This weekend my family and I were camping up north at a Christian family camp. Cold weekend. Dropped to three degrees Celsius the first night (that’s 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit for my American readers). A bit chilly for a tent. But, we survived.
Now, I didn’t know anybody at this camp. We got introduced to it through our homeschooling group, and so my wife knew a few of the moms, but I was only acquainted with one of them. Nevertheless, I managed to inject myself into a few conversations. One in particular ended with a new thought for me: As Christians, we should be preparing to retire into ministry.
Most of us are taught that if we work hard, save our money, we’ll be able to retire into a sort of endless vacation until the end of our days. We’ll be able to spend out time reading, napping, watching TV, visiting family, taking trips and trying to fend of senility. But, what if we’re looking at it all wrong.
What if we were planning to be able to start our real work when we retire. Look at it this way:
1. If we’re good stewards of our children, we’ll have more time
Right now, with 5 kids, our children need almost constant attention. Maybe not each of them, but at least one at any given point generally needs something from us, unless they’re sleeping. This year I’ve largely stepped down from any ministry and church positions, because, frankly, it was just too hard. I could not keep up with board meetings, budget committee meetings, youth group, Sabbath school, cell group and anything else.
I rarely even get to sit and listen to a sermon anymore because I’m in the nursery with our youngest. I’d rather my wife gets to go listen. After all, she watches him during the week far more than I do and I get to spend a fair bit of time studying while answering the questions of my readers.
We have a semi-annual church business meeting coming up this Friday that we’ll have to decide which of us gets to go. That’s life with young children.
But, if we raise them well, if we’re good stewards of our children, when the kids grow up, they will move out to start their own families and be productive on their own. They won’t need constant care and attention. Sure, they might need help from time to time, free babysitting, or whatever else, but it won’t be the 24/7 care they need now. We’ll be free to help out in any ministry we choose.
2. If we’re good stewards of our finances, we’ll have more money
Providing for a family of seven on a single income is, well, daunting at times. It’s a fair bit of stress, requires fairly careful watching of money, especially if you plan to retire one day. Sadly, for many years, I did not do this well. But, we’ve got our feet out from under us now and we’re adequately saving for retirement, so far as I can tell.
But for now, we have to worry about mortgage payments, kid’s education, kid’s future education, retirement planning, health insurance, life insurance, car insurance, groceries, kid’s activities, books, internet, Netflix, cell phones, dentist bills, healthy supplies of Band-aids and all the rest of the stuff that comes with raising a family.
But, according to the current plan, once the kids are out, done with school, the house should be paid off. We should only need one vehicle. We won’t have massive dental bills due to the teeth of 5 growing kids. We won’t be buying tons of Kleenexes, wet wipes, diapers (cloth or disposable), paying for homeschooling curriculum, and we might even be able to downsize into a smaller house.
Now, if we’ve saved appropriately, then finances shouldn’t be a huge burden. The hope is we’ll be able to help fund ministries in a more significant way.
3. If we’re good stewards of our bodies, we’ll have more energy
Right now, a lot of our energy goes into raising kids and providing for them. It’s exhausting. And we started fairly young. I don’t know how people are going to do it in this next generation that isn’t getting married until 30 and having kids after 35. They’re crazy if you ask me. I’m exhausted at 36 and we’re at the end of the baby phase. But then I doubt too many more will be having five kids either.
Back to my point…
If we can manage to get healthy now, while we’re still young and it’s easier to make changes and ward off all those ailments and illnesses that destroy your body and mind when you’re older, once we hit that age where we have the freedom to help in the church however we want, we’ll also have the energy and the physical fitness to do so. I know plenty of 60 year old’s healthier than I with sharper minds and well tuned bodies. There’s one guy in our church (who isn’t sixty, but he’s at least a decade and a half older than I) that cannot stand still. He’ll just start doing jumping jacks, push-ups, squats, or whatever. He eats more than me, twice as often as I, he’s half my size and can bench press twice what I can. It’s embarrassing. It’s also inspiring. God, please give me the motivation to be like that by the time I’m 60 so I can do even more work for you.
4. If we’re good students of the word, we’ll be equipped to share it
If I’m more focused on preparing for ministry when I retire, then I’d better be studying His Word now. Imaging focusing some of your free time on studying the Bible for the next 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, or 35 years (depending on your current age). What a wealth of information you would be to the young men and women in the church by the time you retire. You’d be perfectly equipped with a verse at hand to deal with any of life’s challenges. Not only that, but with some additional study, you will understand both the cultural context, and how each verse is woven into the entire narrative of the Bible.
You’ll be able to show just how any story in the Bible fits into the plan of salvation, how it shows God’s love to us, even those difficult chapters like how many goats were slaughtered on the whatever’th day of the such and such month by this or that king. Pastors would have nothing on you.
5. If we’re good listeners of the Holy Spirit, we’ll have a life of such joy that everyone will want to know what we know
Yes, the Bible teaches us about salvation, about how to get to Heaven, to be happy forever, but it also can teach us how to be content in this life. How to have healthy, happy relationships, how to be successful in business, finances, at home and in the church. It is the manual for not only how to again eternal life, but how to bring that Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.
I’m not talking prosperity gospel (which I’m adamantly against), but something deeper. True joy in life, regardless of the monetary of material gains (though those many happen as well). A life that screams “I am saved, and I can show you how to be.” A life that is a beacon in the darkness that is this world as it exists in enemy territory. A life that reflect’s God’s glory to the masses.
People will come to us to ask us to tell them about the gospel rather than us having to chase them down to share it. Because they’ll want to have what we have: Joy in our salvation, that blessed assurance, and the peace that comes from knowing you are doing God’s will.
6. If we’re good stewards of our marriage, we will have a built in support structure and team to be able to handle anything that comes at us
One of the biggest problems pastors have is burn out. Many pastors have to deal with difficult people every day, and then come home to a marriage they are still trying to learn to navigate themselves. This often results in a thin support structure, if any, and feeling like you’re waging war both inside and outside of the home.
But, what if you had a marriage you had been cultivating to be able to handle any issue for the last few decades because you were truly intimate. Not just physically, but emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. What if you had a marriage where you’ve already been through the worst and accepted each other, faults and all, because you know every secret the other has. What if you’d moved past shame and embarrassment about temptation, history, doubts and fears and could support each other, no matter what came up. A team like that, partnered with God, would be able to accomplish anything.
My point is, what if we stopped aiming for that golden age of doing whatever we want, and started aiming for that golden age of finally getting to focus on saving others. I’m not saying don’t do ministry until you’re retired, after all, you need some practice before you hit the big leagues. But, don’t plan on retirement to be the point where you walk away and say “I’m done, I did my time.” We see too many retired individuals stepping away from church involvement saying they’ve put in their time and that now they’re retired from ministry. Right when they should be best equipped to retire INTO ministry.
So, I think I have a new goal in life. Those sandy beaches don’t seem all that white and shining anymore. I’m looking for something better. Golden streets here on Earth, so that when I retire from ministry (because I’ve died), the next thing I’ll hear is “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That sounds better than Freedom 55 to me.