Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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Is Retirement in the Bible?

I have often heard that retirement isn’t in the Bible. I agree with that insofar as we should all press on to serve Christ until the very end. I love what the Apostle Paul said about this. In the very last New Testament letter he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). It sure sounds to me like he broke a sweat until the very end!

But recently I ran across a verse that indicates the Levites who were called to serve the Lord at the Temple were supposed retire at age 50. In Numbers 8:24-26 we read:

The Lord said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work.”

Hmmm…sounds like retirement to me. Okay, not complete retirement but at least semi-retirement. A helpful book for me has been, Transition Plan by Bob Russell. Bob was pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky for over 30 years. In his book, he offers five reasons every leader should think about what he calls “transitioning” (a much better word than retirement).

  1. We’re all going to die and therefore it’s wise to think of the next generation.
  2. We all lose a certain amount of energy and imagination as we age.
  3. Older leaders eventually lose the ability to inspire younger people.
  4. When a proper transition is made, the one stepping aside has another chapter of meaningful life to live and is respected in that role.
  5. Every leader should put the good of the organization above his own interests.

I am 56 years old and I have served at my church for almost 27 years. I am NOT ready for retirement, but it is on my radar screen in the sense that I want to transition well when the time comes. I have been around long enough to see many pastors transition poorly, and I have seen a few transition well. I think this is a subject that churches should be talking about more, especially as baby boomers creep up to what is traditionally considered retirement age.

If we could all finish like John Wooden, who retired after winning another NCAA title at age 65. Until the day he died at age 99, he stayed involved at UCLA and was often quoted and consulted. The opposite of that can be seen in some famous coaches who hang onto their positions into their eighties, lose young recruits and are always looking behind them to see who is trying to get them to step aside.