Jeff Haanen

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Retirement

RetirementVocationWork

A Conversation on Retirement and Investing with Jeff Haanen

Our Executive Editor Tim Weinhold talks with Jeff Haanen on the biblical challenge to the modern concept of retirement, and how redeeming a biblical vision of our latter years frees us to see investing as God intends.

Tim Weinhold:

Well, we’re really thrilled today. We get a chance to visit with Jeff Haanen. Jeff is the executive director of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work. And although I’m very familiar with the work that you guys have been doing for quite time, Jeff, I’m going to let you briefly describe if you would, for our viewers, the work of the Denver Institute and what you guys focus on when you’re not talking to us.

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. Well, thanks Tim, for having me on the podcast, and I’d be happy to explain what we’re doing at Denver Institute.

So we’re an educational organization here in Denver. Our mission is to form men and women to serve God, neighbor and society through their daily work. And we’re really trying to bring together a culture separated, which is faith and work, public and private, fact, value. We actually think that the life of faith is a single response to God’s voice in all areas of life. So what we’re doing is we do educational content, we do convenings, we do leadership programs and we work with other organizations in the United States to really help with their local expressions of faith and work and what that looks like in their own cities.

So it’s been a very fun journey leading Denver Institute.

Tim Weinhold:

Something you said during the course of that jumped out at me, the idea that the Lordship of Jesus is meant to apply to every single aspect of our lives. And a lot of what has motivated the establishment of the Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is exactly the sense that a better understanding of how the Lordship of Jesus is meant to apply in the investing world is really needed and something we hope to be part of, which allows in turn an easy segue to what you wrote for us, because you have written a three part series that we consider really meaningful. And I think our readers will as well. You really are talking about the deep intersection in America, between the ideas of a particular kind of retirement and much of the investing that happens in America.

So let’s just start at the very macro level. And if you would just tell us some of your thinking about the relationship between retirement as it’s currently generally understood in America and our investing practices.

Jeff Haanen:

Well, yeah, let me just give you a brief overview to this. I think sometimes we don’t often connect the idea of retirement, particularly it’s popular notions in America, graying hair and swimming pools and pickle ball games with the stock market, with investing. But it is, I think the elephant in the room, why do the majority of people in the United States invest, right? It is because they’re saving for retirement. So the motive behind investing is very much connected to retirement in the United States for most people. And that motive I think, is very fraught on a lot of different levels. And we need to really question why we’re investing into what end and that question is I think very connected to what do I think about retirement? What do I think about my future? What do I think about aging? All those things are very much connected to the why behind most people’s investing.

So that’s why I think it really makes sense for the Eventide Center for Faith in Investing to address those questions.

Tim Weinhold:

So your three part series sort of follows the sequence in part one, how does America tend to think about retirement and to a degree investing related to that.

Part two is how does the Bible really think about our later years? What sort of corresponds to retirement in American thinking. And then once you’ve established that biblical understanding in part two, part three is, okay, how does that really change how we think about investing? So if we could, let’s just go through all three of those and let’s start therefore, with flesh out for us, if you will, how America tends to think about investing

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. Well, I think that the number one thing that we need to think of about is what have we been sold as the retirement dream? That if you save, if you invest, if you put money in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, you will one day have a utopian life. Maybe it’s in Florida, maybe it’s in Europe. Maybe it’s happy, fun times with grandkids on your lap, but there’s very much of a utopian vision that is sold that I would say is only partially true and sometimes maybe even completely false in terms of just the realities of life.

We’re always on the side of Eden and there’s good things about any stage of life and there’s difficult things. So I think that’s the first thing that we did think about. But one of the couple of the things that I explored in this first article for you guys is really why I think this is problematic as a core motivation for our investing, that’s retirement.

And it gave a few different reasons I wanted to share. One is what I call the fear-greed combo. I think if a lot of people in the United States are afraid that they’re not saving enough for retirement, there is almost every article that you read about environment says, this is how much you should be saving by age 20, 30, 40. And when you take a look at the statistics, the vast majority of people aren’t doing that and aren’t doing enough. And so there’s a little bit of that fear of will I have enough, which in turn can actually drive greed of thinking I need to accumulate more and more and more and more, which prevents our mind thinking about what is God’s good purpose of investing. It sort of pushes that out for the only purpose of investing is how much can I pile away, so they have the maximum I need for retirement.

So I think that’s a significant fear, particularly with human longevity. People are living longer than ever before. People can expect to be retired 20, 25, 30 years almost as long as their entire career. So the idea of hitting this mythical number could be 1 million for some people it could be two, it just depends on sort of your lifestyle and how much you’ve made during your career.

How do I get there and how do I get there as quickly as possible? I think it’s a very difficult proposition.

The second one, though, just in general with the concept of retirement that’s really challenging is this concept of work. Work is very intrinsic to human beings, God himself worked for six days and rested for one. And he is never tired. He had no need of either retirement or even to actually ever be exhausted, but it was a part of the rhythm of that he put into creation and a lot of people retire as soon as they can. Actually statistics bear that out, but I also think a lot of people miss the contribution in the community of working.

I’ve talked to lots and lots of different folks about this. And so there is a little bit the belonging that’s usually backfilled with what I call just the retirement entertainment complex, which is enormous actually in the United States and thinking about how do I keep myself busy and activities that kind of look like work, even thinking the kind of the false sense of accomplishment after you’ve done 18 holes of thinking, I did my day’s work today and I like golfing, but it can’t be the only way of living.

So I think that’s one thing. And then another thing too, is that a lot of people just say that retirement, if it is seen as what, the number one way, I think America sees it as a never ending vacation.

A lot of people, it’s not satisfying.

How long can you possibly vacation for before you kind of lack a sense of purpose, direction, a real intrinsic desire to contribute to your community. So I think there are various different problems that I explore in the article about why retirement as we conceive of it is a major problem for how Christians think about investing even as well as Christian finance advisors, maybe even that might be watching this too, what are the assumptions going on behind why people are stashing away money? Those I think are where spiritual formation happens, is understanding what are those assumptions? What is good and then what needs to be challenged, particularly from biblical worldview.

Tim Weinhold:

All right. You’ve sort of sketched out some of the problems with the version of retirement that Americans have been sold, as we move into your second piece for us. How does the Bible really suggest we ought to be thinking about our later years?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah, that’s a good question. So obviously retirement is a modern social construct that’s not necessarily in the Bible, but I do think the Bible gives us some very strong hints. So I have a sentence from my article that I’ll read to you. My conviction is the Bible paints a picture of retirement as laying down past work identities, entering a new season of rest renewal and re-engagement. And then as elders filled with blessing and wisdom for a coming generation.

So there’s a few parts of that. The first is laying down past work identities. Retirement is actually mentioned a couple places, the Bible one’s in Numbers, and it talks about hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle that God calls the older men to lay down the heavy lifting and to give that to the younger men, but to keep on essentially mentoring and caring for them and ministering at the tent of the meeting.

I think this talks about the concept of laying down a past work identities. This is actually particularly true with men, a little less so with women, but your identity can get very much wrapped into your work that prevents actually people from letting go. And I actually think that of a letting go and allowing others to lead and mentoring a new generation is actually very, very important.

The second part I talk about entering a new season of rest renewal and re-engagement. The Bible paints an interesting picture of work and rest. That’s not only one day out of every seven, but Leviticus 5 talks about the biblical could you… I’m sorry, 25 talks about the biblical Jubilee, talks about resting or letting the fields lay fallow for one year out of every seven. Now I think it would be a myth for most people to think, oh, I could take one year off out of every seven years of working and it just doesn’t economically work out very well.

But I do think actually when most people move into early in some sort of a real sabbatical season and sabbatical, not just right for pastors or academics, but for anybody moving into this thinking before I hop into something, either the never ending vacation version or I’m going to finally find my dream job that I never had during my career. I think a season of rest is actually very important. And the concept there in Sabbath really is to reorient the heart toward trust in God, that to really be living a life of worship, as well as to reorient your heart to justice.

There’s a lot of connections in the Bible between Sabbath and justice. So I think this season of thinking about, take a season of rest and for the sake of renewal of the heart before you think about, and this is the third part that I think is strong in the Bible is reengaging.

As elders filled with wisdom and blessing for a coming generation. The Bible has this word elders, of course the new Testament, it’s an office and local churches, but that actually comes from the old Testament. The elders were the leaders. They were the leaders of Israel. So our modern American notions of elder or elderly, that’s an insult, right? But the Bible, these are people filled with nobility with the fruit of experience that are meant for the wellbeing of a society.

So I think elders in the biblical, they don’t do the hard work either of lifting or warfare, right. But they do do the work of leadership and to think about, I’m going to take a season of rest and then reengage as an elder, as a person of wisdom that I’ve collected of my life, a blessing of caring for a coming generation of giving that. I think that’s a real needed way of thinking about re-engaging as a servant of God for all of life. That is not only continuing your same job for 50 years, it’s a different type of a work, but nonetheless, it is a work a service to the world that I think the Bible paints that picture very clearly of what elders can be for the coming generation.

