Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Finishing Well Page 1 of 3

fruitfulness
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Resilience and fruitfulness

In my first blog post on this topic of resilience, I said that understanding resilience is not primarily about minimizing attrition. Our goal is not simply to prevent missionaries prematurely returning to their sending countries. We want our colleagues and ourselves to thrive. Our desire is that they bear much fruit and grow and develop in their ministry gifts and skills. In this post, let’s explore the relationship of resilience to fruitfulness.

Rewards come at the end

This morning, I received another email encouraging me to watch a training webinar. It included a familiar incentive:

Additionally, as a ‘Thank You’ to our loyal KLS members, we will be giving away a $10 Starbucks gift card to a random attendee at the end of each of our February webinars. Make sure you stick around until the end of the webinar to be eligible to win!

Email from KnowledgeWave.com, February 15, 2022

To receive a reward, you have to stay to the end. This reminds me of similar promises in the letter to the Hebrews.

the hope of glory
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The End of Retirement: Dying and the Hope of Glory

This is the last day of the year. It is also my final post in this series on finishing well in retirement. Appropriately, I want to end by focusing on the end of retirement. Every retirement ends with death. Yet, for the Christian, the end of retirement is not just about dying. Most significantly, it includes the hope of glory.

I am just starting my retirement. Last month I spoke with a dear friend who was ending his retirement. Notably, he was so excited about seeing Christ in all his glory. Although he was experiencing significant pain, he was finishing well, with his hope of glory clearly visible. My friend modeled the key to finishing retirement well: facing the reality of death with the hope of glory.

The Reality of Death

North American culture avoids talking about death. In fact, it is considered impolite to mention it at the table. We tend to ignore it and pretend it won’t happen. As the chorus of a Simon and Garfunkel song from 1966 so aptly says,

So, I’ll continue to continue to pretend my life will never end and flowers never bend with the rainfall.

Simon and Garfunkel, Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall.

This pretending does not lead to finishing well. In contrast, the psalmist asks God to teach us to number our days so we gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). Facing the reality of death opens the door for us to cherish the hope of glory. Matthew McCullough writes,

Learning in retirement
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Lifelong Learning in Retirement

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,

restart
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Planning to Restart

Recently I mentioned to a friend that my wife and I will begin our retirement with a sabbatical. He looked at me oddly saying that sabbaticals are usually followed by a return to work. My response was that Christ still has good works for us to do in our retirement (Eph 2:10). In other words, a retirement sabbatical is a time to rest, reflect on past ministry, and discern God’s calling for our remaining years. Indeed, we are called to be a people zealous for good works (Titus 2:13-14). And there is no expiration date on that calling!

Essentially, a retirement sabbatical prepares us for a restart. The nine practices mentioned in the previous post can launch us into a fulfilling retirement. Moreover, they help us find meaning and purpose in our later years. A retirement sabbatical is an antidote to the boredom of endless vacation.1 See my first blog post in this series.

Restart

Restarting after our retirement sabbatical is a renewed expression of our identity and calling as we seek to finish well. Indeed, “calling is central to the challenge and privilege of finishing well in life (Os Guinness,¬†The Call, p. 227). Guinness defines calling as:

retirement sabbatical
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Retirement Sabbatical: Identity and Calling

In a previous post, I mentioned starting retirement with a sabbatical. In this post and the next, I will explore the benefits a sabbatical brings at the start of retirement. Specifically, I want to describe the anatomy of a sabbatical resulting in discerning identity and calling in retirement. Then, the following post will explore coaching and mentoring in retirement. In other words, this post deals with our self-awareness, and the next post our relationship to others.

Anatomy of a Retirement Sabbatical

I have a confession to make. I’ve never taken a sabbatical. Furthermore, I’m not retired yet (that comes on January 1, 2022). Yet there are helpful guides for taking a sabbatical. In chapter two of An Uncommon Guide to RetirementJeff Haanen outlines nine practices to consider as we plan our retirement sabbatical.

1. Prepare

A retirement sabbatical needs to be intentional. Notably, Haanen suggests taking two to three weeks just to structure our sabbatical (p. 43). Likewise, C. J. Cagle emphasizes planning:

reimagined retirement is one that is planned, structured, lived, and continually reexamined in the light of sound biblical doctrine, principles, and practices. It is a retirement lived for the glory of God, his kingdom, and the good of his people.

C. J. Cagle, Reimagine Retirement, kindle loc. 814.
retirement and vacation
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Is retirement an endless vacation?

In my previous blog series, I talked about finishing well in a ministry assignment. But finishing well can also refer to finishing a career, and in our case, finishing a missionary career. Does retirement have a place in finishing well? Various voices answer the question differently. Some reject retirement. Others embrace it. Yet, many wish to modify the popular image of retirement as an endless vacation.

In this post, I will explore some realities and perspectives on retirement. In so doing, I will make a case that retirement has a place in finishing well.

Energy Levels Decline

In the series on finishing well in a ministry assignment, I used the illustration of a relay race. Interestingly, relay teams do not stay together very long. There comes a time when a runner cannot keep the pace of the rest of the team. So the runner retires from the team.

In a similar way, as we age we find our energy levels declining. This is a reality of aging that indicates retirement may be appropriate. D. A. Carson points out the most important lesson passed on to him by a few senior saints:

Provided one does not succumb to cancer, Alzheimer’s, or any other seriously debilitating disease, the first thing we have to confront as we get older is declining energy levels. Moreover, by “declining energy levels” I am referring not only to the kind of declining physical reserves that demand more rest and fewer hours of labor each week, but also to declining emotional energy without which it is difficult to cope with a full panoply of pastoral pressures. When those energy levels begin to fall is hugely variable (at age 45? 65? 75?), as is also how fast they fall. But fall they will! It follows that as one attempts at age 85 to do what one managed to accomplish at age 45, a lot will be done badly.

D. A. Carson, “On Knowing When to Resign,” Themelios 42.2 (2017) p. 255.
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Finishing Well: Cheering the Next Runner

What would you think of a relay runner who went to the locker room right after completing his or her lap? Perhaps you would think the runner had suffered an injury or had some other health concern. Aside from that, we would question their relationship with the rest of the team. A healthy relay team recognizes that success depends on the performance of each runner. Therefore, each member of the team who has completed their leg stays on the field and cheers on the remaining runners. They stay off the track and cheer from the sidelines.

In this series, we have been using the analogy of a relay race for finishing well in a ministry assignment. So, how do we cheer those who follow us as we complete our ministry assignment? How do we keep from getting in the way of their performance? Our relationship with those who follow us in ministry shapes our cheering for them as they run their lap.

Relationships Matter

Yes, it would be strange for a relay runner to go directly to the locker room. Similarly, it would be tragic for church planters to cut off the relationship with the local church leaders who succeed them in leading the new church. Tom Steffen wrote:

The seventh and final component is determining how church planters can maintain good relationships after the phase-out. They work themselves out of a job, but not out of a relationship. Continued fellowship includes prayer, visits, letters of challenge and encouragement, sending other people to visit, and cautious financial assistance.

Tom Steffen, Passing the Baton, p. 18.

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