Retirement – the heart of the matter

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For most, if not all men their jobs need them but they also need their jobs, not just for financial benefit but for a sense of worth. When two men meet for the first time what is one of the first questions they ask? “What do you do for a living?” We need to know this so we can place some sort of value on the person we are meeting – is he going to be a useful contact? Is he important? Is it going to be interesting to talk to him? A little sad this, but true nevertheless.

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We generally see our occupations, and more particularly our work titles, as ascribing value to us. Now, when two church pastors meet for the first time, say at a ministers fraternal, the question is a little different. Instead of “what do you do for a living?” the question most frequently asked is “How big is your church?” What a strange question, if you think about it a little: whose church is it anyway, and why does ‘big’ equate to greater value?

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For pastors, our occupation not only provides a sense of personal worth but also of identity. We get so immersed in the life of the local church that its life overlaps with our personal, and even family life. We, as individuals, get blended with and subsumed by the church we serve. So, when pastors retire they have to deal not only with a sense of diminished worth, but with loss of identity. “Who am I? If I am no longer a pastor, then who the hang am I?”

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I have found, to my surprise that the problems associated with retirement are more matters of the heart than of the head. I planned my retirement from the local church payroll two years ago and then attempted to prepare myself, my wife, and the congregations for this ‘event’. All went well until it registered on me that I only had a few months left in full time pastoral employment. At this point my heart decided to rebel against my head. My head said, “It is all right and good and you are being very sensible about everything”, but my heart retorted, “Yes but I feel sad and … unvalued… and I don’t think I know who I am anymore.” Now if you are under 50 years old you are probably shaking your head slightly from side to side; but if you are over 65 the likelihood is that you are shaking your head up and down – right?

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Little things become, well, not so little. You have to throw away your calling cards and rubber stamps, change your Facebook profile, email signature, details on the church bulletin and website, and so on. All of these little actions bring back the question of identity. Of course, for a Christian this is all very silly – we know that our identity is in Christ Jesus, and that our worth lies in His appreciation for us … but the dilly heart just doesn’t quite get this.

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Now, people are asking me a different question; “What are you going to do now that you are retiring?” I wonder what sort of answer they expect. “Well, I plan to sit on my couch in my vest and underpants watching TV for endless hours.” My wife dearly hopes that I will take up landscape painting, bridge, and gardening, but in reality a retiring church minister has no end of things he can do – my list includes some 16 writing projects, playing guitar in a worship group, itinerant preaching, and so on. The problem is not what to do but who will do it, and will he feel like doing it? “Who are you and what have you done with Christopher?”

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This post might seem a little ‘blue’ but next week I will write about some spiritual insights I have received concerning the retirement process. If you find these ruminations interesting then please comment so I know – otherwise I will leave this topic now and move on to something else.

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14 Responses

  1. Hi Chris .It is with great appreciation we think back on the truthful and spirit inspired
    Teaching we received, while worshipping at the village church . The first started ” One is a gun’ and then the one which really. Made me stop to think and grow ” prayer power and proclamation “. Fred is also at that place,without work,wondering what the Lord ‘s plan for us is? We wish you and Pat well in your retirement .it has been great reading your view on the subject.

    • chrispeppler@telkomsa.net

      Thank you Jean – best wishes to both of you. We still miss you.

  2. Philip Nicholson

    One reason I look forward to retirement – some 13 years away – is the opportunity it creates for full-time ministry. In the case of ministers, should they not see it as an opportunity for a different kind of ministry, such as teaching at a college part-time, or as in your case, writing?

    One thing that saddens me is how under-utilized retired believers are, or, perhaps more accurately, how retirees under-utilize the opportunity for ministry to others and to mission or ministry agencies. One obvious example that comes to mind is mission agencies who need administration/strategic support but do not have the resources to employ them, and potential “missionaries” who can fufill that role struggle to raise the support because it is not overseas or cutting edge work. This is where believers supported by their pension can fill the gap and plough back invaluable experience and expertise.

    In general, for believers retirement should just be another phase of ministry. Perhaps we are too moulded by secular thinking that retirement is a time of rest or just fulfilling one’s own needs and ambitions. Yet I have never heard a sermon challenging this mindset.

    I think one reason why the NT does not address retirement is that in ancient history there was no social security system and so everyone was expected to work until too physically disabled. All believers should adopt the same mindset and persevere in ministry and service to others until it is no longer physically possible.

