Retirement, shmirement

Longer ago than I care to contemplate, the late Bishop Bill Burnett and I shared the leadership of a yearly conference called ‘Fan the Flame’ held at Carmel by the Sea, Victoria Bay. He handled the teaching and I led the worship. The next item on the calendar of their conferences was something like ‘Preparing for retirement’. I was in my thirties at the time but Bishop Bill had in fact already retired and could well have stayed on and taught at that conference as well. Now I am within days of retiring and my mind keeps playing with the question; ‘What does retirement mean for a full-time Christian minister?’ Let me share some of my thoughts with you.

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I have often heard it expressed that a minister should never really retire, but should persevere until he dies in glory in the pulpit, as it were. Perhaps some especially blessed individuals could do this, but I doubt that this is usually in the best interest of the church. Even the most Spirit-filled church leaders tend to get ridged and even narrow in their old age. Others find it near impossible to let younger leaders get on with the sacred task of guiding the church and, despite their great love for the family of God, they sometimes end up bringing disunity and even death to their congregations. On the other hand, seasoned ministers have learned a lot, experienced a lot, and learned a lot (O dear have I said that already?) Did I mention that elderly ministers tend to forget what they have done and said, especially the not so flattering aspects.

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I have also heard the claim that the Bible makes no mention of retirement, so why do we entertain such an unscriptural concept? The New Testament contains no direct teachings regarding ministerial retirement. Not surprising: The Lord Jesus died at about 33 years of age, the Apostles were young men, and the Acts account spans just forty years. However, the Old Testament does contain an account that contains some interesting insights into the subject. Judges chapter eight, from verse 22, is the record of Gideon’s retirement, and it seems that he set up a religious idol in his hometown that resulted in the rapid decline of the nation. It appears to be a story of retirement with strings attached. Hmmmm.

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The real issue that immerged during my deliberations is that the decision when and how to retire needs to be an honest response to the question; ‘What is in the best interests of the local church?’ When a senior minister retires from full time service he lifts a substantial financial weight from the church. With the funds released, the new leaders are able to employ others, fund outreaches, and so on. Handled well, this benefit to the church need not mean a loss of expertise, experience and knowledge. The retiring minister can offer sage advice (when asked, of course), preach (when requested) and fill in ministry holes across a wide range of church tasks. I have made myself available to preach and teach but I am also brushing up on my musical skills so that I can be available to our worship leaders. If needed, I could handle some of the counselling load that often crushes younger ministers. I intend to write academic and ministry related articles, continue blogging, and working with the faculty of the South African Theological Seminary.

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It’s not quite as simple as all this though; unfortunately retirement is not just a matter of the mind, but also of the heart. This where it gets very tricky, but I will write about this in a subsequent post.

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6 Responses

  1. pastor Lottie

    this requires great insight and strong character to hand over the…to the next generation, to the success and the expansion of the kingdom.I salute you Dr Chris.

  2. Doug Timberlake

    Thanks for sharing your insights. I look forward to the “heart” sharing.

  3. Jo Kruger

    Townshend, in “Up the Organisation” recommends that the CEO be replaced every 5 years. Not to retire, of course, but to take that wisdom and that learning curve to a new company where it will provide new insights and a new burst of growth. I have often thought that as a church we neglect that insight to our detriment. There are so many churches that could benefit from our “CEO” insights that, to be honest, retirement would seem to be seriously uncalled-for. The hackneyed phrase “a change is as good as a holiday” contains a lot of truth…….

    • chrispeppler@telkomsa.net

      Yes Jo, retirement should not equate to uselessness or laziness. Some say it should be called ‘refirement’ and I am sure thee is truth in that.

  4. Charmian

    I can sense how difficult this is being for you, Chris. What I know, though, is that whatever decisions you are making, whichever direction you are moving in – nothing is being done without first taking it to Jesus for His guidance. Your faithfulness will be rewarded as He opens up the way before you – one step at a time.

    • chrispeppler@telkomsa.net

      Yes, it is difficult, but I am sharing my thoughts in the hope that this will help others in a similar position to work through the issues with transparency and hope. In my next post (if reader interest is still there) I plan to deal with the matter of divine guidance and encouragement. Thanks for your support.

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