Rethinking retirement

What will you do when you can do whatever you want?

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In the spring of 2016, I transitioned out of senior pastoral leadership at Reedley (Calif.) MB Church. Connie, my wife, and I enjoyed 17 wonderful years with that congregation, following 16 years with Hillsboro (Kan.) MB Church. That followed six years of growing as Butler Ave. MB Church in Fresno, Calif., loved us and nurtured our call to pastoral ministry.

Today, hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t greet me with, “So how is retirement?”  I hesitate and say, “It’s great, and I enjoy both of my jobs.”

Connie and I rarely discussed a typical retirement, but we did contemplate a transition to another kind of ministry once our senior pastoral leadership concluded. Conference ministries helped shape our thinking, as I served on the MB Mission board and held U.S. Conference and district leadership roles. These allowed us to visit Mennonite Brethren churches across the U.S. and Canada and see God at work in Latin America and Asia.

These experiences generated in us a desire to keep serving in another capacity when we “retired.” In the needs of smaller churches, global ministries and para-church organizations we felt drawn to bring the gift of experience to one or more of these entities. Today I serve as church relations director for MB Foundation and associate pastor at Kingsburg (Calif.) MB Church—both part-time positions.

What will you do when you can do whatever you want?  Will retirement look like an extended vacation, or will it be shaped by your vocation? What would it look like for you to rethink traditional retirement?

Where are you needed?

I was inspired recently by a phone call from Ron Voth, a friend in Fairview, Okla.

“Dennis, we are selling our land and our livestock, but we don’t want to sit around drinking tea and playing golf,” he said.

Ron and his wife, Pam, are unique in that when they had a desire to serve they set out to find a place where their passion and gifts could be put to good use. How many of us would actually take a road trip to visit a series of ministries in order to discover a good fit for giving our time in service? I’m guessing Ron and Pam are the exception, but they are convinced that more of us would volunteer if we just knew where we are needed.

The headline of a recent article caught my attention. It read, “Meaningful vocation or perpetual vacation.” Author Beryl Jantzi suggests that retirement can be divided into the go-go stage, the slow-go stage and the no-go stage.  He calls those of us in the go-go stage to dream new dreams about making this time of life fulfilling.

Jantzi also quotes an article from The Motley Fool, a multimedia financial-services company, which reports why some current retirees may carry more anxiety than their parents did.  The report shows:

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

It is true that the traditional “retire at 65” with a modest income of social security and work-place pension can no longer be taken for granted. Boomers were not great savers, and the economic downturn of the last 10 years changed the retirement landscape for many. Twelve percent of those responding to a CareerBuilder survey claim they don’t think they will have enough money to ever retire.

What will we do with all this time?

Another reality is that at one time you retired at 65 and expected to live until 70. But not anymore. Many of us can expect to live well into our 80’s and beyond.  What will we do with all this time?

One such couple is Gordon and Karen Wiebe of Reedley, Calif. While serving with the U.S. Conference Christian service program in Nova Scotia back in the 1970’s, they met an elderly couple who had left their farm to be caretakers of a Christian camp on Prince Edward Island. Wiebes recently wrote from Princeville, N.C., where they were on assignment with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), that the model set by that couple over 40 years ago stuck with them. They determined then to at some point leave their farm and give themselves in service.

Just from observation, I would say the Wiebes are having the time of their life. In just a few years they have served with MB Mission in Mexico, MDS in North Carolina, Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS) and with Christian camps in Utah and California—multiple times.  They also frequently serve close to home.

Another model for me is Ron Hudson, a friend who worked in public school teaching and administration. He turned down a job offer in Oregon near family and grandchildren to serve at Immanuel schools in Reedley, Calif. He based his decision on a commitment he and his wife, Ann, made to live out Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim him, teaching and admonishing everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.”

The joy Ron and Ann exude spills over and is part of their secret in relating to young students while they are retirement age. He says that recently Psalm 71:18 has been an inspiration: “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”

Being kingdom people

A common denominator among the three couples I’ve referenced is a strong desire to be kingdom people, seeing God’s kingdom advanced and lives changed. None of them is asking, “What’s in it for me?”

Here’s what Gordon and Karen say: “Don’t ‘retire.’ Instead, change your focus.  With more discretionary time, ask God how you can serve him. There are many opportunities when you are available and willing. Serving is not in the going but in the doing. You can serve far away or across the street, full-time or part-time, physically or by praying. As long as you have breath, God can use you as you are today.”

Ten thousand Baby-Boomers are turning 65 every day, and many are looking for a meaningful life. If you have chosen a more typical retirement, this article is not intended to pile on the guilt. There are hundreds of variations on what I’m trying to convey, and not all of them are ministry related.

Let’s take another look at the gift of these years and ask God to fill them with purpose and meaning. Just because the word “retirement” is not in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s wrong to stop working. But as believers, transition may be a healthier concept, because if we have breath and a heartbeat, God has a meaningful purpose for our lives.

At MB Foundation we frequently talk about leaving a legacy. While that requires creative financial planning, it certainly need not be limited to money. How about your use of time and your service? What an excellent legacy you could leave with some flexibility and out-of-the-box thinking. Ask God to guide and inspire you to keep serving in these years we call retirement.  And for those of you about to arrive at this stage, by thinking “transition” more than “retirement” you will gain a fresh perspective and add life to your years.

Resource: How to serve

Need an idea for where to serve? Here are a few ideas:

  • Christian camps or conference centers
  • Christian colleges or universities, including Tabor College (www.tabor.edu), Fresno Pacific University (fresno.edu) and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (www.fresno.edu/admissions/biblical-seminary)
  • MB Mission (www.mbmission.org; regional offices located in Fresno, Calif., and Hillsboro, Kan.)
  • Mennonite Disaster Service (mds.mennonite.net)
  • Mennonite Central Committee (www.mcc.org)
  • Crisis pregnancy centers
  • Homeless shelters or rescue missions
  • Women’s shelters
  • Retirement homes
  • Thrift stores
Dennis Fast
Dennis Fast has served lead pastor roles in Hillsboro, Kan., and Reedley, California, and was interim pastor at Hope Kingsburg, a Mennonite Brethren Church, Kingsburg, California. He has also served as the interim Pacific District Conference minister and was the MB Foundation church relations director. In August 2021 he will begin a new part time role as chaplain at Palm Village Retirement Community in Reedley, California. Dennis and his wife, Connie, have three adult children and 15 grandchildren.

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