Tim Weinhold:

So your piece has actually spoke to me and made me think about this issue of the transition between if you will, the primary product, the years of our career, and then our later years, whether that’s still a version of career or whether that might be in volunteer type activities. But it made me think quite a bit about that. And it struck me that there is such a meaningful difference in a lot of ways between the productivity thrust, the carrying the heavy furniture, if you will, during our many career years before we get to our senior years and what those senior years need to look like.

And we’re not very light actually to transition from the first to the second very well, unless we’ve actually taken some time to do what you say, to lay down essentially the identities we had adopted during those productive years and to then embrace the very different sort of understanding for our senior years. So I really, really love that.

I wonder whether that will become a more conscious part of how Christians make that transition. I think for many of us, myself included, we didn’t really think about that transition. We’re just sort of doing life. And so I hope that people, as they read your pieces, it may strike a sympathetic chord with a lot of people and they may say, ah, I really do need to think very consciously about how to do that transition.

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. Well, thanks for saying that, Tim. That’s yeah, very kind. I’m obviously not quite to retire myself, but the need to rest and renew is universal. And I felt that even in late ’30s, ’40s, not that I’m at is that I think it’s just an essential aspect. And I think one thing to think about too, for our, our listeners today, if you liked your work, usually the laying down will be past identities where I was over identified with my work and my productivity, and this is really who I am and the challenge there to be recentering yourself just on Christ.

And if you didn’t like your work, laying down those things, that’s not very difficult actually. There was one article that I read saying, if you worked at Walmart for a career, you don’t just go in the basement and retirement and just scan stuff for fun to stay busy.

This is just not what you do. That’s stuff you do for your pay, then you never ever do again once you’re done with it. So I think the challenge a lot for particularly a working class America in this conversation is to rest and renew. But a sabbatical is a fixed period of time, say six months, nine months, 12 months. But I am now going to deeply rest and say, God, what do you have for me next? Because there is, almost everybody has a lot of pain connected to their work too. And it takes time to heal that.

It could be humiliation of a boss, it could be an unmet expectation, it could be under appreciation, it could be a lot of these things in our work, but whether it’s one side of the identity work or the other side of healing, some of the pain in our work, I do think those seasons are really necessary. So future contribution can actually be kingdom fruit rather than me trying to solve a problem I couldn’t solve during my career.

Tim Weinhold:

Well, that’s good. So let’s assume somebody has done a good job of this interim sabbatical between the productive years and when senior years, which have a shift in focus, how do you think they really ought to… What’s the overarching objective that they ought to bring to how they think about what they’re doing during those senior years?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. Well, I think the overarching objective, I think, in some ways that’s very much connected to an overarching objective with all of our years, love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor has yourself. So I think that equation, it just changes a little bit. Rather than either the extremes of I’m going to work forever and never rest, or I’m going to take my never ending vacation over here. I actually think it’s now as I live in this responsive relationship with God in a moment by moment, as I listen to his voice, what is he actually calling me to in this next season? And so I think those ways of contribution, they do look different in senior years.

It could be working full time. It may not be working at all for a while and it might be spending time with a sick parent that’s dying. These are very noble ways of thinking about caring for family. It may be caring for grandkids as a vocation, as a commitment as something that you’re going to limit yourself from, or it might be working part-time either volunteering or for pay again, there’s I think a lot of openness and flexibility here, but there is, I think some things this scriptures say that is out of bounds.

Idleness is out of bounds, a life of self focused pleasure, where I just wake up thinking about how I can entertain myself rather than care for the wellbeing of others. This is out of bounds. Actually, Paul speaks about this of people that make their gods their stomachs, actually there’s some very strong, I think words Paul would have for retirement culture that’s very kind of self focused and pleasure focused in the United States.

So there are some things that I think are out of bounds, but there is I think great freedom and a responsiveness to God’s voice of saying, what do I, then, if I laid this down, this past work identity, Lord, what are you now putting in my hand to take up once more?

Tim Weinhold:

And if I could, let me ask you though, very specifically around the idea of being an elder or being a mentor might be a word we would more commonly use today. What does that look like in particular, how should folks approaching their senior years be, or who may like myself be into their senior years, how should we think about what that elder mentor role ought look like?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I included a chapter on that in my book “An Uncommon Guide to Retirement” about mentoring and I actually started off with a few mentoring relationships that I had had where I was being mentored that didn’t end very well. They weren’t very fruitful and it was sort of mentoring as the awkward we’re going to get together once a month. You’re going to download what I need to be doing as the younger person for about 60 minutes, and I’ll go home and kind of do all of that.

And it feels actually true I think one way. And I think actually a lot of people that are in retirement think, do I have anything to give? I’m not sure. I don’t know if I want to do that. I don’t know if anybody will want to listen to the experiences I’ve had.

The short answer is what I think is the most fruitful way of thinking about mentoring is intergenerational friendship. I think it’s actually genuine friendship where older is listening to younger. Younger is listening to older. There’s a real exchange of both experience, but also of pain and difficulty. I found that the people that have most powerfully affected me as mentors are those that I was baffled that they listened to my experience because I didn’t have much, I still don’t in many ways, but that opened up my ears to listening well from their experience of thinking they’ve been there beyond, but it’s that sort of gentle humility of real friendship. I would love to see more intergenerational friendships between people in their 60s and 30s or 70s and 20s, whatever it might be of a real interest.

And I actually think with that kind of, that humble perspective of we’re both here to listen and we’re both here to give. I could see a lot of the starting to grow.

Tim Weinhold:

I love that. That said it strikes me that America doesn’t make that intergenerational friendship connection easy. And so it’s probably something that we’ll have to put, for many of us, real thought into how to find the opportunities, find particular, maybe organizational or nonprofit ways to engage with others and so forth. Because probably normally it’s just not going to happen that much on its own.

Any particular advice about that, about how to be intentional about finding those opportunities for intergenerational friendship?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah, I would just say, I think young people and old people can do this equally. Don’t close yourself from people that are different. It tends to be that churches are very homogenous communities, whether it be racially, ethnically socioeconomically, but even generationally as well.

So go to a church where there’s a bunch of young people and the music is too loud or when you’re at hanging out with your friends, genuinely invite friends, 20s, 30s somethings to go and hang out with you without sort of an agenda. Think about what you want to do with your friends, think about what are the interests that you have and then go find people that actually could do the same same things, right?

Again, I’ll redeem golf here. Golf could be a context for that, right? It could be a context for actually building those friendships rather than just playing with the other people like in retirement communities. I think there are some values, there are particular values to retirement communities in terms of healthcare and actual onset of old age. I think that’s a very good thing and needed thing, but the kind of enclaves where you separate yourself off from the world, as well as for people that are different. I think we can do better.

Tim Weinhold:

Maybe I’ll need to take up, hang gliding.

Jeff Haanen:

There we go. There we go. Hang gliding. Sounds fun.

Tim Weinhold:

At the end of your part two piece for us, you said something approximately that if we shift the narrative about retirement, that changes our motive for investing.

Jeff Haanen:

Well, let, yeah, let’s talk about that.

So two different motives for investing. Investing for retirement and the retirement dream or investing for human flourishing. Okay. So when we think about even the greed-fear combo driving so much investing day, I think what if we were to replace that with a simple trust that God will provide for me over a lifetime, that I’ll have enough in the future, I have enough now.

I think it will temper down some of those need for a huge asset buildup by age 65, knowing that income, but maybe continue later in life with working, but also actually staying connected to work will even statistically reduce some of the health care issues that actually set quite quickly oftentimes for people that retire and disconnect from work environments, I’ve actually seen it with my family as well as with people that I’ve interviewed as well.

I also think that early in life, we have sometimes a very unhealthy drive and unhealthy work rhythms that really kind of crush into family and emotional health, but really this myth of financial freedom of thinking once I have this amount of money in the bank, I can finally retire and have sort of the dream. I just think we need to drain the retirement myth of its false promises of thinking of this side of Eden will always be longing for the kingdom. There’s always work for us to be done. And I think that sort of myth of financial freedom can be replaced by just a deeper freedom of contentment and this life that we have now as well as our future life.

I really think that so much of even just day to day work culture is driven by how much longer do I have to do this until I have enough money where I don’t have to do it anymore. You can hear the pain in that, but that’s actually a lot of the narrative of people’s entire working life that’s really driven by once I have this, then I’ll finally be free into the retirement. The truth of the gospel is you are free right now. You are free right now because of what Christ has promised and given to you.

