and from others’), secure lasting relationships, the opportunity to contribute and be contributed to and, not least, being needed. If these things aren’t found in the life of our local church which talks so much about love, fellowship, acceptance etc., then where can they be found?
There are obviously a number of things that retirees can be encouraged to do themselves to make the years of retirement a growing time in their lives. The first is to totally reject the view that retirement is the terminus of their active and useful lives. It ought to be embraced as simply another stages in the process of growing up in Christ.
The second thing is to take an active interest in other people. In my late teens one of those who made a life-changing impact on me was a godly man in his seventies. He prayed for and with a group of young men in our church and took a personal interest in us, encouraging us to grow and develop our gifts.
Thirdly, every stage of life is to be enjoyed, the retirement years no less than others. Having said that, we must recognise that a life that is empty before 65 will not suddenly become full and significant at retirement. As a first step in any strategy to encourage retirees, leaders should be sure that there are structures in place to clearly teach people how to live and enjoy their Christian lives.
Fourthly, retirees should look for new opportunities to develop their gifts and abilities to contribute to others. It’s people who keep discovering, who keep growing.
There are also things that church leaders ought to be doing to tap into the potential resource of retirees, and to helps prepare and encourage them for meaningful involvement with the body of Christ in these years of opportunity:
1. Promote a Biblical view of retirees in our churches.
This will mean giving them a greater level of recognition and respect. People usually respond out of their perception of our view of them, and the last thing that retirees need is to feel patronised. ‘Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God’ (Lev.19:32). Many retirees have much to offer in terms of advice and counsel. Job 12:12 says, ‘Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?’
2. Promote the ideal that retirees are to be godly models for those who are younger (Tit.2:13).
3. Encourage retirees to see the unique opportunities among their peers for both pastoral care and evangelism.
The Psalmist in 92:12-14 said, ‘the righteous will bear fruit in old age.’ This will mean that the congregation will need to be educated to see that pastoral care and visitation are not the exclusive responsibility of ‘the minister’. One church I know of has a training program to equip people to do pastoral care. A number doing the course are in the older age bracket. Other churches conduct ‘activity mornings’ in order to foster contact with retirees in their community. Activities may include craft, games, outings etc. all of which provide an opportunity for meaningful input. In one church I know of, a group of retirees are reaching their peers through the ‘Christianity Explained’ course.
4. Survey your community.
How many people aged 50, 60, 70+ live in your community? Are there social problems, shut-ins, lonely people, needs that aren’t being met? What needs can you as a church meet, especially using your retirees?
5. Encourage retirees to see their potential.
What are their specific gifts and abilities? In one church I know there is an abundance of potted plants, ferns and flowers. A retired couple have taken it as a part of their ministry to beautify the church for Sunday worship, which has an effect on the whole congregation. In another church a retired missionary keeps the children (and adults) on the edge of their seats with a real life story from the mission fields for a few minutes on Sunday mornings.
6. Start a prayer chain using retirees as key personnel.
I have seen this work well in a number of churches. The prayer chain consists of a group of no more than 8, with a co-ordinator to whom prayer needs are given at specific times (perhaps daily, 3 times/week, or as needed) by the pastor or those in need. The co-ordinator at a specified time (say 6am) phones two others, who in turn phone two others, etc. The co-ordinator may be a retiree. In one church I know all the prayer chain members are retirees, and some churches have 3 or 4 prayer chains. The value of this arrangement is that those involved feel an integral part of the life of the church and the prayer chain is of immense value as a support for the pastoral team. A key is to keep the prayer chain members informed, especially to encourage them when prayers are clearly answered.
We have a dear friend in her nineties who prays at 4am every day for Christian workers and feels very much a part of their ministry (2 Cor.1:11).
7. Develop a long-term strategy for equipping people.
People should be encouraged to be active contributors to others at each stage of their lives, so that there will be a natural continuation of this at retirement.
The point I want to make is that preparation for the effective involvement of retirees in ministry is something that should begin well before retirement with input that will both encourage and equip them for their present and long-term ministry.
I recognised that we’ve just scratched the surface of the issue of retirees in the church. However I hope we’ve prompted your thinking to at least rethink your church’s attitude and involvement with people who are either retired or who will be in the near future.
Rev Kel Willis is the Director of Christian Growth Ministries Inc.
© Kel Willis (1 March 1991)