Last year, I attended a week-long event that dealt with integrating faith and work in the life of the Christian. (If you’re interested, check out the Redeemer City to City Faith and Work Initiative.)
I have always been interested in this topic. But I attended the conference because we want to do more ministry in this area in our local church—for those who are early in their careers or just starting.
I also think it applies to those heading to, or already in, the stage of life we call “retirement.” That may sound strange since most view retirement as a cessation of work. However, as we will see, it can be much more than that.
If we approach the subject of retirement from the perspective of our “calling,” we may come away with a very different view—one that puts God’s plan and purpose for our lives at the center of everything we do.
What is a “calling”?
Any discussions about faith and work usually include your “calling.” It’s a word used often in Christian circles; perhaps because it comes from the Bible:
“He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14, NIV).
“So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (v. 24) (1 Corinthians 7:17–24, NIV).
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, NIV).
These verses speak of a divine call to believe the gospel and to become a part of God’s kingdom and his redemptive work in the world. This “gospel call” has two aspects.
First, the “general call,” is offered to everyone, to repent from our sins and to turn to God by believing (trusting in) the Lord Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross, bodily resurrection, and ascension to heaven where he sits and reigns forever.
The second—the effectual call—is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit whereby he makes the general call (based on the truth of the gospel) effective in leading us to faith and repentance, and then to salvation.
But there is another type of call that pertains to a person’s work life, what some call a “vocational call.”
What is a “vocational calling”?
The idea of a vocational call has its origins in the writings of John Calvin:
The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling… He has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life… Therefore, each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post, so that he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life.” (Calvin, Institutes, 724-725)
Calvin is saying that all Christians have a vocational calling in life, with the responsibility to discover their gifts and then use them to the glory of God. Of course, there is also a particular call to work full time in the kingdom, as a paid minister of the gospel, missionary, etc. But this is a more general call given to all believers.
God gives each of us unique gifts, skills, aptitudes, talents, and abilities. In keeping with that, the Bible describes how some characters in the Bible were “called” to particular kinds of work. It also guides all Christians on how to work. Although Scripture seldom uses the word “calling” in the context of vocational calling, we can affirm that God does “call” people to specific jobs, careers, and work.
Although an adult may be asked about their “calling,” no one asks a child, “What do you feel ‘called to’ in terms of a future vocation?” You are more likely to ask a child what they want to be when they grow up. How would you have answered that question when you were six years old? Or sixteen? Or twenty-six?
As best I can remember, I wanted to be a baseball player (I loved playing but was never a good hitter); a professional surfer (I was a better surfer than a baseball player); an oceanographer (I figured I could go on boats and still surf); an astronomer (a cool subject, but required much more calculus that I was capable of); a meteorologist (growing up in Florida, hurricanes fascinated me); a radio/television announcer (they offered me a job as a DJ when I was in college); a pastor (doesn’t every new Christian at least think about it?); a social worker (did that); a college professor (because I like to teach); a network engineer (did that too); a network planner (yep), an IT manager and director (affirmative); an IT architect and strategist (retired from that); and, a blogger and author (one of my current “vocations” in retirement).
We have all had thoughts about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Sometimes our hopes and dreams came to fruition, but many times they don’t. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, and such are the vagaries of life.
Some stumble into a career, but most make a deliberate choice. You may view your work as a “calling” or maybe not. You may have even changed careers a few times. As you can see from the list above, I did, and many others do too.
But what about later life; when you “retire,” will your perspective be that your “career” is over? Do you think “calling” no longer applies since traditional retirement implies the end of fulfilling your vocational call?
I would suggest that you still have a vocational call in retirement, although it may differ from your call when you were working for a living. Think of retirement as your “final career.”
”Calling” in retirement
In the faith/work conference I attended, the attendees were reminded that if we look back at Genesis 1 and 2, we see that God created us to fulfill three main roles in this life: 1) loving God, 2) loving neighbor, and 3) cultivating the world. It is these three foundational roles that can help us discern God’s calling for us—while we are “working” and also during “retirement.”
These roles find their expression in the various ways we love God, the purposes we have in the multiple communities we are part of (family, church, small groups, clubs, etc.), and the roles we have in our job.
In the retiree’s case, I define “job” as the creative work you do as you image your Creator; the service work you do for the good of others; and, the productive work you do to produce, create, build, or serve, whether or not for pay.
You can do many of these “jobs” in your church, community, or other organizations, or in all of them.
Consider these “callings” in retirement. How can we love God, love our neighbor, and cultivate the world if we are “retired”? Does retirement mean an end to our calling in each of these areas? I think you know the answer—it’s a big NO!
As I noted many times on this blog, retirement isn’t like a wonderful long vacation, year after year. Nor should it be. It’s not that you shouldn’t have fun, far from it. Instead, it’s a matter of finding the right balance between rest and loving God and neighbor and engaging in productive activity that cultivates the world.
If we are all “called” to love God, love our neighbors, and cultivate the world, what might that look like for someone in retirement?
