In an effort to shed some higher salaries, some organizations have pushed hard on the mandatory retirement age. People who have poured their life into their job are having their years of experience discarded in a move to clear the books of salary. The Chicago Public Schools is offering special incentives to teachers who retire early, so they can hire new teachers at 50% of these veteran teacher’s pay. These longtime employees are thought of as overhead that needs to be trimmed rather than veterans who have honed their craft.
It is ironic that in a country that is greying the elderly are being pushed to the fringes. It all adds up to a culture that devalues the contribution of the aged.
And that devaluation has even infected the church. I remember when I was serving as a Youth Minister being told that you need young people, 20-somethings, as the leaders for a successful Youth Ministry. What essentially was being taught was that old people are outdated, out-of-touch, and irrelevant. Youth Ministry was for the young, the vibrant, the fun, not the crotchety, the decrepit and old. Old people should be retired. Young people need someone closer to their age which they can relate to, not some gray-haired old lady or balding old man.
So as the elderly have been pushed to the sidelines of ministry they have accepted that there is a mandatory retirement age in ministry. The common statement I have heard repeated in ministry is, “I’ve done my time. It is time for the younger people to start pulling their weight.” Done my time – sounds like looking at ministry involvement as a sentence to be served, rather than a opportunity to render service.
But the sadder news is that as seniors checkout of useful engagement their physical health and emotional well-being suffer greatly.
I think of a woman in the Roseland community of Chicago who upon retirement opened a Christian daycare and afterschool program to serve the underprivileged children in one of Chicago’s most infamous neighborhoods. This ministry has developed a national reputation as a model for sharing Christ with urban youth.
I think of an Elder at my current ministry who upon retirement essentially took over the ministry of calling on those in the hospital and nursing homes. He has led that ministry, encouraging others involvement, for the past 13 years (he replaced another retiree who did the same “unpaid” staff position for numerous years).
I think of all of the young men and young women who desperately need someone who has fought through their fights, and lasted through their struggles, who can pour their years of wisdom into their lives. There is a senior couple I know who do that with other couples, being an example for them of a Biblically fashioned marriage.
I think of two other retirees that spends two to sometimes 10 hours per week fiddling around the church building … cleaning closets, checking boilers, contracting with repairmen, etc. If it wasn’t for the hours that these two put in during any given week, the load of caring for a 50 year-old building could quickly grow beyond our ability to manage.
Rather than retirement being a time of checking out of ministry. It could very well be a time when our seniors find the opportunity to do the ministry that their hearts have always desired. When their daily schedule has been freed of appointments, meetings, and paperwork, their life could be opened to make a profound impact for the Kingdom of God.
And their are so many other places that older folks could serve in ministry: hosting and/or leading a small group Bible study in their home for neighbors and friends; teaching a younger person the ropes in the areas where they have ministered; mentoring a young adult in living the Christian life by sharing their spiritual journey and the lessons they have learned along the way; volunteering in the nursery; serving as a “surrogate grandparent” for a student in the youth program; helping with office tasks, such as copying and folding; volunteering as a reading tutor at the local public school; cooking up meals or treats for families in the neighborhood or guest at the church; or even putting the tools of their years of vocational ministry to use in ministry by starting a After-School tutoring program, teaching a computer class in Microsoft Office, or helping people to set-up a home budget plan. The options for senior engagement are only limited by the narrowness of their vision.