So I think if we actually have that sort of steadiness of heart of thinking about a lifetime of work, rest, re-engagement, right? It allows us to temper a little bit of thinking, if I invest and investing is good and saving is actually good. The Bible talks a lot about saving as well. Maybe I should be thinking about my investments more in terms of their social and cultural impact rather than I just have to get the maximum returns to fund my lifestyle, right. That I think is a critical change that could happen and open up much more people to thinking about investing first and foremost, as a subcategory of human flourishing.

Tim Weinhold:

If you would spell out the particular kinds of changes that you think are possible when one shifts from an investment as a way to fund my retirement to investment as calibrated to human flourishing. Tell us about the particulars of that.

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. So I have a few different things that I wrote about in the articles. One is that a biblical view of retirement, I think opens a door to your portfolio being really wholly focused on human flourishing. Obviously you can have returns and thinking about human flourishing, even tied to the net for a very long time too, but you have to, I think start that conversation with redemption is more important than returns and very particularly, I think that we need to think about if we’re thinking about our work in our daily life, in terms of how can I contribute to the common good? How is God calling me to serve? What does this look like now? And even as I age long time into the future, that sort of work as a category of human flourishing, we can marry that to investing as a category of human flourishing, because what you’re investing in is businesses where people are working, of businesses of which you’re a partial owner.

So I do think it really opens up to think, I want a lifetime of human flourishing for myself. I want to be invested in those businesses that are going to and do that for others too. So that’s the first thing.

The second thing I wrote briefly about is particularly it’s a better vision for, I think that the vocation of financial advisors. I have spoken to a lot of financial advisors is am I just here to help wealthy people get wealthier so they can have more things in the future? There’s a lot of pain there. There’s a lot of pain there for a lot of financial advisors. And I think financial advisors are really the cultural caretaker of this idea of retirement, because they’re constantly talking with people about money and investing about financial planning as well as about people’s future. Right?

But I think financial advisors is to saying, okay, let’s think about work and rest over a lifetime than me tacitly propping up this myth that if you bring me all this capital we’re going to be finally happy together. Right?

I actually think the vocation of financial advisors of thinking about challenging some of those narrative about work for a lifetime it’s much more fruitful. Thinking I am here to contribute both with investing, but also for my clients, a vision for their good and for their health and for their wholeness as well.

A couple other things that I put in the article is I think a biblical view of retirement REITs show investing in proper proportion to giving, saving and spending money. I mean, how much do we need for retirement?

There are millions of articles online of how much you really need, but it’s really dependent on what your vision for retirement will look like. And if you have a more humble vision for your future, you actually may right now with your money decide to give more of it or save up for an angel parent’s condo. Or you actually may decide to take your family on the big vacation now when they’re young and you actually can shape their life rather than the big vacation in your 70s, when you actually can’t get your kids time anymore, because they’re too busy with other things.

Like you just need to put the, I think, saving for retirement back in proper proportion. And I think a biblical view of retirement does that because it humbles sort of our expectations for what we need in the future.

And then a basic idea too, is I think a biblical view of retirement heals our vision of work and rest over a lifetime. We need to work because God himself worked. We need to rest, even though God himself can never tire it’s as in Isaiah 40, right? God himself rests as well. And so us thinking about what that could look like even now in our life, these visions of work and rest and how to finance that. I think it actually has some interesting policy implications for how we even think about retirement savings account and using some of those resources now. So those are four ideas of how I think it could practically influence how we’re thinking about our life in a way that both brings about human flourishing to our visions of work and our life as well as to what we invest in and why we invest in it.

Tim Weinhold:

What you seem to be saying is that a financial advisor ought to be thinking not just about how they help a client prepare financially for classic American retirement, they ought to be in a sense helping their clients rethink whether that’s really going to be the approach that makes best sense for their later years. That’s a different understanding, a richer, deeper understanding of maybe the role that a financial advisor can play in the life of a client. Can you just elaborate on that a little bit?

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. I’d be sure to share some thoughts.

So saving probably talked about savings is wise, giving there’s lots of scripture, synchrony eight and nine about giving and generosity. It won’t talk much about that too, but when we even think about investing in values based investing, I think there’s a fun role for advisors to sort of surface questions in terms of what are your core values and would you like your investments to align with values? That’s I think a very important conversation and that’s really the foundation. I think of financial advisors can actually suggest those rather than say, well, my clients didn’t demand this product, so I’m not going to talk to them about that. Well, it’s a relationship. You can talk to people. You can actually suggest stuff of aligning your values with your investments. I think there’s a strong reason as well to say, what are your values and do those align with your vision of the future.

Do those align with how you’re thinking about your family, with how you’re thinking about work, with how you’re thinking about contribution and legacy? Is it only in terms of money or are there other things that you want to be thinking about in terms of season of rest and re-engagement? Is there a different type of a work? How do you want to help prepare your kids for the future? I do think those conversations of financial advisors becoming savvy and saying, what’s the worldview here? What is the desire? What’s the tell us, that’s really driving this person to use their money.

There is an important role, I think for financial advisors to think about what are the values and how does that play out investing, but what are the values, not only how does that play out, but with the money right now, but how does that play out to their vision of what kind of life they want to live? What’s good there that they can be cheered on and what can be gently challenged as friends that want the best for other friends?

Tim Weinhold:

I love that. It reminds me one of my favorite financial advisors was telling me about the transition that had occurred in his own life as an advisor, from how he viewed it in his earlier years and then how he came to view it much more in the ways you’ve just described. And he said specifically that when he started to have those values kinds of conversations with his clients, suddenly the conversations with those clients went way deeper, became more personal, became more substantive. And he really said I’ve ended up becoming as much or more a pastor in the lives of my client as you know, the pastor at our church does.

I, in fact, in many cases, I think I get a chance to have deeper conversations with my clients than a pastor typically even gets to have with those same people. So I think that conversation, honestly for me, sort of changed my understanding of the potential significance of financial advisors. So I love that you’re emphasizing the very same idea.

Any concluding thoughts that my questions haven’t allowed you to share yet that you’d like to offer to our listeners.

Jeff Haanen:

Yeah. It’s worth rethinking what is the story behind retirement? That’s it. Let’s just rethink it.

Let’s rethink what’s going on there, because it’s a huge, huge influencer of everything from stock markets to investing to financial advisors, to how we think about our work today, to how we think about our future, to how we think about big policy issues. It’s worth rethinking of what stories behind retirement and how does the book less story influence that and hope those conversations can grow and continue.

This interview first appeared at the Eventide Center for Faith & Investing.

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RetirementWork

Reform Retirement, Redeem Investing

In Al Wolters’ book Creation Regained, he makes the point that Christians are reformers, not revolutionaries. A revolutionary wants to wipe the slate clean and start over, but a reformer seeks to restore something that’s been tarnished, acknowledging that it was once good. “Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are reinstated as God’s managers on earth,” writes Wolters. “The original good creation is to be restored.”1 

This is a helpful framework for investing. Needless to say, investing has often been sullied with greed and idolatry. Throughout church history, warnings against usury have echoed from pulpits and town squares. But God’s original intent for investing is entirely good. As with our vocational endeavors, God intends that our investing be done with the aim of furthering human flourishing.

We do that by sharing in ownership of good businesses — ones that provide ‘goods and services’ to meet the world’s needs, that create meaningful work, and make real contributions to their communities and society.2 Indeed, our task as Christians in investing is not to wipe our hands of a fallen world, but to find ways to redeem what has been disfigured by sin and evil.  A restored vision for retirement (i.e., for our later years) is, I believe, critical to that redemptive view of investing. 

How, then, might this biblical view of retirement (aging) contribute to a more holistic vision for investing? Here are four ways. 

1.A biblical view of retirement opens the door to portfolios that prioritize human flourishing.

Concern for the vulnerable, environmental stewardship, the curing of otherwise intractable diseases — these are the sorts of human-flourishing-focused business outcomes that often fall by the wayside when investors narrowly focus on maximizing their retirement savingsYet if we have a vision of retirement not as a 20-year vacation but as a time of humble contribution as elders committed to the good of the world that God loves, investors are freed to take a closer look at their portfolios and make a foundational shift. God believes redemption is more important than returns.3 So should we.

If you plan on working for a lifetime, albeit less as you age, you simply don’t need as much to fund your retirement lifestyle. More importantly, you can see your work, and your investing, as contributions to human flourishing over a lifetime — provided, that is, that your investing is appropriately calibrated to a vision for the human flourishing brought about by the good businesses of which you’re a partial owner. The fear/greed combo subsides in the context of God’s promise of provision for his children, and opens the door to re-envisioning investing beyond a narrow focus on returns (2 Corinthians 9:84).

2.A biblical view of retirement provides a better vision for the vocation of financial advisors.

The idea of retirement sits at the core of the work of financial advisors. In a short piece I once wrote for financial advisors, I said:

Financial advisors have the privilege of encouraging people to prepare for the day when they cannot work due to old age or health. Saving is wise (Proverbs 21:205). They also have the honor of helping clients still have enough to share with others (Proverbs 13:226; 1 Timothy 6:17-197). 

