Editorial: Revisioning Retirement

A couple of days ago I heard the statistic of how many baby boomers are retiring each day.  I forget the estimate, but it was huge.  I’ve also been thinking about those clergy who will soon be retiring in my denomination.  And as I approach my 64th birthday in about six months, I too realize that I have fewer laps to run than I have run.  All these things combine to give me thoughts about retirement.

By and large, what I often find—especially in the clergy—are people who try to “extend” themselves.  They look for churches where they can continue to do the things they have become so accustomed to doing.  In the academy I often see the same tendencies, as professors try to keep teaching as long as they possibly can.  In the business world, I meet people who become consultants after they retire.  All these are examples of “extending” ourselves.

None of these things are wrong, and they may be God’s will.  But I no longer believe that “extension” is the only way.  I believe God calls many of us (most of us?) to revision retirement and view it as a phase to “expand” our lives—to take our talents, gifts, and years of experience, but apply them in new settings and with new people.

My professional context has been ordained ministry, so my illustrations apply there.  But you can do similar thinking in whatever way you have lived your life.

For example, there are people in nursing homes who have no family.  We can visit them.  There are grieving persons who have no one to walk along with them in that grief.  We can care for them.  There are non-profit organizations who need all kinds of help.  We can offer our services.  If our health is good, there are all sorts of places we can go to invest ourselves for the benefit of others.  We do not have to just “keep doing what we have always done.”

The point is, a revisioning of retirement can enable us to see an “expansion” of our lives, not merely the “extension” of them.  If you are coming up to retirement, or you know someone who is, prayerfully ask God to give you a new vision of what you can do in the Kingdom.  The God who says, “I make all things new” may indeed have something new for you to do.  Don’t lock yourself into a U-Turn mentality; look with the spirit of Dr. Seuss who said, “Oh, the places you will go!”

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Editorial: Revisioning Retirement

  1. My father is a perfect example of expansion. In his retirement, he’s not only pastored a congregation, but the Rotary as well; the morning coffee shop and in the elementary school classroom; the latest (I think) is as chaplain of the local police department.

    He’s taught me so much about finding a “pulpit” in all stations of life, whether big or small. I’m glad for his shining example.


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