    • chrispeppler@telkomsa.net

      Yes, of course you are correct. There are more than enough opportunities before me and other ‘retiring’ Christian ministers. There is however a distinct transition between full time paid ministry and whatever the Holy Spirit leads one into after that. Retirement scores 9th on a list of some 43 stress factors and an index of 45 compared to a Jail term stress index of 63. I agree with your comments, but I have chosen to write about the mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of retirement because they are very real and seldom spoken of. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Hi Philip,

      I found your comments interesting, and surprisingly strong. Were you and I in full-time ministry or dealing with having to go through the process of retiring, our perspectives may be quite different.

      I’d imagine that those who are personally acquainted with Chris, who know his love for the local church, and know his passion for serving Jesus, understand something of the heart-rending process he must be going through. I’m certain he will be a blessing post-retirement as he continues to minister both within the local church and beyond.

      I also found your last comment fascinating. I wonder how many people plan or desire to continue in their full-time jobs until they are no longer physically able to do so. I’d imagine not many at all! Perhaps we have unreasonable expectations of those in full-time ministry, largely due to a lack of understanding of what it actually entails…

  3. Good morning. I really enjoy your posts though I don’t comment. I have always wondered what a retired pastor does because frankly, you cannot retire from God’s work. You just retired from the post. You are a lifetime pastor:). Thank you for all your teachings. Looking forward to the spiritual insights. Have a blessed week.

  4. Glen Jordaan

    Chris, you have accurately penned some of the feelings many of us encounter when our formal working life ends. Both the question of value and the ability to support become issues that despite the Christian injunctions, do seem to plague our thoughts and ego’s. The statement “in God we trust” does take on a very different meaning.

  5. Hi Chris, there’s many a “Baby Boomer” facing the stark reality of being time rich in the near future. Sharing some insights regarding the retirement process should prove useful for pre and post retirees, and especially the spouses.

  6. carlos caldas

    Chris …. Most of us always called you Chris and not Pastor Chris for no doubt your identidy is in Christ JESUS. The best is yet to come .Philipians 3 v13 . thanks for your post . GOD bless you Carlos

  7. Peter Brand

    Wonderful and insightful article Chris – as always 🙂 I am one of those who perhaps reacted negatively to the news that you were going on pension and for that that I apologize unreservedly. My reaction was based on a sense of loss rather than anything else. We all move from season to season in our lives and those seasons are perhaps not all clinically structured and well defined with job titles and such. The Lord blessed you with such a fabulous talent Chris and I know you have your ears close to the Holy Spirit. Journey into this new season in your life in peace. I am looking forward to reading more of these posts and those writing projects and joining you for the odd breakfast at Fournos!! Love Peter 🙂

    • chrispeppler@telkomsa.net

      Thank you dear friend – yes I too look forward to breakfast at Fournos… but does it have to be only once a year? 🙂

  8. Marne Greenway

    Hi Chris,
    Retirement is a huge change, but it is surprising how quickly one adapts to the new lifestyle! In Australia the retirement age keeps getting extended so I made the decision at the beginning of this year to retire earlier, and I have never been busier nor happier with the new lifestyle! Life is short and I decided to enjoy it while I still felt fit and -if I waited till 70 I would have been exhausted from 20 yrs of nursing! Landscape painting can be fun…. Best wishes to Pat and the rest of the Family and all the best for 2015!

  9. Philip Nicholson

    I think Adam you are correct in concluding that I don’t fully appreciate what full-time pastoral ministry involves. In fact, I think most laity don’t appreciate the workload that ministers have and the spiritual and emotional burdens that go with it; many tend to have unrealistic expectations of ministers and I’d guess ministers have to find a way of dealing with that.

    I’m not suggesting that believers should continue with full-time work without retiring. What I’m lamenting is the possible perception that retirement is nothing other than leisure in pursuit of full-time rest. I’m suggesting that part of preparing for retirement is seeking new opportunities for ministry, not necessarily full-time, but in contributing to the Great Commission, given the huge and endless needs around us for hope and ministry in love. Indeed, ministry should be part of our work-life anyway.

  10. Pieter Fourie

    Thank you for your personal and honest view/perspective of your own retirement. It is always easy(ier) to wish someone else “A happy retirement”. If God is gracious to grant me a few more years, I hope to be productive for Him until 80. I wish you the same Chris. We all (and South Africa) need your walk in Jesus’ footsteps – so that we can follow.
    I agree with Carlos. We all know you as Chris (although Christopher also has a nice ring to it 🙂 ) a follower of Jesus.

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