by Nick Mattiske
‘Ah, retirement. That will be sweet. Finally, some me-time. Fishing, relaxing, a bit of travel, and pursuing my interests …’
It’s a seductive image. Yet in his forthcoming book, Australian Christian writer Rodney Macready bluntly states that the common Australian cultural understanding of retirement is not ‘a biblical concept’. Macready suggests that Christians have been too willing to endorse the idea of ‘leisured retirement’. Too often we can simply assume the values of our surrounding culture and (sometimes unconsciously) legitimise them by ‘Christianising’ them a little. It’s not that retirees are consistently selfish, but the sentiment is often expressed that, ‘if I have served the church in my younger years, I deserve something of a break in retirement’. This has had a noticeable impact on the life of the modern church, particularly when it comes to volunteering. In the past, participation has traditionally increased when members reach retirement age— but some congregations have begun to notice quite the opposite.
I’ve always been convinced that the church, whether local or corporate, is Christ’s body on earth, and that my chief call is to serve this body
In his insightful book The Good Life, social researcher Hugh Mackay makes a distinction between living with purpose and being happy. No doubt a certain amount of happiness can be derived from retiring and focusing on oneself, but this is not exactly what makes for a ‘good life’. Serving others is the purpose for which God has placed us on earth. One volunteer church worker in a city congregation— let’s call her ‘Irene’—says, ‘I’ve always been convinced that the church, whether local or corporate, is Christ’s body on earth, and that my chief call is to serve this body’.
Irene goes on, ‘I firmly believe that in my latter years I’m not called to serve my needs and whims’, though she concedes that ‘the freedom to manipulate one’s time means there can be more of these pleasures, perhaps’. She travels, attends concerts and is always willing to share her thoughts on movies she has seen. But when it comes to serving God, ‘whether you are retired or not’, it is ‘a continuum’. She savours the extra time retirement has given her to better discern how she can serve.
Retiree ‘Jack’ volunteers in his local church, helps out with disability support, ferries elderly neighbours to appointments and spends time at an inter-denominational drop-in centre that provides emergency food parcels, financial assistance and (just as importantly) a sympathetic ear. He perhaps proves the old maxim that if you want a job done, you should ask a busy person. When asked what inspires him to volunteer, he simply quotes Matthew 25:35: ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat’. At the drop-in centre Jack is clearly inspired by various churches working together—beyond the doctrinal