Retirement: Another Stage of Growth


by Kel Willis

Part 1 of a series on Retirement

Interact Magazine 1990
Volume 1 Number 4

In Vol 1 No 2 of Interact we raised the question of what place retirees have in our churches.

Few responded, and those who did said that apart from providing ‘Senior Citizens’ activities, they had no strategy for involving retirees in the life of the church. There is obviously a need to come to grips with this issue, and so this is the first of two articles that we hope will get us thinking and give some direction.

I recently met the daughter of a family I knew over 20 years ago. I remembered her father as quite an old man, but was somewhat surprised to realise as we talked together that I am older now than her father was then! The sense of getting older was reinforced when my 5 year-old granddaughter asked me how old I was. ‘I’m 53,’ I replied. After thinking for a moment, she looked at me and said, ‘Grandpa, that’s very old, isn’t it!’ It was hard to explain to her that age is relative and that most of the time I don’t feel my age.

Oswald Saunders (in his mid-80’s and still doing an itinerant Bible Teaching ministry) wrote in the N.Z. Reaper that ‘age is about attitude and not about arteries’. The fact is that some people are old at 50 and others are still relatively young at 75. Some people at 60 are effectively dead bur aren’t buried until years later. What is ‘old’? It seems to me that is is when …

  • you have no personal vision for the future

  • you feel the best years of your life are over

  • you are no longer a discovering, growing person

  • you spend your life longing for a return to the past

  • you constantly affirm your oldness

Our western culture tends to think of age in chronological terms, and so we retire at 60 or 65 because at that age we are deemed to be past our productive years. Both statistically and historically this reasoning is false. Indeed many of history’s greatest men produced their finest achievements after the age of 60. Oswald Sanders states that 64% of the world’s greatest achievements were accomplished by those over 60 years of age. This should encourage us to think more positively not only about our own future, but also about the great potential of retirees in our local congregation.

John Wesley in his 86th year preached in every county in both England and Wales. he often rode his horse 30-50 miles a day and preached twice almost every day! Donald McGavran, who died this year at 93, was asked last year why he kept a constant preaching program. He replied that to preach he had to study and prepare, and in doing this he discovered more and more of the wonders of God and His grace. In these discoveries he grew, and he didn’t ever want to stop growing as a Christian! Such an attitude should be in all of us at all ages.

Many people end their working lives when they reach their ‘retirement age’ and simply vegetate. perhaps feeling that because they’ve worked hard all their lives and contributed their taxes to the system, they now have a right to take things easy and let the system take care of them. This attitude simply condemns people to a lifestyle of non-growth and non-achievement, to a mentality of waiting to die, when in fact the latter years have the potential to open up for us whole new opportunities and dimensions of living. The key will largely be in our attitudes to, and perceptions of, life and its purpose. I like this quote from Horace Kallen:

‘There are persons who shape their lives by the fear of death, and persons who shape their lives by the joy and satisfaction of life. The former live dying: the latter die living.’

Christians, above all people, ought to die living life to its fullest.

Many large corporations today are pushing their staff into early retirement at 55. Statistically this corresponds with a steep rise in suicide for men in the 55 to 65 age bracket. We need to understand that our significance is not primarily found in our work place or business. Indeed what you do or possess does not determine who you are; rather this is ultimately determined by the quality of your life and character. You and I will be remembered by the kind of person we were, not by what we accumulated or achieved.

The Bible never speaks of retirement as we know and define it. Rather it speaks of ‘pressing on’ and finishing the race of life. It affirms the constant goal of the believer to be conformed to the image of Christ (Gal.1:15,16). The Apostle Paul was probably in what we would consider to be retirement age when he wrote, ‘forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus’. What we should be thinking of in our ministry to those facing retirement is the developing and fostering of this attitude.

What tremendous resource we have in the church in people who are ‘retired’ – the years of experience, the opportunities for service left, and the potential for godly modelling before younger members of the church. Our goal in ministry to potential retirees should be to equip them for this next stage in their lives, and to encourage them to see this as a positive time of great potential for growth and service. Oswald Sanders wrote: ‘Retirement should not be viewed as a terminus but as a junction leading to a new career or other opportunities … For the Christian, retirement is a divinely-given opportunity for new achievements.’

The next article on the Christian and retirement will look at some practical ways to equip and involve retired people in the life of the local church. If you have been able to involve retirees in effective ways in your church, why not drop a line and tell us about it.

Something to Think About

‘Age doesn’t matter, unless you are cheese’

Billie Burke

‘This is the true joy of life … being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap … instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.’

George Bernard Shaw

Rev Kel Willis is the Director of Christian Growth Ministries Inc. 

© Kel Willis (1 March 1991)

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