Perhaps you remember a 1982 song from the punk/rock band The Clash titled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Admittedly, other than the title, it actually has nothing to do with the subject of this article, which is the important decision that many retirees make about whether to “retire in place” and stay where they are or move somewhere else when they retire. Nonetheless, it is a catchy song with a catchy title. The chorus to the song goes like this:
Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Some go, but most don’t
Making the wrong decision about moving could cause some trouble, but things may not be all that urgent or dire in your situation. When it comes to staying or going in retirement, a fairly recent bankrate.com survey found that 3 out of 5 people say they want to retire somewhere else, meaning in another city or state. The interesting thing about the study is that the numbers change dramatically based on age. Not surprisingly, 75 percent of younger people (age 18 to 29), who tend to work and live in larger cities, want to retire somewhere else. The percentage then steadily decreases until of those ages 65 and older, only 20 percent say they want to retire somewhere else. A smaller percentage actually do (the number is between 5 and 10 percent, depending on which year you look at).
Very often, making fixed income dollars go further by moving to a lower cost of living area is a primary reason many people consider relocating. Another big reason is the weather. People living in colder northern climates tend to gravitate toward the warmer southeast or southeast. (I grew up in Florida, and many who moved there were shocked by just how hot and humid it is most of the year, especially if they had visited only during the cooler winter months. I live in North Carolina now, which has a more temperate climate, and I understand we have a lot of “half-backers” here – retirees from the north who find places like Florida or Arizona too hot and move halfway back to places like Texas or the Mid-South.)
Other retirees move to be closer to family, especially grandchildren. I have grandchildren myself, and I live very near most of them. It is great to be able to see them from time to time and to be a part of their lives.
There are lots of other reasons retirees consider moving, mostly having to do with the things that they want or need (be closer to family, health care, social network, recreation and entertainment opportunities, the arts, history, etc.). But there are a lot of reasons to stay put as well. An article in U.S. News and World Report lists the following as good reasons to stay where you are:
- Save money – selling, buying, and moving costs money.
- Access to services you like – you probably have doctors, mechanics, stores, etc., that you like and trust.
- Friends – having friends nearby makes like more enjoyable.
- Proximity to family — especially if you live near your children or grandchildren.
- Memories – depending on how long you lived in your current location, you may have lots of fond memories there.
- An advance plan for your later years – the services you need in later life may be easier to find in a community you know well.
- You like it – you likely chose your current home and location because you liked it in the first place.
All of the reasons for moving (or not moving) in retirement that I have listed so far have to do with what retirees perceive that they want or need, and these are all legitimate considerations. Having grown up in Florida and now living in NC, which can get pretty chilly in the winter, I’m pretty sure I’d be thinking about the sunny beaches in Florida if I lived in the Northeast or Upper Midwest. I am about as far north as I would ever want to be.
But when we think about this from a retirement stewardship perspective, other things come into view.
If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that I have a somewhat different working definition of retirement than what the culture and media have. I think, for the Christian, retirement is a time when you are no longer employed (either by choice or not), and God has provided sufficient resources for you to support yourself without having to work in a full-time job. But that doesn’t mean that you are done with any kind of work; you continue to work to do things to serve God and others without pay since you no longer need the income.
Being in this stage of life opens up a whole new set of exciting possibilities, including the possibility of moving to a new (perhaps better) location for any of the reasons I alluded to above. But before we go too far down that path, we need to take a step back to see what the Bible says that should guide our decisions. In other words, we need to understand the biblical priorities and values that should shape our ideas and plans, not just focus on the things we think we want or need in retirement.
Go or stay?
Obviously, the idea of moving to a warmer climate in retirement isn’t directly addressed in the Bible. However, “going” is. Matthew 28:18-20 tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations…” But exactly how we go, where we go, when we go, and what we do when we get there, will vary based on each person’s unique calling and gifting.
You can go by staying. Sounds like a contradiction, but maybe God wants you to “go” right where you are. Maybe God has called you to stay where you are, perhaps in a smaller or less expensive house or part of town, or something with less upkeep, if that’s what you need.
If you stay, you can “go” to your family, neighbors, and friends nearby. You can “go” to those in your church community by serving in various ministries based on your unique gifting. You can “go” to the homeless and hurting in your community, or to those who are imprisoned. You can “go” to the children – your children and grandchildren if they are near, the children in your church, or others in different parts of your community. You can “go” by giving generously to your local church and other ministries and missions that are reaching the lost. You can “go” by praying for others. You can “go” by engaging in the fun activities that are available right where you live.
