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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
Maybe I’ll need to take up, hang gliding.
There we go. There we go. Hang gliding. Sounds fun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.