Our primary calling is as a child of God through union with Christ. That is in response to the external and internal “calls” that we discussed above. This calling to follow Christ as his disciple is the foundation for the call to love others and to cultivate the world (through our vocational calling).
We have to be careful not to confuse this call—which God gives to every believer—with the “call” to full-time, professional ministry. God calls Christians to follow and serve Christ and others with the same level of commitment and sacrifice as full-time pastors, missionaries, and other church workers.
Loving God can take different forms, but it has to do with our relationship with him as expressed through worship, prayer, faith, and obedience. Our devotional life (loving God privately) and corporate worship (loving God publically) are the primary ways we live out our call to “love God.”
These things are just as important in retirement as before. More so, perhaps, because we will need a steadfast faith and relationship with God to help us through the trials and tribulations of old-age as we endeavor to finish well.
There are myriads of ways God calls us to love our neighbor. The Bible seems to emphasize evangelizing the lost, aiding the disadvantaged and marginalized (the poor, the unborn, widows, orphans, prisoners, and the disabled), helping children and the elderly, and caring for our families.
Opportunities abound in this area. If you are pro-life, get involved in the anti-abortion activities in your area. Human trafficking is a huge concern and many groups are doing something there. Become familiar with the mercy ministries in your area that serve needy families and the homeless, or volunteer in a public school. Find out about ministries to local elder-care centers. Consider starting or taking part in a prison visitation program.
There are other ways you can love and serve your neighbors that Scripture doesn’t discuss. You can take part in politics, volunteer in social service agencies, a public school, a library. You could become a substitute teacher. Elder-care facilities are often in need of volunteer help and visiting the elderly is a fulfillment of one of the biblical mandates. Helping at an animal shelter or rescue center is a way to show love and care for God’s creatures. Get involved with a Boy or Girl Scout troop (or similar organization).
These are far from all the possibilities, but they are a start. Be proactive about finding out more about what is going on in your church and community and where you might fit.
Cultivating the world
The biblical mandate to “cultivate the world” is where productive work comes in. For some, it can take the form of more leisurely creative pursuits such as writing, painting, and gardening. Others will want to build things if they have those skills (or want to learn them). Some will even pursue a second career or start a small business.
According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, about 65% of workers say they plan to work for pay after they retire, but only 27% do. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t “working” in some capacity.
Some people make a career change well before retirement and choose something that they can continue doing well into retirement. So, the questions that many have is, “how do I choose—how can I discover what I am ‘called to do’ in retirement”?
Your specific “calling”
You could just wait until you retire to think about what your calling is in retirement. However, I would suggest thinking about it much sooner, perhaps between the ages of 55 and 60.
With so many alternatives, select a subset of them. If you’re not sure where to start, just start somewhere. If it doesn’t work out, then no big deal—almost any decision is reversible.
There are several ways to go about this. Think about what interests you. Or, what have you wanted to do if earning a living wasn’t the primary aim? It could be something you’re already involved in (as I was with Christian stewardship ministry, which inspired me to start this blog and then write a book), or something new. Or, it could be more of the same. If you’re a volunteer, you could ramp up the number of hours you spend volunteering,
What have you thought or dreamed about doing when you no longer have to work full time for a living? Those are the beginnings of the things you might do in retirement.
I have one caveat on starting early: You may discover new opportunities, and you can redirect your energies to the new opportunities that God may send your way. The key is to be flexible and receptive to new possibilities and ready to “take a chance.”
As a simple approach, I would suggest selecting up to 3 tentative areas of focus. You could just start at the top of your list and work your way down. Pursue all the ones you select, or you may find that only one or two end up being your primary focus. If none of them work out, build another list and start over. For many, this will be an iterative process that will take some time.
Once you decide on something, make an initial commitment. It may be for a short time if you are still in the “discovery” phase. Then, let your level of focus grow through time. Experiment with more than one alternative at a time if you can.
As you increase your commitment, God will show you if it is indeed your “calling.” You will find that it brings you joy and fulfillment, which may cause you to put even more time and energy into it. You will look forward to it with eager anticipation; you will think and plan for it in your spare time. It will be meaningful to you and glorifying to God.
You may not always feel it, but you may not always have the strength and stamina or effectiveness of your earlier years in your conventional career. The good news, however, is that you have more time to spend on doing things that are satisfying to you and that helps others.
Since I retired a little over a year ago, I have very little problem finding things to do with my time. I write and serve in my local church more than I used to. Things will look different for you. But no matter what, be aware of your limitations and avoid over-committing yourself—that can lead to stress and burnout.
Perhaps you’re not sure where to start. If none of the things I listed above seem attractive to you, and if you don’t have any ideas, then you may have some homework to do. I have provided some suggestions on my Resources page.
Retirement for most of us Boomers and GenXers over the next two to three decades will differ greatly from what it was for older generations. Many will live longer, healthier lives, which may result in changing their “final career” focus several times.
Lack of financial resources may be a key driver for many, causing delaying retirement and working longer for pay. But if you have the freedom of retirement to build your final career, start planning it as soon as possible. You’ll be glad you did!