But Christian financial advisors resolutely resist the narrative about saving for retirement built on utopian dreams of travel, never-ending vacation, and a care-free lifestyle. They recognize that sin and the Fall have affected all people, both wealthy and poor, and that there is no such dream of heaven on earth until Christ comes again. They also boldly call into question fear-based motives for saving in retirement, pointing people to trust God alone for their daily bread. 

Also, since retirement (the cessation of work for the balance of one’s lifetime) is essentially a foreign concept to the Bible, Christian financial advisors work diligently to help people save for the day when they can no longer work due to health concerns — but not for the day when they simply don’t want to work.8 

Financial advisors serve as caretakers of their client’s investments, but also as gatekeepers (protectors from) our secular contemporary notions of retirement. A biblical view of retirement gives financial advisors a broader, more faithful vision for their vocations. 

3.A biblical view of retirement re-situates investing in proper proportion to giving, saving, and spending money.

How much do I really need for retirement? 

This question is entirely dependent on your vision for what you want your retirement to look like. If you want a perpetual vacation, that’ll be expensive. You’ll need to invest as if maximized returns are all that matters. 

But if it’s a biblical view of growing older — which includes a mix of family, work and rest over a lifetime — you might consider giving more to charity now. Or spending money on vacation(s) while your kids are young rather than waiting for your own vacation in your seventies. It may mean spending money on private school tuition, saving for an aging parent’s condo, or adopting a teenager from foster care. Service comes in a great variety of forms.

Jesus told a haunting parable about a rich fool who stored up wealth for himself by building bigger barns on the very same night his life was demanded from him (Luke 12:16-219) He also says that our confidence in having enough for tomorrow should ultimately be more like children who ask a parent for bread each morning, simply trusting that it’ll be there (Matthew 6:1110). 

Investing for old age is important, including as a means of loving and serving our neighbors through the human flourishing work of good businesses. In fact, this is one of the primary ways we fulfill the cultural mandate, the sacred assignment given to humans in the Garden of Eden. Still, investing must be put in its proper place among other biblical priorities for money, including giving, saving, and spending (Genesis 1:2811). If God promises to care for us now, he will most certainly care for us as we age (Matthew 6:25-3412).

4.A biblical view of retirement heals our vision of work and rest over a lifetime.

In Leviticus 25, God called his people to give the land a rest one year out of every seven — the origin of our concept of sabbatical. Yet today, we stack up all our years of rest onto the end of life and call it retirement. 

Could you imagine taking one year off after every six years? Could you imagine the kind of investment in your family, your heart, and your professional growth if you took even 6 months off every 7 or 10 years? For most, this is financially impossible. Though some voices are encouraging sabbaticals in corporate America, this is mostly a luxury for the rare senior executive.13 But a biblical view of aging gives us a vision for rhythms of work and rest of which a workaholic American culture knows nothing. 

If you see retirement more as a different season of productive service, what would that mean for how you prioritize rest now? Rather than “scale quick and exit,” as is common in the tech startup world, or the FIRE movement (Financial Independence by Retiring Early), which is common among white-collar professionals, a humbler vision for vocation over a lifetime opens the door to new possibilities. Do good work today, even if you’re paid less, because this is your life today. Get enough rest today, because God himself, who never tires, nevertheless chose to rest after six days of creation. And be content with enough today, because your God, not your portfolio, is your final provider. 

This vision for retirement has long-term policy implications as well. Could ‘retirement’ accounts be used, in part, for mid-career sabbaticals? Might companies build sabbatical policies into their benefits packages as a way to invest in employee health and retention? 

A biblical view of retirement (aging) is one small part of creation regained. It heals the motive for investing, the work of financial advisors, our relationship to money and our vision for work. 

It also points us to a better and truer vision of Del Webb’s “paradise town,” a lasting inheritance for those whose treasure is finally in heaven (Luke 12:33-3414). 

This article first appeared at the Eventide Center for Faith & Investing. Subscribe to get more updates on topics related to faith, investing, and the economy. For references, please visit the ECFI website.

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A Biblical Perspective on Retirement

“What am I going to do with my retirement?” 

The anxious question came from Anne Bell, a recently retired teacher at the University of Northern Colorado. Bright and soft-spoken, wearing dark-rimmed glasses and carrying a teacher’s bag, Anne came to our offices at the Denver Institute for Faith & Work one day with questions she wasn’t prepared to answer. “I’m really searching for what I’m called to,” she said with a quivering voice. “I need to know what’s next.”1

The first step in re-envisioning the connection between retirement and investing is to begin by answering Anne’s honest questions. That involves rethinking the idea of retirement itself. 

Rather than seeing retirement as a never-ending vacation, the Bible paints a picture of our later years as a laying down of past work-identities and entering a new season of rest, renewal, and reengagement as elders filled with wisdom and blessing for the coming generation(s)

Though the Bible doesn’t speak directly to our modern social construct of retirement, it does hint at the maturing of vocation over a lifetime. In the book of Numbers, the LORD said to Moses, “Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer,” (Numbers 8:24). Since hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle was physically demanding, God commanded older men to lay down the heavy work and give it to younger priests. 

Gordon Smith, author and president of Ambrose University, writes, “I am convinced that part of the essence of vocational identity during this period of our lives [the senior years] is that we let go of power and control: people listen to us because we are wise and because we bless, not because of our office or any formal structure of power.”2 In contrast to a vision of aging as either the ‘retirement dream’ or a ‘work-’til-you-drop’ alternative, Scripture is realistic about aging and the need to lay down past responsibilities, while still embracing loving service to our neighbor. 

Doing the hard work of disassociating our identity from work in early retirement requires an intentional space to rest, reflect, and seek renewal. 

I believe the first step in developing a better, more-biblical, vision for retirement is to invite men and women not into the complete cessation of work, but into a purposeful sabbatical. This is an intentional three, six, or twelve months of rest and interior renewal to heal from past wounds and re-orient the heart toward trust, worship, and justice.3 The Bible suggests that we all need not just days of rest, but seasons of rest (Leviticus 254). Early retirement is the perfect time for just such a period of healing and reflection. 

Sabbatical can also be a time to openly challenge secular notions of retirement by thinking about the different seasons of work over a lifetime. Work in the Bible is intrinsically about service, an activity from which we never retire (Matthew 20:285, Ephesians 2:106, Colossians 3:237). The opportunity here is for retirees — and their financial advisors — to embrace a vision of work (paid or unpaid) in later life as public contribution rather than as punishment for not having saved enough in one’s 401(k). 

The Bible portrays elders as those possessing wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age (Lev. 19:328). Far from being an insult, the Hebrew term for elder (zaqen) is used as an indication of one’s nobility. The elder taught at the city gate, the ancient place for public dialogue (Job 32:6-109).

Today, we’d be wise to recover older traditions of honoring our elders, including the work they do later in life.

Rather than endless conversations about maximizing financial benefits for retirement, financial advisors could plant visions of elders as community leaders, giving generously their insight, money, time, talent, and prayers on behalf of the coming generation(s). 

The secular vision of retirement is weighed down with images of sail boats, gag retirement gifts, vacations to the tropics. But the Bible has a very different vision of aging.  “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon,” writes the Psalmist. “They are planted in the house of the LORD; the flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,” (92:12-14, ESV). 

Redeeming the Motive for Investing

Take a sabbatical rest. Ask questions regarding calling later in life. Seek healing for our vision of work. Reemerge ready to offer your experience, talents, and wisdom to a coming generation. 

These simple activities could radically shift the motive we have for investing by shifting our narrative about retirement. 

The greed and fear driving so much investing today would give way to a simple trust in the provision of God over a lifetime (Matthew 6:25-3410). It would also temper the need for a huge buildup of assets by age 65, knowing that income can continue later in life. Also, health issues (and, hence, expenses) would lessen due to continued connection to community and purpose through work. It would also calm the endless drive and unhealthy work rhythms earlier in life by giving us a vision of work that continues over a lifetime, and hence, a deeper investment during our careers in our families and our emotional health. The myth of “financial freedom” would be replaced with a deeper freedom given by God alone and a contentment in our current life and current circumstances, thereby draining the retirement myth of its false promises (Gal. 5:111; Ps 23:112).

A healed vision of retirement embraces a vision of rest, renewal, and reengagement as elders. 

What, then, does this mean for investing? Stay tuned for Part 3: Reform Retirement, Redeem Investing.

This article first appeared at the Eventide Center for Faith & Investing. Subscribe to get more updates on topics related to faith, investing, and the economy. For references, please visit the ECFI website.

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The Trouble with Investing for Retirement

“Wake up and live in Sun City, for an active way of life! Wake up and live in Sun City, Mr. Senior Citizen and wife. Don’t let retirement get you down! Be happy in Sun City; it’s a paradise town.”

