Elders and the Retirement Trap
William MacDonald has traveled worldwide ministering the Word of God and has written dozens of books, booklets, and correspondence courses. Mr. MacDonald presently resides in California and directs a Discipleship Intern Training Program at San Leandro.
Robert began his business career with Matthew 6:33 as his motto. He was determined to seek first the kingdom of heaven. He was determined to spend time with his family and to serve actively in the local assembly.
His company had a pension plan, but that did not loom large on his horizon. He wouldn’t retire for twenty-five years, and so the pension didn’t affect his planning.
Ten years passed. He was diligently setting aside money for his children’s education. Both his wife and he wanted the children to go to Beaton College or State University. On the spiritual side of things, Robert had a real shepherd’s heart. People told him that he had the gift of pastor, and it was evident to all that the blessing of God was upon his ministry. But the time he could give to the assembly was limited. His heart was in the work of the Lord, but the corporation gobbled up the major portion of his time. He felt his contribution to the assembly was pathetic.
Fifteen years passed. Robert could see that there was a crisis of spiritual leadership in the assembly. Whenever the subject came up, the men engaged in all kinds of rationalizations: “We feel that the assembly is doing fairly well … making more progress than most.”
“We should pray that the Lord will send along a promising young man to do the work. We could support him financially.”
“Others should do more. I am already contributing my share.”
“We cannot be expected to do more than arrange the meetings and distribute the funds. After all, we have families to take care of.”
Robert wanted to step in and give himself more wholeheartedly to the work. But only ten years remained till retirement. It seemed rather foolish to give up all the benefits he had earned during the past fifteen years. In a way, it was a trap. He was spending his life in work he didn’t really enjoy, and yet he couldn’t give it up to do what he most wanted to do.
Twenty years passed. Robert was named as an elder, but the appointment was really a fiction because he could not give the assembly the time that he should. Only five years to retirement and a good pension. Then a life of real usefulness and service at the Chapel.
Actually, under a new rule, Robert could retire at twenty years — at a reduced pension, of course. But a promotion was possibly in the works. If he could stick it out, the promotion would mean that his pension would be 15% higher. In the meantime, the saints in the assembly were facing all kinds of crises — broken homes, moral scandals, backsliding, financial irresponsibility, kids on drugs. They were like sheep without a shepherd. All the other elders were like Robert — too busy. He felt so helpless. He wanted to quit and spend his time in the assembly. He could fill a real need at this time. He was tempted to quit his job, but his wife was anxious that he stay on for the higher pension, and so he did.
Twenty five years. The company threw a party and gave Robert the golden handshake. The whole ceremony seemed very empty to him. But he got his full pension, and ordinarily would have had quite a few years service for the Lord. But there was a worm in the apple. He had developed a slight tremor in his right hand. The doctor diagnosed it as Parkinson’s disease. In the meantime the assembly muddled on pretty much the same as it had over the past years—no outreach, no systematic shepherding, no effective counselling, no consecutive teaching. Robert often wondered how he had allowed himself to be duped by the lure of a pension from doing the thing he most wanted to do—the work of a shepherd in the assembly.
Are we suggesting that all elders should resign from their secular jobs to spend full-time in the work? No! But most assemblies need more shepherding care than they are getting. And the problem could be partially solved if one or two specially gifted leaders gave themselves more fully to the work.
Jim is a practical example of how it can work out. He had been with an electronics firm for nineteen years. Six years to go to retirement. His family was now grown and through school. Through the years he had developed as a strong spiritual leader in the assembly. Now the brethren approach him and ask him to devote himself full-time to what he has been doing on a part time basis for several years. They promise to contribute to his support as the Lord enables.
Only six years to retirement. Big decision to make. Tim goes before the Lord and yields himself to the will of God, whatever it might be. In making his surrender, he asks the Lord that three things might happen:
1. His wife should be willing. Up to now she has been reluctant, but not flatly opposed.
2. He should be able to sell his home and buy a smaller one. The large house is no longer necessary, now that the children are on their own.
3. He should have some assurance that the assembly is heartily in favor of such a move.
Miraculously Jim did not have to say anything to his wife. Jeanne approached him on the subject, and told him that she felt he should give himself to the work that was uppermost in his mind. She would be willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary.
The house was sold a week after it went on the market (at a time when the market was unusually depressed). And a splendid small ranch style house became available within two blocks of the chapel.
When the matter was put before the entire assembly, the response was overwhelming favorable.
It was a new life for Jim—a new liberty, a new dynamic in his service, a new sense of achievement, and many tokens of the Lord’s blessing. The assembly began to move forward.
Of course it doesn’t always work that way. Dale was an ideal shepherd and he longed to be freed from secular employment in order to care better for the local believers. But every time the subject came up Donna was adamantly opposed. She wanted him to get his pension and retire to a dream home in Sun City. She couldn’t stand the thought of being “on the dole.” Dale decided to broach the subject to her once more. That was in October. Her answer was still the same. Seven months later Donna was widowed—without a pension. It was as if the Lord were having the last word with her.
The time is late. We should be more motivated by the love of Christ than by the lure of a pension. We should realize that the work of an elder means far more to God than the mere clocking of time towards retirement. We should consider the local assembly to be more important than any corporation on the Big Board. We should remember that the care of God’s sheep counts more with Him than retirement in Sun City.
Retirement is scarcely a worthy goal toward which to strive. And a pension should never be allowed to lure us away from what will really be important one hundred years from today.