Scrolling through my Facebook feed, last week I noticed a rare delight: Edith Franco was beaming. Recently graduated with a masters degree, she posed in black cap and gown in front of the Texas State University sign smiling ear to ear.
Almost a decade ago I was her youth pastor at a small church in Brighton. Optimistic, kind and bright, Edith was the first to volunteer, the last to complain and she ran circles around her AP classes in high school. As I wondered where the time had went, I also worried for her: What will an undocumented immigrant do with all that potential?
This week I was one of 180 entities and individuals representing business, law enforcement and faith communities to urge the new Biden administration to reform our nation’s outdated and broken immigration system.
I come to this debate not as a business leader, clamoring for an updated immigration system that meets employment needs of our modern economy, nor as a police officer, wanting to bring security to communities that live in lawless limbo because of unenforceable immigration laws that haven’t been substantially changed since 1965.
Instead, I support immigration reform primarily as a person of faith.
From 2011-2013, I pastored “Dreamers,” youth who were brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents as children, often infants. High school students like Edith, so eager to contribute to the only country they had ever known, lived under a constant cloud. The fear of deportation and separation from their family — not to mention minimal job prospects in a shadow economy — gave me an introduction to the ways outdated laws could oppress rather than “establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, and promote the general Welfare,” as our constitution states.
My experience as a pastor of a Hispanic congregation led me to investigate what the Bible said on the topic. I was surprised to learn that the Hebrew word for foreigner or stranger, ger, occurs 92 times in the Old Testament. And some of the most well-known figures of my faith were immigrants. Abram was called “out or Ur” to leave his homeland and move to Canaan. Joseph was an immigrant in Egypt, as were Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 2:22) Reminding them of this fact, God commanded his people to not mistreat the foreigner, but instead to “love them as yourself,” because they too were once immigrants in a foreign land (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Jesus himself was a refugee as a child, fleeing persecution with his parents as an infant (Matthew 2:13-15). Later in life, Jesus made foreigners the heroes of his parables (Luke 10:25-37) and even claimed that welcoming the stranger is the same as welcoming him (Matthew 25:44-45).
Friends in my own theologically conservative circles are quick to point out the importance of the rule of law, citing Romans 13: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
To this I wholeheartedly agree. Because laws must be obeyed, when they cease to serve the common good, they need reformation.
Indeed, all 180 signatories believe in the need to make changes to our immigration law which strengthens communities, addresses border security, grows our economy, expands visas for high tech and agricultural work, and regularizes the status of the estimated 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., including more than 800,000 Dreamers like Edith.
In my work at Denver Institute for Faith & Work, we teach that all people are made in God’s image and created to work (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). We believe all work has value, must be fairly compensated (Deut. 24:15), and both workers and employers should obey the rule of law. And all should have the opportunity to reach-their God-given potential.
I recently called Edith to catch up. Two years ago she married a Puerto Rican and is now a legal resident. She’s working in a law office, using her masters degree to help other immigrants navigate a broken immigration maze that desperately needs reform.
“There are so many people who want to be here and want to contribute to this country,” Edith said. “Shouldn’t they be able to?”
This op-ed first appeared in the Boulder Weekly. It is the rare piece of advocacy I do on an issue I care about. If you’d like to learn more about the topic of immigration, here’s a nine-minute Scripture reflection focused on the theme of the “foreigner.” Also, here’s a series of talks from leading Christian thinkers and practitioners on the topic of immigration from a Christian perspective which I helped produce at a conference nearly 8 years ago. Finally, I should mention that Edith’s new married last name is “de Cardona.”
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.’
An aging world
My father is part of a larger, global trend. The world—and the Christian church—is aging quickly:
Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day in the US, and, this year, for the first time in American history, there will be more Americans over age 60 than under 18.
By 2050, the global population of adults over age 65 is expected to double to 1.6 billion.
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.
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.
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.’ As global pensions are stretched (especially in Europe), promises of never-ending government benefits for retirees are looking thinner by the day. 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.
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. Yet that ambition is tempered by the fact that most retirees have deep seated (and empirically founded) fears about affording the retirement ‘dream’. 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 retirementmay be the most lucrative idea in the global economy. By one estimate, the US retirement industry alone is worth about USD 27 trillion. 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?
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 neverto 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 and that many have made their work their religion, it becomes understandable that as soon as people are eligible to retire, they generally do. 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.
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), 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’.
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.
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.
St John’s-St Margaret’s Church in Singapore has built Project Spring-Winter, 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.’
 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).
 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.
 Glenn Kessler, ‘Do 10,000 Baby Boomers Retire Every Day?’ Wall Street Journal, 24July 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/07/24/do-10000-baby-boomers-retire-every-day/?utm_term=.b8f3e33fe0b1.
 Marc Freedman, ‘Building Bridges Across the Generational Divide’, Wall Street Journal, 1 November 2018, http://webreprints.djreprints.com/4460340932488.html.
 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.
 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/.
 ‘No Matter Your Age, Ignore It At Your Peril’, 100 Year Life website, accessed on 28 December 2017: http://www.100yearlife.com/the-challenge/.
 ‘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.
 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.
 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/.
 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/.
 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.
 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.
 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.
Here’s a recent presentation I gave at recent event for pastors in the DIFW article. This article appeared originally in the DIFW blog. I hope it helps you think about to ‘equip the saints for works of service’ in the rhythms of your church. Here are the slides.
Living out our faith at work looks different for doctors, lawyers, accountants, and professionals in various industries, and ministry leaders often struggle to fully understand the challenges their members face in the workplace. At a recent event for our Church Partnership Network, Jeff Haanen shared seven practical ways to disciple the professionals in our pews.
1. Visit your members in the workplace.
“Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
One of the easiest ways to learn how church attendees spend the majority of their time is to visit them where they work. It’s also the best way to understand the challenges they face in their respective jobs or industries, which will enable ministry leaders to pray for and encourage them in relevant and specific ways.
Frequency: 2-4 times per year
2. Host a commissioning service for church members in the workplace.
“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Many churches formally commission missionaries and mission teams prior to field assignments. The same attention can be given to lay members of the congregation as they go “out” to their work.
3. Use workplace illustrations in your sermons.
Most of us spend about 90,000 hours at work, but only 5,000 at church on Sundays. Relate to church members with relevant examples and sermon illustrations from their jobs or industries that connect with each week’s teaching. Even better: use examples right from your congregation.
4. Pray for people in different industries.
“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field…” (Matthew 9:38)
If we believe in the power of prayer, why not pray specifically for church attendees during tough or busy times? Pray for teachers in the fall, retail employees during the holidays, etc.
5. Feature worship music that affirms work and creation.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
6. Select small group curriculum that focuses on work, calling, and culture.
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37–39)
Many believers struggle with feelings of isolation at work. Address this growing frustration through industry based small group curriculum that explores issues of calling, cultural engagement, and the challenges unique to a variety of industries. Take a look at Scatter and download a free lesson plan to get started.
Frequency: 1-2 times per year per group
7. Host “all-of-life” interviews in your worship services.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 5:13.