I recently read in my son’s copy of Gordon MacDonald’s 2004 book A Resilient Life hoping to find some good quotes or stories about stewardship or generosity for teaching I’m preparing on stewardship. I did find several good quotes that were keepers, but the quote I want to address in this article is about retirement. I retired eleven months ago and I had thought, read, prayed and talked about retirement in preparation for retirement and during my eleven months of retirement. I was challenged to revisit retirement.
Pastor MacDonald was an adjunct instructor in the Pastoral Ministries Department at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary when I was in the Master of Divinity program. His course on pastoral ministry was very popular with the students. I liked his practical approach too. He was the senior pastor at Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts. It was a large thriving evangelical church. I remember him cautioning us about comparing ourselves with him since he had two or three decades on most of us. We wouldn’t help ourselves by making the comparison.
He wrote about eliminating ‘retirement’ from his vocabulary. I guess there will come a time in my life when I can follow his example in this matter, but for now, I’m still adding words to my vocabulary including retirement. Pastor MacDonald wrote, “A long time ago I dropped the word retirement out of my vocabulary. I don’t believe in it. In the aging process, slowing up in tandem with one’s diminishing strength might be necessary. But retirement suggests, at least to me, a transition from activity to inactivity, from giving to taking. Where in Scriptures does one find permission to do that? We are called, at all times of our lives, to be generous with our time.” (P. 88) He is clear on the specific definition of retirement he’s talking about, ceasing one’s life work. I shared his revulsion for that aspect of retirement before I retired as a corporate chaplain at First Rate, Inc. in March 2018.
As 2017 drew to a close and 2018 loomed as close as a sailing vessel to its destination harbor, I choose one word for 2018—Tranisition. I would be transitioning from a geographical location, from an employment status and from a marriage phase. Let me explain. My wife and I chose to build a retirement house on the Panhandle of Florida to live near her two sisters. We were moving from Texas to Florida. I also left full time employment to do who knows what. Lastly, we deployed my wife to Florida earlier than I moved there because a job opened up for her. We were separated for seven months, so reentering each other’s orbit was a challenge, especially since our temporary living quarters in Florida were a third floor studio in her oldest sister’s new house.
Pastor MacDonald’s dislike for the common understanding of retirement is a sentiment shared by many people. As a follower of Jesus before I retired I viewed my relationship with him as a 24/7/365 relationship. After retiring I still view it that way. Whether I’m employed or not, I still have my Master to serve, my Savior to love and obey, and fellow human beings to treat as I would want to be treated. Therefore, the word retirement is not permitted to define everything about my present status.
I still recall that the priests in the Jewish Tabernacle/Temple were to ‘retire’ at age 50(Numbers 8:25-26 NIV). However, they were permitted to give of their time and expertise. Another generation of priests was to take the reins of responsibility for the Tabernacle/Temple. The 50 and older priests could serve as mentors in our modern lingo.
Pastor MacDonald has remained active in serving the Lord Jesus. He hasn’t ‘retired’ from ministry. I commend him for not failing to live his vision of lifelong service for the Lord Jesus. His view of service seemed to be my father’s view too. My father retired more than once—military, private medical practice and corporate physician. He volunteered himself and my mother for two years of medical service in Malawi, Africa. They sold their residence, gave away a lot of their belongings and then fell in love with the Malawian people.
The retirees I presently rub shoulders with include our pastor who never attended seminary like I did to be trained for pastoral ministry. He retired from a “real” job, but served as a lay pastor to several churches when working in his career job and in his retirement. My retired brother-in-law helps lead a men’s group at our church, volunteers in a number of other ways, including recovery efforts following Hurricane Michael. His wife, my sister-in-law, leads a women’s Bible study group. She puts in extensive time preparing each session. These fine people, and so many others, call themselves retired, but they are anything but inactive.
My one year transition from full time employment to retirement is almost over. I’ve taken a part time job at the local grocery store that has served me to build friendships within the community and with a multitude of tourists. The transition time allowed me to assist with the house build, moving in and setting up the house. A couple months ago I accepted the opportunity to teach in India on stewardship in a Youth with a Mission Discipleship Training School. I use the words retirement, retired and retiree according to the way most people understand them, but I share Pastor MacDonald’s dislike of thinking inactivity is the lifestyle God calls us to when we transition from full time employment to post employment.
Will you keep retirementin your vocabulary? Each person can benefit by reflecting on Pastor MacDonald’s perspective. Take time to do your own preparation for retirement or transition. Think about what God wants of you in your next phase in life. God gives us life and breath to enjoy Him and all he’s created and to glorify him forever. How does God want you to do that whether retirementis in your vocabulary or not?