In post-World War II America, this Del Webb jingle was one of many popularizing not just retirement communities, but an idea that quietly sits underneath most investing in the United States — the hope of a blissful, care-free retirement.

Though we rarely connect the behemoth of the American stock market to images of gray hair, shuffleboard matches, and Florida swimming pools, we should. Underpinning nearly all investing is a vast web of IRAs, mutual funds, and financial instruments that are sold to the public with promises of a utopian retirement where every day is a vacation.1 Invest enough and you too can live the dream.

But today major voices are calling for a sweeping reconsideration of how we think about aging and retirement.2 Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, recently wrote in Barron’s that as Americans are living longer and longer, the idea of a permanent vacation at age 65 (or earlier) seems less and less appropriate. She noted that most 65-year-olds today will live into their 90s. That’s an awfully long vacation.

Nevertheless, most Christian investors fail to ask this most essential question: exactly what vision of the future is actually driving my investing behavior?

The Problem with Investing for Retirement

Retirement as the driving motivation for investing needs to be challenged. In fact, there are a host of problems with retirement as the principal motivation for our investing.

The Fear-Greed Combo.  Will I have enough for retirement? This subtle fear — in two opposed manifestations — lurks around the edges of countless articles on Yahoo Finance or MarketWatch. It causes workers to stash away increasing amounts of money in order to survive a retirement that could last 20, 30, or even 40 years. And most know they’re sorely behind what they should be investing. The result is that more and more Americans — contemplating longer lifespans and growing doubts about Social Security — are afraid they won’t have enough money to see them through old age.

But there is another version of this fear. For those who have amassed meaningful resources, they contemplate the rather considerable costs of the retirement idea that they’ve been sold. Its high points are periodic trips to exotic destinations — an African safari next month, followed before long by a leisurely cruise down the Rhine or a tour of the Tuscany vineyards. In between are the ‘ordinary’ days — golf and cocktails at the country club, punctuated by regular lunch and shopping trips with friends. Throw in the occasional trip to DisneyWorld with the grandchildren and even those who’ve saved a good deal feel anxious about affording the retirement they’ve imagined.3

It is this combination of fear and greed, often bound together, that actually drives much of our investing. The net result is a largely unquestioned drive to accumulate more and more, motivated by the sense that ‘enough’ seems always farther down the road.

The task of stockpiling assets to last for decades in retirement often then obscures seeing investing as God intends — as a means of providing capital to businesses to enlarge human flourishing. What’s left is a focus on maximizing returns in portfolios that often fail to assess the consequences of a company’s impact in the lives of others.

To Work is to Be Human. God worked for six days and rested for one, baking into the created order a rhythm of work and rest that’s as natural as the rising and setting of the sun (Genesis 2:2). Yet our modern notion of retirement evidences a quite different understanding. Instead of the biblical idea that work and rest should exist in an ongoing balance for as long as God gives us strength to serve, we have embraced the idea that at age 65 (or earlier) our working life is over, to be followed by a permanent life of leisure.

Most retirees experienced frustrations and disappointments over the course of their careers. No doubt more than a few feel the truth of Ecclesiastes: “The work that is done under the sun is grievous to me, a chasing after the wind” (2:17). They are understandably eager to swap commutes and deadlines for long walks and happy hour on the 19th hole.

Yet many more feel they still have much to contribute well into their later years — a feeling that is crowded out by the retirement-entertainment complex that prizes pleasure over productivity. They also report missing the sense of purpose, and of human community, that work provided.4 Unfortunately, our public systems built around retirement have created a sharp cliff, disconnecting work over a lifetime from a vision for human flourishing in one’s later years.

Retirement Doesn’t Satisfy. Many are coming to realize the vision of retirement as a never-ending vacation simply doesn’t satisfy. “I’d done all the preparation, except to really think about what life was going to be like,” said Sue Ellen King, a care nurse and educator at the University of Florida, in a New York Times feature. In her first three months of retirement, she organized photos, took a trip to Hilton Head, and enjoyed a good many long lunches. But after a brief honeymoon period, she says she felt more and more adrift.5 Many swap the feeling of meaninglessness in work for meaninglessness in retirement, a phenomenon a growing number of Christian financial advisors see regularly.6

Retirement Isn’t Healthy. One BBC study found that retirement can increase chances of clinical depression by 40 percent.7 And retirement often accelerates aging as people disconnect from purpose, often driving up health care bills well before the actual onset of ‘old age.’ Conversely, another study found putting off retirement can keep your brain sharp for longer.8

The Majority Can’t Afford the Retirement Dream. For a growing number of Americans, the retirement dream is a mirage, like the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a vanishing rainbow. In 2019, savings in the average retirement account totaled just $65,000. 25% of Americans had no savings at all, and 28% of those in their sixties had less than $50,000.9 Many believe retirement is actually exacerbating the yawning economic and social divides of America, splitting those who own public equities from the 45% who own no stocks at all.10

Retirement, of course, is not all bad. It was formalized in the US with the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935, which had as its original intent the care for the elderly poor in post-Depression America. Indeed, a Christian, Frances Perkins, helped to pass the New Deal out of concern for the vulnerable.

Today, though, the very idea of retirement has metastasized. It provides the foundation for much of our investing yet, overall, it tends to diminish rather than enlarge the human flourishing God intends.

How, then, should Christians think about retirement? Join us for Part 2: A Biblical Perspective on Retirement.

This article first appeared at the Eventide Center for Faith & Investing. Subscribe to get more updates on topics related to faith, investing, and the economy. For references, please visit the ECFI website.

Retirement

“An Uncommon Guide to Retirement” Webinar for Fuller Seminary

Recently I got good news from my publisher: An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life surpassed 10,000 copies sold.

So I recently re-read portions of the book, and after a 18 months since release (I know, I’m biased), I think the book really does offer a clear, compelling vision for retirement in a faithful, practical, and story-driven way.

My friend Mark Roberts at Fuller Seminary’s Depree Center recently interviewed me about the book. Above is our interview. Enjoy.

If you’d like more information about the book, or a sample chapter or a free discussion guide, can you visit uncommonretirement.com.

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Retirement

Rethinking Your Retirement

What are the major concerns of people facing retirement? How does the “vacation” view of retirement contrast with what the Bible says about retirement? How important a dimension of retirement is Sabbath? What do you believe is the most important component of a godly retirement?

What am I going to do with my retirement?

I was recently interviewed by Paul Arnott, the executive director of Q4:Rethinking Retirement, on my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.

Paul was a delightful, humble host. He exemplifies what it means to be an “elder” of influence and wisdom.

I hope you enjoy this video

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“The days are long, but the years are short.” How should I use my time in retirement?

“Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12

“The first thing you have to know about retirement,” says Allan Spies, a 68-year-old retired US West executive, “is that you could live another 40 years.”

Spies recalled a conversation he had with his pastor when he was on the cusp of an early retirement in his 50s. The pastor reminded Spies of all the time he had ahead of him As Spies started to spend his newfound time, he was also jarred by how much his schedule changed. “The other thing you’ve got to know,” he says, “is that suddenly your clock changes.”

Many enter retirement busied and harried from the last few months of work. Then, like jumping off a moving train, the forward momentum comes to an abrupt halt. Weekdays melt into weekends. Long breakfasts can become early lunches. The time that was lacking in the pressure of raising a family and pursuing a career now floods into a quiet home.  

After an initial honeymoon period, many early retirees find themselves quickly looking for structure to their days and weeks. “I had to do something,” says Lynn Haanen, about her early retirement. “My days lacked a schedule and a sense of purpose.” Initially relieved to leave the “grind” of teaching third graders, Lynn (my mom) gloried in finally having time to herself. But eventually, she realized her weeks were amorphous and needing structure.

Her life in retirement had traded the stopwatch for the lava lamp, with hours and days slowly blobbing into each other without direction.

For millions of Americans, early retirement can feel like entering Dr. Seuss’s “The Waiting Place.” In his classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Seuss warns about “a most useless place” for “people just waiting”:

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Fear of being caught in a useless cycle of waiting leads many to backfill their days with activities, errands, and “busy work” to avoid the anxiety of purposelessness. Time becomes a burden, something to be used up, like too much corn overflowing a silo after harvest. “Oh, I stay busy,” becomes the anxious response to “How’s retirement?”

New research shows that human longevity is giving people a newfound abundance of years – a change few have planned for.

Time, Time, and More Time  

In 1900, the average male could expect to live to age 46, and the average female age, 48.[1] Today, “if you are now 20 you have a 50 per cent chance of living to more than 100; if you are 40 you have an even chance of reaching 95; if you are 60, then a 50 per cent chance of making 90 or more.” Over the last 200 years, life expectancy has increased at a rate of more than two years every decade.[2]

If you retire at age 65, this means that you will have an evens chance of living 25 years beyond retirement. (Studies show that half of Americans retire from ages 61-65, and a full two-thirds of Americans are out of the full-time workforce by age 66.[3]) If you exercise, eat healthy, minimize alcohol consumption and have generally healthy relationships, plan on at least three more decades of life.

In Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s fascinating book The 100 Year-Life, they see drastic changes coming to the world in the next 50 years as it ages – and lives longer than ever before.

  • Out of necessity, people will work into their 70s and 80s. Gratton and Scott ask their MBA students at the London Business School, “If you live you 100 years, save around 10 percent of your income and want to retire on 50 percent of your final salary, at what age will you be able to retire?” The answer: in your 80s. Human longevity is changing the equation of financial planners and government pensions.
  • There will be new jobs, skills, and a new need for life-long education. If you live to 100 and work into your 70s and 80s, the economy will likely have been completely transformed since your high school, undergraduate, or graduate education. The need to learn new job skills – and to take time to re-invest in your education – will rise in importance.
  • Family and home relationships will be transformed. Four generations living at the same time will become a norm, and as Baby Boomer budgets are stressed, intergenerational living will become commonplace.
  • People will be younger for longer. With advances in medical technology, many reporters and social observers have said “60 is the new 50.” Though we should carry a healthy skepticism of the “forever young” narrative of our culture (as we’ll explore in the next chapter), we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that people are now living longer, healthier lives than ever before.

One of the most fascinating changes already happening due to human longevity is that the three-stage life is starting to lose its meaning. For generations, it was assumed that you lived in three stages: first education, then employment, and finally retirement. (Many Christian books have adopted this paradigm and called retirement a “third third,” or a “third calling.” Other books have assumed that “aging” and “retirement” are the same topic, which is no longer true. “Old age” is something that – for most – will happen decades later.) But today, the seasons of life dedicated to work, family, education and rest will become more fluid. You might start a new career at 50, become an undergraduate at 60, and a great grandparent at 70.

Christianity can, and should, dump a bucket of cold water on much of a secular culture’s near-worship of the medical technology that has elongated our lives. “From dust we came,” we say on Ash Wednesday, “and to dust we shall return.”

But Christian thinkers, pastors, and leaders also need to lead the way in communicating that retirement is quite simply no longer a life stage “preparing for the end,” but instead a contemporary social construct that allows men and women to prepare for a new season of life.  

This is an excerpt from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.


[1] Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, The 100 Year-Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 2.

[2] Emily Brandon, “The Ideal Retirement Age – and Why You Won’t Retire Then,” US News & World Report, 12 May 2014, Accessed on June 15, 2018: https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2014/05/12/the-ideal-retirement-age-and-why-you-wont-retire-then.

[3] Dan Kadlec, “The Ages When Most People Retire (Hint: Probably Too Young),” Time, 1 December 2016, Accessed on August 12, 2018: http://time.com/money/4584900/ages-people-retire-probably-too-young-early-retirement/.

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6 Questions to Ask About Working After Retirement

“Planning is an unnatural process; it’s much more fun to do something,” wrote twentieth century businessman Sir John Harvey-Jones. “And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.”

Unfortunately, far too many people are completely surprised – and underwhelmed – by retirement because they didn’t accept 91-year-old Ellen Snyder’s advice: “Be sure before you decide to retire you know what you might do in the future so you’re not just sitting there thinking, ‘What do I want to do?’”

Here are six questions to ask – and choices to make – as you make a plan to work after retirement:

1.What is God calling me to?

In Keith and Kristin Getty’s modern hymn In Christ Alone, they write, “What heights of love, what depths of peace / When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!” As you enter the elder phase of your life, and your youthful strivings for achievement, position, and power are quieted by the knowledge that Christ has already finished the ultimate work of redemption, where do you sense God’s leading?

As you plan work in retirement, you’ll need to make hard choices. You cannot do everything. Nor is God calling you to do nothing. Dying to the possibilities of what will never be also gives you the freedom to pursue what God is giving uniquely to you. Embracing your constraints is core to embracing your calling.

Considering your real life, where do you sense God leading you to serve?

2. What will be different from my career? What will be similar?

Gary VanderArk, the not-so-retired neurosurgeon I mentioned in the first chapter, continued to do his work as a doctor throughout his life. Because he always felt a sense of continuity between his calling and his work, he decided to continue his full-time job as a doctor well into his 70s.  In a similar way, Jim Hagen, a business consultant from Cleveland, Ohio, decided to continue his work into retirement, yet move to part-time while picking up several pro-bono clients in the nonprofit sector.

Others, however, decide that retirement is a time to pick up the pearl of vocation that they’ve sensed during their career, but have never fully explored. Keith Gordon, age 61, a retired engineer, decided to use his skills to become a high school math teacher through a program called Transition to Teaching, which helps longtime workers nearing retirement move into second careers teaching math or science.

Working in retirement can be the perfect opportunity to bring greater alignment to your calling and your employment.

3. How many hours per week will I work?

“I liked your speech, but you missed something,” a kind gentleman in his late 60s said to me after a talk I gave in Virginia. “I just don’t have the same energy level I used to. I still have several accounting clients, but now I take naps every afternoon. I can still work, but it looks different now.”

This little piece of advice is freeing. Working after retirement should take into consideration the realities of aging, even while embracing what you can do. But don’t let this frustrate you. Cicero, the famous Roman statesman and orator, once wrote in his essay On Old Age that nature will always win and trying to cling to youthful activities in old age will lead to frustration and resentment. Instead, Cicero says, embrace this season of life. Now is your time to be an elder, whether that be an elder statesman, an elder in your church, or simply an elder to a teenager living down the street.

Retirement can be an opportunity to bring greater sanity to rhythms of work and rest, even while continuing to contribute fruitfully to your community for decades to come. And so you’ll need to decide, how many hours do I want to work in retirement?

4. What kinds of work do I need to experiment with?

If you’re planning on making a career change, consider three things: (1) Ask a veteran in that field or company before making a final choice. Richard Baxter, the17th century Puritan pastor, wrote to those contemplating job choices, “Choose no calling (especially if it be of public consequence) without the advice of some judicious, faithful persons of that calling.”[1]

Also, consider your opportunities, abilities, and affinities before choosing a new job. What opportunities are right in front of you? What are your abilities? And what do you want to do?

5. What will I commit to?

“We’ve constructed this idea of the 90-year-old surfer-volunteer as the ideal retiree,” says Marty Martinson, professor of health education at San Francisco State University.[2] Martinson believes we told boomers the contradictory messages of “have fun in retirement” yet serve a social cause in your free-time. But in both of these scenarios, it’s the unhinged individual who decides what will best satisfy themselves. It’s still about what works best for me.

Biblical faith implies responsibility, and responsibility implies commitment. It means making a choice to regularly show up and serve the needs of others, even when it’s hard or inconvenient. Yet commitment also offers contour, meaning, and connectedness. Like in marriage – it’s the “forsaking of all others” that brings deep, lasting satisfaction.

To what, or to whom, will you commit to? What might it mean for Christian people to buck the national average of seven to eight hours of leisure time per day in retirement and commit to working on behalf of their neighbors over a lifetime?[3]

6. How will I balance and embrace my different callings in retirement?

I don’t believe work is the only calling we have. We’re called to be children, parents, and spouses; we’re called to be citizens of our communities; we’re called to be members of the church.

As you consider how to spend your time in retirement, and what role paid work will play in your next season of life, how is God calling you to love each of your various “neighbors” as yourself? Caring for an ailing parent full-time – and not working – may be exactly what God is calling you to do right now.  Your work is not the fullness of your vocation. As Mother Teresa once said, “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our [primary] vocation is the love of Jesus.”

Readiness to respond to God’s voice is the heartbeat of making wise choices about work over a lifetime.  

This article is adapted from An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.


[1] https://denverinstitute.org/how-to-choose-a-career-advice-from-a-puritan-pastor/

[2] https://www.aarp.org/work/retirement-planning/info-2014/boomer-retirement-little-savings-means-working.html

[3] https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/slideshows/12-ways-retirees-spend-their-newfound-free-time

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RetirementWork

A New View of Retirement (Thrivent Magazine)

How two couples reflect a growing movement to see retirement not as an end but as a transition.

We’re planning to retire by age 50,”says Rebecca Jackson, 40, from Fort Collins, Colorado. “But it’s not that we wouldn’t work; we just might not do the same thing.”

Rebecca and her husband, Greg Feldpausch, 39, are both doctors. She’s a geriatric physician, and he works in adult medicine at Northern Colorado Hospitalists after spending the first season of his career in the Air Force. As they juggle work and raising their two boys, Clayton, 4, and Jackson, 7, they’re also looking to the future. The end goal for them is to be able to fully walk away from their jobs and be retired for life.

How will they do that? They’ve created a strategy to pay down their student loan debt and save for the future. Clint Jasperson, their brother-in-law (married to Rebecca’s sister) and a Thrivent Financial professional in Timnath, Colorado, has helped them.

