Sound Words: Rethinking Retirement

Sound WordsFor many, “the good life” is a comfortable existence until age 65 and then a carefree existence thereafter. Retirement is “the promised land” where work is over and years of self-indulgence, travel, and relaxation await. Unfortunately, few give any thought to whether or not the Scriptures speak to that modern idea of retirement. They do.

Consider Luke 12:13–21. A man complains to Jesus that his brother is hoarding a family inheritance—the very sort of controversy that continues to divide families in our day! Jesus isn’t impressed by the complaint or the man’s request that He intervene. Instead Christ suggests that he is both greedy and shallow, warning him against covetousness and telling him that the essence of one’s life has nothing to do with his possessions (12:15). He then tells a parable that has “the American Dream” written all over it (12:16–21).

A wealthy farmer had been blessed with more than he needed. His barns (and bank accounts, if you will) were full (12:16). Yet, in a scene right out of the book of Ecclesiastes, the man refused to enjoy or share his substance and instead was troubled by his inability to amass even more (12:17). Finally, he determined to tear down his perfectly good barns and build others that would be larger (12:18). Why? What was his goal? His own words provide the answer:

“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (12:19).

Having “ample goods laid up for many years” may be prudent (Prov 6:6–11; 30:25). However, the man’s desire wasn’t merely to be secure and avoid burdening others; it was selfishness. “Relax,” he said. “Eat, drink, be merry.” In other words, live like a workaholic today in order to live like a hedonist tomorrow.

Rather than commending the man, God called him a fool and vowed to take his life that very evening (12:20). His plan to heap up treasure for future use—especially because it revealed his selfishness and self-reliance—brought Christ’s condemnation (12:21).

Of course, retiring from “the work force” isn’t a bad thing. If your pension, social security, and/or investments allow you to live without working for a normal salary, wonderful! Retire. Just don’t retire to a life of golf, gardening, and grandkids. Most retirees have many years—indeed, decades—of usefulness ahead of them. Begin planning now to use them for the good of Christ’s church! Here are some suggestions:

  • Help your church with administration, maintenance, secretarial duties, visitation, or discipleship. Look for opportunities to use the very skills that served you so well in your career in the local church. Ask your pastor where you can have an impact.
  • Invest yourself in younger believers. Befriend them. Disciple them. Pray for them. Teach them how to budget or parent or teach. Allow the church to benefit from your years of walking with Christ. (cf. Prov 16:31; 20:29; Titus 2:3ff.)
  • Think even more radically: move and help a church planter. Move abroad and help a missionary. Indeed, move abroad and be a missionary!

Whatever specific ministry (or ministries!) you pursue, resist the mindset that says the goal of life is to work now and play later—both for Christ’s sake and for your own. Many a retiree has stopped working only to fall into an emotional, spiritual, or physical funk. There’s a reason for that. God created us to be productive for His glory. The church needs the ministry of retirees, and retirees need to minister.

Retirees, use your newfound freedom to serve the Lord! Retire from your job, not from life or ministry. Workers, minister now and plan to minister with an even greater focus when the Lord allows you to stop working 40-plus hours a week for your employer. Finally, pastors, teach your flock that their greatest usefulness may actually lie ahead: help them plan for their futures with an open mind and an open Bible. Help them rethink retirement.


“Sound Words” is a monthly column in the OBF Visitor, the publication of The Ohio Bible Fellowship. This article was first printed in September 2008. It is cross-posted from the OBF Visitor blog, where many other articles are posted and may be searched by author, category and keyword. Information on subscribing to the Visitor is available here.


7 Responses

  1. Amen, my friend. What a waste it is to spend all (or most) of one’s retirement years in leisure when they could be so greatly used by the Lord. Speaking from personal experience, I have been wonderfully blessed by God to have retirees that were an unbelievable help and encouragement to me in church planting. I cannot adequately express the blessing that a devoted retiree can be to a church planter. Great stuff.

    You could have left golf out of the conversation; but the rest of it was good.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree! In fact, we would love to have some people like that to come out here to CA to help us as we help our church get “re-started”!

  3. So the church planters all agree that retirees should help church plants…in our unbiased opinions. :)

  4. I wholeheartedly agree, Chris. We’re still in our 50s and love what the Lord has called us to do. I’m not really sure if retirement is even a reality for us, given the state of Social (IN)Security and what the recent economic woes have done to the paltry little retirement fund we had (which is even less now after a loss of 30% last quarter!).

    We trust the Lord as we try to make plans, all the while taking one day at a time. If the Lord allows us to retire, we look at it as a liberation to do some of the short term missions work, volunteer work, etc. that we can do only sparingly now because of the realities of teaching’s being more than a 40-hour a week job. :-)

    It’s been wonderful to see some retirees we know still going full-tilt in service and ministry for the Lord, but it’s also been a disappointment to see so many give themselves to what seems to be almost total self-indulgence. (Some of those are retired pastors!) Being Christian teachers, we will probably never have the wherewithal to be self-indulgent someday, but we don’t view that as a problem. We don’t desire that way of life.

    I hope pastors will consider this for themselves. (Some don’t and/or haven’t. I’m sure being a pastor is tough, but come on, guys!) I hope they will also urge the retirees in their flock as well as those approaching retirement to consider the wonderful opportunity the Lord is giving them to be in “full-time Christian service” after a career that has limited the time they’ve had available to serve.

  5. Thanks for these thoughts. This is foreign thinking to many Americans. I pray that people will take your advice and “rethink retirement.”

  6. […] Words: Rethinking Retirement Some More Posted on April 1, 2009 by Chris In the last Sound Words column, I applied Luke 12:13–21 to the topic of retirement, urging readers not to retire from life and […]

  7. Good friends of ours from Westerville just retired down here in Knoxville. They were always active in their local church up north. As we were having dinner with them last week, they were talking about visitation, running the children’s ministry, choir, counseling a week at Peniel (which they did before retirement as well)… They’ve been here for 3 months and they’re already having a huge impact on their new local church!

    Mom is the same way. She has a good pension and when she’s not running after grandkids, she’s in the nursery or choir or visiting the elderly shut-ins or baking something for someone.

    Great examples of “retirement.” I can’t wait to retire like that! But I think many (including myself) struggle with the thought, “When I retire I’ll have all kinds of time to serve God.” But we don’t serve him in the present. One thing about the two examples mentioned above is that they served God when they were working full time and rearing children.

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