In the last two articles in this series, I made several observations in the course of establishing a pastoral strategy for the care of older members. The first was to argue that elders and deacons, not to mention preachers, have a heavy responsibility to care for those in nursing homes. Their special needs, brought about by displacement from their homes and degenerating health, require attention and especially encouragement. I also argued that in nursing homes, believers have a duty to one another and to others who do not know Christ. They are not to think of themselves merely as recipients of pastoral care, but as servants of Christ in that place.
The second observation was to argue that retirement years, even for those not in nursing facilities, bring significant changes that demand pastoral attention. These years can cause problems for the individual, perhaps for his marriage, and raise other serious temptations and challenges to the living of the Christian life. I concluded that second article with the opinion that “retirement” is a secular concept that has penetrated the church, and that in God’s Kingdom, there is to be no such thing. Christians do not retire from God’s service. They may change their main source of income, but they are never released from the service of the Master. In this concluding article, I want to develop that thought just a bit further, along with specific suggestions about the kinds of service that can be rendered by “retirees” in Christ’s church and Kingdom.
SERVICE WITHIN YOUR CAREER FIELD
Most people, upon reaching retirement years, have so much to offer that will now, apparently, never be utilized. It amazes me that only a few companies are tapping the resources, the steadiness, faithfulness and commitment of older “new” employees. I delight to see seniors working at McDonalds and Wal-Mart, and wonder why so many finns cut folks like this loose just because they reach a certain age. Better, it seems to me, to continue a relationship with such folks on a consultant basis, or on a part-time schedule. Several folks I know have such arrangements that allow them to use their years of experience and know-how in a reduced schedule format with their former employer. They continue to receive compensation, adjusted to accommodate Social Security earning limits. But more importantly, they continue to be involved in the use of the gifts and knowledge of a lifetime in the service of their Creator. And, we who are Reformed must never overlook this work-a-day world as the “garden” into which our God has placed us and within which we are called to offer Him service.
What can elders and deacons do in this regard? I’d like to think that your knowledge of and commitment to the utilization of God-given abilities among your people will lead you to encourage and challenge those people to keep up with knowledge advances in their field, to make themselves available to companies who might be farsighted enough to make use of them, or at the very least, consider service through volunteer organizations. SCORE (The Service Corps of Retired Executives) has a grand idea to utilize the accumulated experience and wisdom of retirees to advise and consult with new businesses. Perhaps the deacons of the church can develop such a concept themselves, if unable or unwilling to tap into the existing SCORE network directly.
SERVICE WITHIN THE CHURCH
How are you utilizing the skills, experience and abilities of older members in your church? Here’s a test for the deacons: take your church directory, and place a mark by the name of each member who is actively involved in a meaningful way in some ministry of the church (either within the body, or in an outward-directed witness to the world). Pay special attention to the retirees. You may find several striking things from such a process. Most likely, you’ll find that the 80/20 rule is valid (80% of the work in the local church is done by 20% of the people). Additionally, you’ll probably find that fewer retirees are actively involved than ought to be, given the time available to them and the gifts and talents entrusted to them.
How do you put such people to work? Although we could spend hows and many pages challenging deacons to find meaningful service matching each member’s gifts to needs and opportunities, I’ll limit my comments to the utilization of the gifts of the older members. (Do remember, deacons, that it has been my argument ever since I began writing this column some 4 years ago that the development of plans to use every member’s gifts lies at the heart of your official duties as deacons.) Let’s begin with ministry duties within the church. Why not utilize retired business folks to assist the deacons to provide stewardship training? Few could do a better job of teaching high schoolers about fiscal responsibility, or training young married couples about family budgeting, than those who have spent a lifetime living frugally. The elders likewise could use older couples to serve as marriage mentors. Ask young couples to meet with such folks monthly to talk, to share struggles, to ask questions about the adjustments and burdens inevitable in the first years. Or ask particularly gregarious older folks to assist in sponsoring your youth group. (No, I’m not kidding!) Or, to mention something touched on briefly last month, use older retirees to visit widows and widowers, to call on nursing home residents, and even do some routine hospital calling. Provide a bit of training, and put them to work!
Obviously, the above examples target tasks and duties that provide assistance for the elders and deacons, and expand the scope of the ministry of the church. More technical, committee-oriented involvement is also possible and valuable. Retired business folks are great “financial administrators” for the local church, managing the books, writing the checks, and assisting the finance committee/diaconate immeasurably. Men and women, irrespective of age, with construction knowledge or design abilities are naturals for property committees. Folks with a lifetime passion for gardening flourish when given responsibility (and the freedom that comes with trust) to take care of the grounds of the local church. Younger committee members would tend to contract the job out to a local landscape firm. Older members will put some blood, sweat and tears in the job themselves. Encourage them to go for it!
And finally, don’t ever forget long-term volunteerism. Some the work done by “second career” servants of Christ is remarkable. A retired plumber and former elder of an OPC from Florida recently was crucial in planting a church in the Dallas area. He and his wife a travel around as interant church planters, living in their trailer. Marvelous! Or how about the retired factory workers who devote a couple of months to assist in construction of homes in some diaconal enterprise in an impoverished area? Or the retired teacher who moves to the area of a new church to volunteer his/her life to the development of a dynamic church education program, possibly even leading up to the start of a Christian school.
Get the idea? I hope so. The only thing all these folks have in common is that they don’t buy the mistaken notion of “Kingdom retirement,” but accept as fact that they belong to the Lord—both during their money-making years and afterward.
A PERSONAL WORD TO THE RETIREES…
Before I wrap up this article (and the series of 3 of which it is part), I must speak to the older believers who may read this column, and not just about you. So, these final paragraphs are to be understood as a personal appeal.
I know it is difficult to get old. I have pastored in several congregations where a large part of my pastoral duties was directly related to ministry to elderly saints. It is not easy to face frailty, to see yow friends, and perhaps your spouse, die. It is not easy to struggle with loneliness. It is also very frustrating to me to see godly, gifted and dedicated people become ineffective and unused in the life of the church. I know that the church is sometimes at fault—ignoring or overlooking people simply because we assume you are not interested, or because we assume you are too old to do the work required. When that is the case, the church must repent. But it is also true that folks like you often reach retirement and willingly shelve yourselves. You decide “I’ve had enough,” or you become bitter and withdraw from involvement. Some of you hightail it to the sun country during the winters, during which time you do not make your self available to the church you attend there either. And some of you (pardon the blunt talk) become downright sinful, acting as if you are free from any obligation to the Lord or His church, acting as if you’ve “graduated.”
Such is not right, friend. I’ve said it before, and repeat it again: when you are in the service of Christ, there is no such thing as retirement. Your form of service may change—indeed in “retirement years,” you may well have far more time to devote to the church and Kingdom than when you were busy with your career and family—but the duty to be involved, to be willing and available, is never lifted from you. So, examine your heart and see whether selfish motivations have gripped you in your retirement years. If so, repent and recommit yourselves to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). God isn’t finished with you, and His gifts to the church that reside in you aren’t irrelevant or unnecessary. Get busy for Him!
Dr. Sittema, editor of this department, is pastor of the Bethel CRC, Dallas, TX.