“They’re very, very committed to paying off their debt,” says Jasperson. “So many people end up in what feels like indentured servitude by having ‘lifestyle creep,’ by buying a larger house or car than they need. But Becca and Greg have their priorities straight.”

Even though both now make good salaries, Rebecca and Greg essentially live on one salary, as they are aggressively paying off loans and cars, and are saving for their children’s college education.

Jasperson has been a crucial guide in Rebecca and Greg’s financial journey, helping them use their finances to live out their faith. “If we believe everything we have is a gift, then that puts us into a position of stewardship,” Jasperson says.

Their view of retirement reflects a growing movement to see retirement not as an end but as a transition. They’re looking forward to retirement giving them more flexibility when it comes to their family and pursuing other passions. “There’s a high burnout rate in medicine,” says Rebecca, explaining why they want to retire early. “And we’d just like to have options. Time with our family is really a priority.” They’ve also considered retiring in Oregon, and Greg has thought about spending more time working with his hands—possibly learning a new trade.

Jasperson helps Thrivent members save and plan for the future, especially for unexpected circumstances like a death in the family. But he doesn’t believe most people “want to just sit there and idly twiddle their thumbs all day. Retirement is really about transitioning to your next calling. You’ve got to find that next calling.”

Retirement is not always about a complete cessation from work, but often a new season of service that’s enabled by being wise with money.

Planning to Retire—But Not Completely

“I don’t know that we’ll ever actually retire,” says Mike Fornataro, executive director of Buckeye Lake Region Corporation in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. “But because of investing, we’re now in a position to do things we’d like to do rather than chase the dollar.”

Mike, 60, and his wife, Ann, 56, didn’t start investing until their late 40s, when they met Thrivent Financial Professional Jeff Ritter from Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Ann is a senior IT training consultant for Genesis Healthcare Systems.

“Our time frame was shorter,” Mike says, “but we’ve been fortunate. Jeff gauged our comfort level, and we now have stable growth.”1

Ritter helped the Fornataros fast-track their retirement savings. “I share the five principles to live by with my clients,” he says. “Spend less than you make, have a short- and long-term strategy, be wise with debt, protect yourselves against setbacks and give back.” In setting and achieving goals, it’s important to understand that you might need to make some trade-offs as you consider your needs and wants.

Ritter also coached the Fornataros to make a clear budget and ask questions about the values they tie to money. “Are you tracking—literally—the money you’ve spent in the last 90 days. Do you write it down?” he asks them. “And when I first meet a couple, I ask, ‘How were you raised with money? How did your parents define success?’” Clarity on inherited values about money can help explain why budgets either work well for people or are ignored. He also uses one of several money models when he counsels clients to make a 10-10-80 plan: Save 10%, give 10% and spend 80%.

“When I first met Mike and Ann,” Ritter remembers, “they didn’t have a retirement strategy.” So they developed a clear financial roadmap for retirement.

The Fornataros have adopted new habits of saving and investing, but like Rebecca and Greg, they don’t envision completely retiring. “Hopefully we’ll be able to work at lower-stress jobs because we have a cushion. It’s not the traditional, ‘I’m done. I’m out,’ type of retirement,” says Mike. “[We want] the freedom to choose what we do for a living that may not be as lucrative but is more fulfilling. That’s our view of retirement.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, an estimated 10,000 baby boomers retire per day in the U.S.2 Yet couples like Mike and Ann are questioning that idea of retirement as a complete cessation from work. Mike says, “I hope to continue working in a capacity similar to what I’m doing now. A job with real community benefit.”

“What I see going forward,” says Ritter, “is how we can help people get repositioned in retirement to still give back. Maybe it’s volunteering or doing a hybrid retirement, working part time, either for pay or not for pay. What I work through with clients is, ‘What does your picture of retirement look like? Paint it for me so you, your spouse and I are on the same page.’

“I ask people, ‘Have you and your spouse sat down and talked about what you both want to accomplish for retirement? What is your game plan? What are you going to be doing? Is it travel? Write a book? Are you going to work part-time? What are you going to do for yourself, and what are you going to do for others?’”

Finances are just one piece of a fruitful retirement. Ritter guides Thrivent members to think through the stewardship not just of their wealth, but the entirety of their lives as a gift from God.

Prioritizing What’s Important

“Time with family. That really is the priority,” says Rebecca about both her present and future plans. That philosophy was inspired by the early death of her father. “My dad worked really hard, retired early and then passed away two years later, at age 65.” In working with older patients, Rebecca is constantly reminded by the fragility of life and how unexpected events can drastically change our lives.

So she takes off Mondays to take her children to swim practice. Greg recently opted for fewer shifts at the hospital. They enjoy family vacations in Michigan, Colorado and Oregon. They’re living not just for the future, but they recognize each day as a gift.

They imagine that one day they’ll perhaps have a saner balance of work and rest. “I don’t know if we’d completely retire. We may one day work at a nursery or take up a trade. But we want to be able to spend time together. That’s our hope.”

This article first appeared in the Thrivent magazine, a trade publication for over 2 million Thrivent members. Here’s the PDF.

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RetirementVocationWork

Reimagining Retirement: Recovering a Vision of Elderhood for the Global Church (Lausanne Global Analysis)

This essay on retirement, targeted toward ministry leaders, was first published in the November 2019 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis. Here it is in its entirety.

Greg Haanen recently turned 65 and retired from a career selling print advertising. For over 14 years, he lived in Minneapolis, while his wife Gayle ran Interlachen Inn, a small restaurant in Alexandria, Minnesota. Having lived apart from her for over a decade, he was ready to say good riddance to the two-hour commute every weekend, to spending nights alone, and to a life of hurry and obligation. They sold their house in Minneapolis and renovated their cabin with a deluxe fireplace, big screen TV, and farmhouse kitchen. He was eagerly awaiting a new season of rest and relaxation.

Yet his honeymoon period was short-lived. Less than three months after retirement, his sister went in for another round of chemotherapy, having battled cancer for years. However, this time, she started to decline fast. In only weeks, he found himself coordinating hospice details, calling family, and moving her out of her apartment. As images of a carefree retirement on a beach slowly receded, he confessed to me, his son, ‘I feel like there’s something more for me; but I’m just not sure what.’[1]

An aging world

My father is part of a larger, global trend. The world—and the Christian church—is aging quickly:[2]

  • Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day in the US,[3] and, this year, for the first time in American history, there will be more Americans over age 60 than under 18.[4]
  • By 2050, the global population of adults over age 65 is expected to double to 1.6 billion.[5]
  • The median age of Christians is also on the rise. In the US it is 53 (higher if you are in a mainline denomination); in the UK, 61. Pew reports that Christians, unlike Muslims, are dying faster in Europe than they are being born.[6]

Yet people are also living longer, which makes the current experience of retirement such an awkward fit for people like my father:

  • For example, if you were born in 1947, you can expect to live to age 85.
  • If you were born in 1967, your life expectancy is 91.
  • For those born in 2007, life expectancy is now 103.[7]

In an age of human longevity, people are asking how they are going to spend what could be 20, 30 or even 40 years after official retirement.

Furthermore, governments are asking how they are going to foot the bill. A USA Today staff editorial claims, ‘The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in just ten years, half of all federal spending (except for debt service) will be benefits to senior citizens.’[8] As global pensions are stretched (especially in Europe), promises of never-ending government benefits for retirees are looking thinner by the day.[9] One TIME magazine article made the case that China’s aging population is a major threat to its future, largely due to its one-child policy and the imbalance of older to younger adults. Many believe an aging population is China’s biggest economic problem.[10]

‘Retirement’ relevance?

Globally, paradigms for aging are beginning to show cracks. The notion of sitting on the porch while living out one’s ‘golden years’ is becoming less attractive to healthy, older adults.[11] Yet that ambition is tempered by the fact that most retirees have deep seated (and empirically founded) fears about affording the retirement ‘dream’.[12] Why, then, in an age where people are healthier for much longer than at any time in modern history, does the idea of ‘retirement’ persist?

One reason is that retirement may be the most lucrative idea in the global economy. By one estimate, the US retirement industry alone is worth about USD 27 trillion.[13] While we have rarely connected the global economy and the notion of retirement, the primary reason most individuals invest in the stock market is that they are saving for retirement. Work, often laced with deep money-based fears, becomes a frenzy of activity all directed toward the goal of ‘hitting your number’ so that you can finally retire and ‘be free’.

Have Christians been complicit in this narrative? What can be done to reform our views of work, rest, aging, and retirement in a new moment in global history?[14]

Pathways forward

The time has come to change our views about retirement—not only for the sake of the global economy, but for the sake of the millions of men and women, like my father, who are longing to make a meaningful contribution with their lives, but live in a society that has relegated them to the margins.

Christians have started to reimagine retirement, but efforts to date are incomplete. Some Christians have attempted to baptize the idea of the retirement village, without a deeper view of age, rest, vocation, and elderhood. Several of these faith-based living communities exist around the world, yet look very much like secular retirement communities, complete with pools, shopping, happy hour, and golf courses. The only visible difference is more Bible studies.

