We are continuing our blog series on finishing well, focusing particularly on retirement after a life of missionary service. Finishing well does not mean that we finish learning. Lifelong learning ought to continue in retirement. After all, we are still alive!
Interestingly, opportunities for learning in retirement have grown as more baby boomers retire. In fact, my Google search for “learning in retirement” produced 332 million results. Many of these were courses offered by colleges and universities. There were also travel packages with onsite lectures covering secular and biblical history. Indeed, continuing lifelong learning in retirement is popular today. Yet, why should it be a priority for a retiring missionary?
Lifelong Learning is a Christian Calling
J. I Packer writes,
Lifelong learning, both of the truths by which Christians are to live and of the way to live by them – also of how these things are taught in Scripture and how they are misstated, misunderstood, and misapplied in the modern world – is every Christian’s calling.-J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy, p. 65.
Likewise, Paul D. Stanley and J. Robert Clinton note that one of the characteristics of leaders who finish well is “they maintain a positive learning attitude all their lives.” 1Stanley and Clinton, Connecting: the Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, Nav Press, 1992, p. 215.
Packer identifies neglecting to learn in retirement as worldliness,
But to think of Christian retirees as exempt from the twin tasks of learning and leading, just because they do not inhabit the world of wage and salary earning any longer, and for aging Christians to think of themselves in this way, as if they have no more to do now than have fun, is worldliness in a strikingly intense and, be it said, strikingly foolish form.J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy, p. 68.
The apostle Paul is an example of lifelong learning. Particularly in Philippians 3:12-16, he emphasizes that he has not yet arrived. Rather, he keeps pressing on, he keeps learning and growing. His pressing on is rooted in the fact that Christ has made him his own (Phil. 3:12). So, his learning is always connected to his union with Christ. Yet, he is not content with past accomplishments. He presses on toward the prize of full fellowship with Christ in heaven. There is no point in this life that he stops pressing on. Paul encourages us to imitate his example (Phil. 3:17).
In 2 Peter 1:3-15, Peter exhorts us to pursue lifelong learning. Again, like in Paul’s example, Peter’s exhortation is rooted in our salvation in Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1-4). Peter identifies seven virtues to add to our faith (2 Pet 1:5-7). These qualities ought to be increasing (2 Pet 1:8) in our lives. In fact, growing in these qualities will produce effectiveness and fruitfulness as we live out our faith. On the other hand, if we lack these qualities, it points to our blindness. We are forgetting our salvation in Christ. Since Peter is committed (2 Pet. 1:12-15) to keep reminding us of the need to grow (cf. 2 Pet. 3:18), then we as attentive listeners, ought to be lifelong learners.
Learning Develops Character
Collecting information is not the essence of learning. Rather, developing our character and wisdom are. Accumulating trivia may improve performance in certain table games. Yet, lifelong learning aims to equip us to live life well. Learning includes our thinking, feeling, and action. In Duane and Muriel Elmer’s book, The Learning Cycle, the steps include recalling the information, recalling with appreciation, and three steps in developing practice which leads to Christlike character, integrity, and wisdom.2 Duane and Muriel Elmer, The Learning Cycle, IVP Academic, 2020. See also my blog review of this book. Furthermore, research indicates that seniors have an advantage over younger people in putting learning into practice.3 See Houston and Parker, A Vision for the Aging Church, IVP Academic, 2011, p. 114-116. Continuing to learn in our retirement years will help our character develop in godly ways.
Learning in Community
Forming or joining a learning community will enhance the learning process. Moreover, a learning community has the added benefit of providing meaningful social interaction for the retiree. Specifically, as we discuss what we are learning with others, our understanding, appreciation, and practice of what we are learning will increase. Each participant will gain additional insights from others in the group. For example, learning communities can focus on what was learned from a book, movie, sermon, or even a visit to a park or museum.
We often encounter topics that spark our interest that we simply don’t have time to pursue during our careers. Retirement can be a time to refresh and explore those interests. For example, in high school I enjoyed photography, I even had my own darkroom. Now as I begin retirement, I am considering getting into digital photography, though the learning curve is a bit intimidating. Perhaps you played an instrument in the school band. Maybe it’s time to dust it off.
In short, God’s creation is full of interesting things to learn about. Retirement gives us the opportunity to explore and glorify God in learning about his creation.
Yes, lifelong learning continues into retirement. Yet, retirement does come to an end. In the next post, I will write about the end of retirement, which is dying and the hope of glory.