Retirement: Meaningful vocation or perpetual vacation?

Beryl Jantzi is director of Stewardship Education for Everence.

It’s been suggested that retirement is now divided into three stages: the Go-Go Stage, the Slow-Go Stage and the No-Go Stage.

My parents worked hard and in their middle 60s, sold the farm and entered the Go-Go Stage. This stage included their annual migration between Sarasota, Florida, and New York, which lasted about 15 years. While in Florida, they would volunteer on almost a daily basis at a local retirement community. They fed residents who needed help with eating and did other things to lend a hand around the campus. It was meaningful work that brought a side benefit of developing good relationships with many they grew to love and who loved them in return.

In a recent article, Michelle Van Loon talks about retirement as meaningful vocation rather than a permanent vacation.

When I saw this, I thought of my parents.

Van Loon notes that many middle- and upper-class members of the “greatest generation” could reasonably expect retirement at 65, a modest-but-secure income comprised of Social Security benefits and workplace pension, and a downshift from full-time employment to days filled with golf, card games and travel.

But times are changing. Many Boomer pastors may not be able to enjoy retirement like our parents. Finances are a concern for pastors, as well as for many others in our congregations. Boomers were never great savers, and the financial rollercoaster of the last 10 years disrupted many well-thought-out plans. A report from The Motley Fool captured some worrisome statistics about this age group:

  • 59 percent are relying on Social Security to be a primary source of retirement income.
  • 45 percent have no retirement savings.
  • 30 percent have postponed their retirement plans because they can’t afford to stop working.
  • 44 percent are carrying significant amounts of consumer and mortgage debt.

A 2015 survey conducted by Bellomy Consultants on behalf of Everence and funded by Lilly Endowment confirms these findings.

The challenge is to do all we can with what we have, but maybe to begin dreaming some new dreams as well.

As we Boomers begin thinking about retirement, maybe a new model is not only required, but actually could be good news. Good news for us, as well as others whom God will bring into our path as we shift from formal ministry to the meaningful vocation of part-time work rather than perpetual vacation. Maybe the conversation about vocation shouldn’t end if and when our careers do.

Many Boomers (who are reaching age 65 at a pace of 10,000 per day) do not want to withdraw from society and lead a life filled with bingo and golf. In an earlier era, when peopled worked to age 65 and died at 70, that may have been more attractive. Boomers are the first generation that could realistically count on living into their mid-80s.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, noted that the word “retirement” does not appear in the Bible. What Scripture does emphasize is the concept of transition. There is nothing that says we work most of our lives and then get to be “only about me” for the next 20 years.

As long as our hearts are beating, God has plans and a purpose for our lives. The call to serve God and others never changes.

God did not create us to enjoy an extended vacation. God created us to love, serve and live out a unique calling.