Other leading voices are calling for Christians never to retire. ‘Lord, spare me the curse of retirement!’, says John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Yet the problem with the ‘never retire’ stance is that people are tired—sometimes physically, almost always spiritually—from their careers. When we observe that 87 percent of the world is disengaged from their work[15] and that many have made their work their religion,[16] it becomes understandable that as soon as people are eligible to retire, they generally do.[17] What is needed is a recovery of the balance between work and rest, not a call to plough the thistles and thorns until you die (Gen 3:17-18).

Other proposals from Christians call for various versions of ‘refirement’ or ‘rehirement’—calls to muster new energy in retirement—but often fail to acknowledge that work can, and should, change as we age. The closest the Bible comes to the subject of retirement is Numbers 8:25: ‘And from the age of 50 years they [the Levites] shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more’. Since hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle was hard physical labor, later in life Levites were commanded to ‘minister to their brothers in the tent of the meeting’, a hint that God did not intend for our work to stop completely, but to morph and mature with age.[18]

Finally, many aging churches and denominations organize a ‘seniors’ ministry’ for the ‘elderly’; but can we do better than pulling older adults out of society and recruiting them to be door greeters?

Four practical suggestions

Here are four practical ways to bring biblical hope to the millions of men and women approaching or experiencing retirement:

1.     Encourage rhythms of rest, renewal and re-engagement as people enter retirement.

What if Christian leaders across the world encouraged those entering retirement to take an intentional three, six, or twelve months of Sabbath rest, rather than planning for a vacation? Leviticus 25 and the Ten Commandments suggest that God intends not only for a day of rest, but seasons of rest, in order to reorient the heart to trust God, re-center one’s identity in being God’s people, and heal social divides.

Brad Hewitt, the recently retired CEO of Thrivent Financial, says: ‘After being in executive leadership for 25 years, I decided to take a sabbatical before the next season of service. I know I need to slow down before I jump into something else. This sabbatical season may be short, yet at the end I trust God will show me the next place or way to serve.’ Hewitt plans on a six-month sabbatical to pray, be silent, rebuild old relationships, and listen to God’s call for his next assignment.

2.     Change the conversation from one of benefits to championing the work of elders in our communities.

Today, conversations around retirement are often embroiled in controversy. As pension funds buckle (like that of the state of Illinois, which has a USD 134 billion hole in its public pension system[19]), older adults are often seen as a problem to be solved. To call somebody ‘elderly’ is an insult. However, the Judaeo-Christian tradition shows us elders were once associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age (Lev 19:32).

As older Americans re-engage in both paid and unpaid roles, the way to normalize this biblical notion of ‘love your neighbor’ through our vocations in the latter years is through storytelling. Marc Freedman, the talented CEO of Encore.org, is leading the way in telling these stories of intergenerational friendships, civic service, and the counter-cultural decision to work—even after ‘retirement’.[20]

3.     Challenge financial advisors to counsel their clients to consider the different seasons of work over a lifetime.

The cultural caretakers of the idea of retirement are financial advisors, and they have a critical role to play in the future of an aging world. Rather than unthinkingly adopting secular notions of retirement as self-focused pleasure, what if they spoke with clients about seasons of work and rest over a lifetime?

Alongside encouraging generous giving, wise spending, prudent saving, and investing in businesses that align with God’s good purposes for the world, financial advisors could be the key change agents in healing broken notions of vocation and elderhood for an aging world.[21]

4.     Encourage intergenerational relationships in the church.

Elders have much to give a coming generation. Rather than practicing age-segregation, many churches are deploying the elders of their congregation for the well-being of a coming generation:

  • Providence Mount St Vincent’s Intergenerational Learning Center in Seattle—the subject of the documentary film ‘The Growing Season’—has excelled at spawning intergenerational relationships.[22]
  • St John’s-St Margaret’s Church in Singapore has built Project Spring-Winter,[23] inspired in part by Zechariah’s vision, ‘Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem. . . and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets’, (Zech 8:4-5).

A biblical picture of retirement is not one of heroism nor hedonism, but listening to God’s voice and responding in love as elders, intent on sharing wisdom and blessing with the next generation. It is simply a life of service, pointing beyond our self to the Servant in whose image we are made.

I recently called my father. He told me he was contemplating a new way to spend his retirement. After caring for his dying sister, and having always felt an acute concern for ailing family and friends, he told me that after a career in advertising he was going to attend a training session to become a hospice volunteer at Knute Nelson Hospice in Alexandria, Minnesota.

‘I think I could do that, Jeff’, he told me, contemplating a new vocation. ‘I visited my dying friend Hugh today. It was a powerful reminder of what a beautiful gift each new day is.’

Jeff Haanen is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and the founder and CEO of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. He lives in Colorado, USA, with his wife and four daughters.


Endnotes

[1] This story was adapted from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life (Chicago: Moody, 2019).

[2] Editor’s Note: See article by Peter Brierley, entitled, ‘The Aging Church and Its Implications’, in May 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2016-05/ aging-church-implications.

[3] Glenn Kessler, ‘Do 10,000 Baby Boomers Retire Every Day?’ Wall Street Journal, 24 July 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/07/24/do-10000-baby-boomers-retire-every-day/?utm_term=.b8f3e33fe0b1.

[4] Marc Freedman, ‘Building Bridges Across the Generational Divide’, Wall Street Journal, 1 November 2018, http://webreprints.djreprints.com/4460340932488.html.

[5] Wan He, Daniel Goodkind, and Paul Kowal, ‘An Aging World: 2015’, United States Census Bureau, March 2016, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p95-16-1.pdf.

[6] Conrace Hackett and David McClendon, ‘Christians Remain World’s Largest Religious Group, But They Are Declining in Europe’, Pew Research Center, April 5, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/.

[7] ‘No Matter Your Age, Ignore It At Your Peril’, 100 Year Life website, accessed on 28 December 2017: http://www.100yearlife.com/the-challenge/.

[8] ‘Social Security Plan Robs from Future to Pay for Past’, USA Today, 13 February 2019: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/02/13/democrats-social-security-plan-robs-future-pay-past-editorials-debates/2861184002/, emphasis mine.

[9] John Mauldin, ‘Europe’s Pension Funds Are Running Low as Boomer Retire’, Forbes, 2 July 2018: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmauldin/2018/07/02/europes-pension-funds-are-running-low-as-boomers-retire/#329a34af63a0.

[10] Charlie Campbell, ‘China’s Aging Population is a Major Threat to Its Future’, TIME, 7 February 2019: http://time.com/5523805/china-aging-population-working-age/.

[11] Nancy Cook, ‘Will Baby Boomers Change the Meaning of Retirement?’, The Atlantic, 18 June 2015: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/baby-boomers-retirement/396950/.

[12] Heather Gillers, Anne Tergesen and Leslie Scism, ‘A Generation of Americans is Entering Old Age the Least Prepared in Decades’, The Wall Street Journal, 22 June 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-generation-of-americans-is-entering-old-age-the-least-prepared-in-decades-1529676033?mod=hp_lead_pos5.

[13] Nick Thornton, ‘Here’s What the $27 Trillion US Retirement Industry Looks Like’, Think Advisor, 2 January 2018, https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/01/02/heres-what-the-27-trillion-us-retirement-industry/?slreturn=20180714204623.

[14] Editor’s Note: See article by Mats Tunehag, entitled, ‘Creating and Sharing Wealth’, in May 2019 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-05/creating-and-sharing-wealth.

[15] ‘The Engaged Employee’, Gallup, https://www.gallup.com/services/190118/engaged-workplace.aspx.

[16] Derek Thompson, ‘Workism is Making Americans Miserable’, The Atlantic, 24 February 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/religion-workism-making-americans-miserable/583441/.

[17] ‘American Project Average Retirement Age’, Gallup, https://news.gallup.com/poll/234302/snapshot-americans-project-average-retirement-age.aspx.

[18] Jeff Haanen, ‘Saving Retirement’, Christianity Today, 15 February 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/march/cover-story-saving-retirement.html.

[19] Amanda Albright and Danielle Moran, ‘Illinois Turns Warily to Bonds to Plug $134 Billion Pension Hole’, Bloomberg, February 20, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-20/why-bonds-seen-as-fix-for-illinois-s-134-billion-pension-hole.

[20] For more information, visit Encore.org.

[21] Jeff Haanen, ‘A Manifesto for Financial Advisors’, available at: https://www.uncommonretirement.com/financial-advisors.

[22] ‘The Growing Season’, Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=66&v=6K3H2VqQKcc.

[23] Project Spring-Winter, http://psw.sjsm.org.sg. Thank you to Eunice Nichols for making me aware of both ‘The Growing Season’ and Project Spring-Winter.

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