Go for the Head
GO FOR THE HEAD
A lot of our behavior flows from who we perceive ourselves to be. We know from Romans 12:2 that the renewing of our minds can lead to a transforming breakaway from conformity to this world's patterns.
And if our identity and calling as leaders (from Ephesians 4) is to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry", it can be very frustrating when those we're hoping to equip:
- Don't see themselves as saints.
- Perceive themselves as retired, in a post-work phase of life.
- Don't see themselves as ministers.
If these identity questions go unchallenged, we'll always be swimming upstream as leaders. We'll be the subject (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers) and verb (equip) in this equation with nowhere to go.
Ain't a Saint
In this passage, "saints" are of the living true believer variety, not historical champions of faith nominated by the Catholic Church years after their death. Hopefully, most of your adults view themselves as true believers---as opposed to believers of convenience, going along for the ride as long as it suits them.
Tired and Retired
The second blockade is sometimes harder to get around in second-half adult ministry (except with workaholics. :) Vocational retirement can usher in a welcomed season outside the nine-to-five grind, but it's certainly wrong to assume it means a new season completely void of work.
How people think about retirement prior to getting there is important. Those feeling stuck in jobs they don't enjoy are likely in need of a sabbatical. But sabbaticals are designed to rejuvenate after a few months---not to become a multi-decade lifestyle. If retirement is perceived as a non-work stage of life, this can become the litmus test for daily routines and default ammunition for saying "no" to anything that resembles work.
Serving others takes work, and the admonishment to serve doesn't expire the day we vocationally retire.
You know this, but some of your people are not so sure. Even in Christian circles we find a wide variety of perceptions related to retirement. Asking who is the Lord of our retirement may be a good starting point. If He is not the Lord of all, He may not be the Lord at all. He wants us to continue submitting our lives and plans to Him. Our identity and purpose is found in Him, not in retirement.
I'm personally more comfortable with the active verb form, as in "I retired from my job as an engineer in 2006." When it moves to the adjective or noun form, I think we start over-identifying with retirement as a new state of being, as in "I am retired" or "I am in retirement."
Retirement is mentioned only once in Scripture. In Numbers 8:25 the Levites faced mandatory retirement at the young age of fifty. If it wasn't for this one verse, we may be tempted to view the act of retiring as an aberration of God's plan. Even in this passage, there is simultaneous discussion of the Levites re-wiring for alternate forms of service. Retirement is not the enemy, but self-centered spiritual retirement, that preemptively excludes serving others, is clearly at cross-purposes with the whole counsel of Scripture.
Ministry is Not My Cup of Tea
As Christian leaders, a third case of mistaken identity surfaces when laypersons view ministry as a separate, elite task of the ordained (or superstars). When Christians see themselves as ministers and servants, not just sporadic, arm-twisted volunteers, they are more likely to experience the richer, deeper, impactful aspects of serving. And our role as equippers for ministry becomes much more natural and fulfilling.
We encourage you to constantly be on the lookout for down-to-earth people who are making an impact, using their stories to inspire others. Include a broad swath of backgrounds, not just those with unbelievable talent and boldness. Remember, it's easy in our spectator culture to place people on pedestals and admire them at arms length, while reinforcing our own inadequacy and passivity.