You can go by actually going. Matthew 28 also connotes a broader “going,” one that involves more distant people groups in other parts of the world. That could mean moving to another city to be part of a church plant, or it could be a trip to some distant part of the world where there is a lesser concentration of disciples to fulfill the “all nations” part of the Great Commission. No matter where they are, “How can they believe unless they hear? How can they hear unless we “go” to them?” (Romans 10:14-15).
It’s interesting that we see this principle of “going” and “scattering” in the Bible. In the early Church, the purpose seems to have been to move believers who were heavily concentrated in Jerusalem to areas “throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor, taking the Gospel to areas where there were no Christ followers.
I am reminded of a particular church plant that our denomination recently undertook in Manchester, New Hampshire. “Well, that’s not too far,” you might say. But the reality is, according to a 2016 Gallup Poll, New Hampshire is the least religious state in the U.S. That could be interpreted to mean that it has the fewest number of professing Christians as a percentage of its population than any other state. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the state currently has one of the highest rates of heroin and other opiates addiction in the country, and Manchester is one of the hardest hits cities in the state. It is a mission field right here in the U.S.
Staying is good, and so is going
Staying where you are – in your current community and your local church – can be a good way to go. Your community, family, friends, and especially your church, need you. They need the unique contribution that only you can make based on the gifts that God has given you. But perhaps you’re tempted to think, “I’m getting older, so I must be less useful and needed than I was when I was younger.” I believe this is a common misconception among retirees, perhaps because it tends to be the view of the popular culture. It certainly isn’t what the Bible teaches.
If you read Romans 12:4–8, you will be reminded that we all have been given at least one spiritual gift by God and have also acquired various talents, skills, and life experiences. God doesn’t just take them away when we get older. They remain and can be used in the various ways you “go” to others. Because you have more life experience, you also have a lot of experience and lessons learned to share.
We know that going is good too. Many of us may not have “gone” when we were younger due to family and work responsibilities, or if we did, it was infrequent and of short duration. If you are getting close to “retirement” as I defined it above, your children are probably (hopefully) out of your home, and you no longer need to work full-time to pay the bills as you once did. This could be a time for those of us who find themselves in that situation for one reason or another to consider what “going” might look like.
One way to think about this is to ask yourself this question: “Where am I needed the most.” That may be right where you are, or it could be in a distant land. That stands in contrast to the way a lot of retirees approach this decision, which is “Where can I go that will give me all the things I perceive that I want or need?”
You might want to be part of a church plant in another part of the city you live in, another city or state, or perhaps even somewhere else in the world. You could go on short or medium-term mission trips to serve alongside those who have started churches in places like New Hampshire, or even overseas.
The bottom line is this: Whether we stay or go, the Bible tells us to do all things to His glory (I Cor. 10:31). Furthermore, God has promised to give us the strength and ability to do whatever He calls us personally to do, even when we are older. Isaiah 46:3-4 says,
Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will sustain you, and I will rescue you. (ESV)
It is God who strengthens us and sustains us throughout or lives, and that includes our later years. Older believers are a lot like old trees that continue to flourish (Psalm 92:12-14). We may have been stronger and better able to do certain things when we are younger, but we can “still bear fruit in old age [and still be] full of sap and green” like that old tree in your yard when we are older.
Going and growing
My church has a “mission statement.” Most churches do, and many are fairly similar to each other. Ours is fairly simple and straightforward: “Our mission together is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” That statement is then elaborated on as follows:
We carry out our mission to make disciples by Going and Growing. We Go into the world, proclaiming the gospel, through community-based evangelism and service. We also seek to establish new gospel communities by planting local churches.
In addition to Going into the world to make disciples, we are also called to Grow as disciples. We Grow as disciples in two contexts. Our Sunday meeting is where we gather together to express our affection for Jesus through passionate worship and grow in our obedience to Jesus through the application of God’s Word. Our Community Groups are where we live out life as disciples: worshiping together, caring for one another, and daily carrying out our mission to make disciples.
Not matter what age we are, the biblical concepts of “going and growing” are both very important. If we don’t “grow,” we may be less effective when we “go.” A common stereotype of older people is that they are set in their ways and resistant to change. That can certainly be true sometimes, but it would be wrong to assume that older adults aren’t capable or willing to change. We need to remember that all Christians, regardless of age, should continually strive to change and to grow in discipleship (Hebrews 12:1-3). We are all running the same race, approaching the same finish line, so spiritual growth is just as applicable to us as it is to others.
So, no matter where God sends you, throw yourself wholeheartedly into the work and ministry of your local church so that you can “grow,” then “go” wherever God sends you.
My prayer is that God will grant to us all the wisdom we need to make good decisions (James 3:13, 17-18) as we try to live in ways that are pleasing to Him (2 Cor 5:9), no matter what stage of life we find ourselves!