Baby Boomers encouraged to work after retirement

Support programmes help an army of new retirees to serve others

As 800 Baby Boomers retire in Australia every day, a new ministry resource is being developed to help them continue being faithful for the rest of their lifetime.

“We just have a really strong sense of God saying ‘this is a unique opportunity for the Australian church, for Australian Christians,’” says Paul Arnott, who is spearheading the launch of Q4 Connection for CMA (Christian Ministry Advancement).

“Even if only 10 per cent of those new retirees are Christians, you’re talking about 80 people a day. Multiply that by 365 – that’s a very significant number of Australian Christians who have the opportunity to make a difference for the gospel and the kingdom of God.”

CMA recently launched Q4 Connection with a series of conventions and lunches across the country, challenging the idea that retirement is just a time to bask in the rewards of a lifetime of work. The Q4 events promoted the kinds of ministry opportunities which are available.

“This is a unique opportunity for the Australian church.” – Paul Arnott

With increasing longevity, people today can spend up to a third of their lives in retirement. According to Arnott, Christians may use this period to use all of their accumulated wisdom and experience to make an impact in the world for God’s kingdom.

“The idea that you just spend the whole of your retirement doing what you want to do and ignoring the nation, and ignoring the rest of the world, isn’t a godly thing to do, it’s not a biblical thing to do,” says Arnott.

“[But] We’re not saying to people you’ve just got to put your nose to the grindstone as followers of Jesus, and continue to work as hard in retirement as you have during your working life.

“What we’re saying is ‘yes, God wants us to enjoy these years in the next phase of our lives, wants us to have fun, wants us to recreate and re-create, but he also wants us to be involved in kingdom and God stuff. What does that look like and how can we help you discover what that looks like?”

For a $100 annual fee, Q4 Connection gives access to information, inspiration, networking and coaching.

“We’re collecting a whole lot of stories, so we have almost 100 stories now of people in what we’re calling their ‘fourth quarter.’ The vast majority of them are saying, ‘yes, we’ll go for a cruise in Europe or we’ll do the grey nomad thing, but as followers of Jesus, there’s so much more.’

“Q4 Connection puts people in touch with a process of discerning what God may want to do in this next phase of their lives, in touch with a host of opportunities for ministry both here inside Australia and outside Australia. It also puts them in touch with mentors and coaches to help them navigate the process.”

Importantly, the website categorises life stories, so that people with shared interests can form either geographical or virtual cohorts.

“The Lord seems to have me where he needs me at exactly the right time.” – Sandy Berthelsen

Meeting unfilled needs of churches in the bush while travelling around Australia in a caravan is an increasingly popular way of serving God in retirement.

BCA Nomads, set up in 2000, now has 253 couples and six single women on its books, whose itineraries are matched up to the needs of churches in about 80 locations across the country. Nomads Coordinator Doug Orr says the numbers are swelling by about 15 couples a year and they would love to have younger retirees joining the ranks. The tasks they are called on to do vary widely but the most common is property management.

“They are able to utilise 45 years of professional skills and experience to help churches with great needs,” he says.

One of those is Sandy Berthelsen, who decided a year ago to fulfil a long postponed desire to travel “this great country” while wearing a BCA Nomad badge. She rented out her home in Victoria, bought a motorhome and headed north, calling ahead to Anglican churches to say she was happy to help out in any way. With no formal skills in ministry, she has done whatever she is physically capable of including house-sitting, pet-sitting and cleaning.

“The giver is blessed as much as the receiver.” – Sandy Berthelsen

“Somehow, as I move along, the Lord seems to have me where he needs me at exactly the right time … it’s quite incredible,” she told Eternity from Port Hedland in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

“I seem to be doing nothing more than enjoying myself but he is using me and I’m very grateful. The giver is blessed as much as the receiver.”

Sandy recalls one occasion when she turned up at a house out of the blue for a cuppa and stayed for two days, helping to look after three energetic boys to give their stressed mother a break.

“I entertained the children with rides in my van, enjoyed their company and attacked the ironing basket. After hugs all round, I left with the children running after me, waving until I was out of sight, at which time I promptly burst into tears.”

Sandy says she is enjoying herself so much she is doing more of it, for at least another year.

Speaking at the Q4 conferences, US authors Richard and Leona Bergstrom promoted their book, Third Calling: What Are You Doing with the Rest of Your Life?

“We have a message we want our peers to hear, that age is valued and God has a purpose for us, and help people discover that,” Leona told Eternity.

“The market likes to portray retirement as leisure, so we’re challenging the cultural paradigm that was created in the ’60s when big retirement communities were built next to golf courses, and the generation before us bought into it and Baby Boomers are now going ‘maybe not.’”

“Some of those old callings and passions can be reignited. I also think there is room for new dreams.” – Leona Bergstrom

Leona said her experience in older people’s ministry showed Baby Boomers were not interested in traditional church senior programmes.

“They don’t seem to appeal to a deeper longing that Baby Boomers have right now to find a deeper purpose and meaning, so we are imploring people to take a look at their lives, to examine them deeply from a whole life review… but then also look at how uniquely you’re designed, your passions and your values, and look at that in a whole new way. Let God really build a dream in you as to what is next,” she said.

“It may be something you haven’t been able to do because life got in the way. We have stories of folk who felt called to the mission field but couldn’t go and in their late-50s that dream comes alive again and they’re able to pursue that.

“Some of those old callings and passions can be reignited. I also think there is room for new dreams. We have helped a lot of people start non-profits, social programmes. If they can’t figure out what their passion is, go to Scripture. It’s full of God’s passion about how we should care for the widows, the poor, the sick.”

Another conference speaker, American retirement plan adviser Bruce Bruinsma, said when he was young, the idea of retirement was “you stopped working at 65 and you died at 71, and so the issues were from health to home.”

“Now the opportunity that God’s provided through longevity just continues to grow and the need for the Christian community to find both purpose and meaning, as well as financial capacity to carry out God’s call on their life for an extended time, is really a new topic worldwide.”

“So it’s the combination of meaning, purpose and ministering for a lifetime, along with funding.” – Bruce Bruinsma

Bruinsma says people aged from 65 to late 70s were generally still able to lead active lives. “You are, by and large, physically active and you can do most of the things you could do earlier except you have the benefit of 60 years of experience, so the way that you deal with it can be much more effective and more meaningful and have a greater impact than it could at any other time in your life.”

He said the key to funding a fruitful retirement was to be good stewards of money, saving a little every day over a long period. “It’s a very simple answer but it takes some focus and accountability. A lot of people shy away from it and then find themselves at that stage of life – and they are 100 per cent controlled by the lack of money.”

Having the funding is just one element, however. The other is having meaning and purpose. “So it’s the combination of meaning, purpose and ministering for a lifetime along with funding – that combination is really critical.”

As well as running Envoy Financial to help people fund their future ministry, Bruinsma also runs a programme called Business for Mission. This programme encourages Christian business men and women to set up businesses with the specific purpose of generating profits for ministry.

“The ways we have funded ministry over the past centuries has been by donations and wills and bequests, but those two sources of funding are become increasingly difficult in a post-Christian society,” he said.

“I think God is preparing a way for at least part of that gap to be filled, by calling upon the Christian business men and women who have always been courted by ministers because of their capacity to give but not because of their capacity to serve, other than on a board. Christian entrepreneurs would like to be able to use their gifts to serve, not just their money.

“So the idea is to create sustainable businesses with the specific purpose of generating a profit; that distributable income can then go to a ministry that will fill in that gap.”

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