When asked about the prospect of “putting his feet up” in retirement, 75-year-old Anglican minister Bob Peattie chuckles incredulously.
“There’s no ‘R word’ in the Scriptures. We’re called to serve,” he tells Eternity.
“I would encourage anyone who is in retirement to reassess what God wants them to do.” – Bob Peattie
Peattie is still involved in preaching and ministry at Charlestown Anglican, which operates two churches in Newcastle, NSW. He also plays a key role in a weekly support group for the Samaritans Kinship Care program that runs in one of their churches, St Martin’s, Kahibah. The group supports grandparents who are principal carers of their grandchildren, as well as other people caring for relatives.
Peattie signed up as the group’s chaplain 12 years ago after coming to the realisation that “there are so many people who desperately need support”.
“Coming from a middle-class background, we are often not even aware of these people,” he says.
“In our group we have great grandparents who are caring for great-grandchildren, all the way through to a 23-year-old lady caring for her 10-year-old brother.”
Having experienced sexual abuse, Peattie felt he could personally connect with children and carers often working through similar issues, including the effects of abuse, domestic violence, drugs and custody battles.
He also puts his training as a church minister to good use in the group by talking with and providing help, encouragement and spiritual guidance.
“It’s part of our requirement in ministry to care for the widows, orphans and so on, and that’s something that in lots of ways, the church doesn’t do very well on a personal level … I see it as a great privilege to have been involved in the group for so long,” he says.
Peattie’s passion for his retirement work was fuelled by attending an inaugural gathering of “Q4 – Rethinking Retirement” – an initiative by Christian Ministry Advancement (CMA). It is designed to inspire Australian Baby Boomers to use the “fourth quarter” of their lives for intentional ministry.
The timing of Q4’s launch almost three years ago was perfect for Peattie, as he was in the process of selling his successful insurance business.
“It was a real help in terms of motivation and reigniting my sense of call,” he says, adding, “I would encourage anyone who is in retirement to reassess what God wants them to do … I’m surprised at how full of energy and purpose I am at 75. I don’t even feel old, there’s too much to do. It’s been a real blessing.”
Peattie is just one of almost 100 Christians who have shared their stories about retirement ministry with Q4.
“We estimate that more than 22,000 Christian Baby Boomers retire each year.” – Paul Arnott
“We discovered [these retirees] are engaged in a wide range of activities, from Kids Hope mentoring of primary students to involvement in their local church,” says executive director of Q4, Paul Arnott. At 68, Arnott himself is still engaged in ministry work.
“Our hope is that their stories will encourage others to make good use of their retirement for the kingdom of God and that they will be inspired by the wide range of opportunities that exist, both paid and unpaid, full-time and part-time, inside and outside Australia.”
In addition to these stories, the Q4 website offers other resources to its retiree members, including information guides, mentors to help with the transition away from paid work and networking opportunities. Q4 is also soon to trial a seven-week “Engaging Q4” course, which it hopes to run across Australia in the future.
With many Australians now spending up to one-third of their life in retirement, as people live longer, Arnott points to the enormous impact that Christian retirees could have on the world.
“We estimate that more than 22,000 Christian Baby Boomers retire each year, which translates into 400 retiring every week,” he says.
However, two problems currently stand in the way of this Christian “retiree revolution”. The first is the allure of the idea that retirement is a time to simply sit back and enjoy the rewards of earlier years in paid work.
While Arnott clarifies that God does want us to enjoy our later years, he cautions that this doesn’t mean giving up kingdom work or ignoring the needs around us.
“I’d love to be able to report that we’ve been over-run by thousands of Australian Christians in their fourth quarter wanting to avail themselves of the resources Q4 offers, but we haven’t … So, I find myself wondering how many Australian Christian Baby Boomers are being seduced by the message of the Retirement Industry: ‘It’s all about you. Put yourself first.’”
“Many older Australian Christians in the pews [are] waiting to be empowered to contribute their gifts and talents.” – Paul Arnott
The second problem is that many churches are not fully utilising the gifts and life experience that retirees bring. Arnott acknowledges that many Christian retirees are in fact “quietly getting on with contributing to the kingdom of God” without Q4’s assistance, however he says others are simply not being engaged by churches.
“Many churches are not making the best use of the wealth of the work and life experience their older members possess. A number of those we’ve interviewed have told us that they’ve been invited to join the flower or morning tea rosters, despite having far more to offer,” says Arnott.
“Our research indicates that there are many older Australian Christians in the pews waiting to be empowered to contribute their gifts and talents.”
Arnott’s advice to Christians is to start thinking about and planning for retirement activities well before retirement – in your fifties.
For churches, he gives the following suggestions as a starting point for better utilising retirees:
“Surveying older church members to find out what work experiences they have had and asking them how they could see these being used in the local church would be a step in the right direction.”
“We’ve also learned that Baby Boomers are more inclined to get on board with projects and programs which have a beginning and an end, rather than being willing to sign up ad infinitum.”
Arnott concludes: “While the concept of using our retirement not only for ourselves but also for the sake of others is counter-cultural, we believe there are significant numbers of Australian Christians who are willing to do kingdom work in retirement. If they have taken up their cross and followed Christ during their working lives, why would they stop doing so in their fourth quarter?”