One of my students asked me recently when I planned to retire from teaching at the seminary. When I mentioned that it could happen in about 5 years, she replied, “I am so excited! I will be ready to take your place then!” I have known that student for many years, so I encouraged her to get a PHD and we both laughed about the future.
My student’s question was pertinent because most of the college and graduate level faculty are teaching longer and longer, for many reasons. One is that many people, including professors, cannot retire before 65 because they are not prepared financially to retire. Another reason is that, given the average lifespan, many are scared that their resources will not last into their 90s. Many professors continue to teach because they really do not know what they will do when they retire.
On the other hand, teachers staying for longer has clogged opportunities for the younger professors. There are thousands of people who have PHDs in their fields but cannot get even part time teaching positions. Many schools are hiring adjuncts because it is the cheapest way to go. As I reflected over the clogging in the teaching profession, I was reminded of someone I knew when I pastored in the Midwest. This young man would substitute for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was extremely talented but was told that there will be no position open for the next 20 years, unless a musician unexpectedly dies. Since many places were specifically seeking women and minorities, he packed his instrument and moved to southern Europe.
Retirement is a commodity that became an expectation in the 20th century after Social Security was invented. It has become such a tantalizing concept that people are not willing to take a hard look at it. Many people in their twenties and early thirties talk about the fact that they are supporting a generation that has not taken care of themselves and there will be nothing for them when they reach the age of their parents and grandparents.
One reasons for this debacle is that the government – local, state, and national - has blindly stolen pension funds. Another is that in the days of Roosevelt, the average retirement age was under 70 while the average right now is in the 80’s. If one pays the same amount of money but retirement lasts three times longer, there is definitely not enough to support the retirement.
Biblically, we are commanded to take care of our families and primarily of our parents. Jesus was very critical of the Jewish leaders who coined a phrase about people who consecrated their money to the temple so that they would not have to help their own families. (Mark 7:11-13) The well-known ethicist Ron Sider has written a book on the subject and committed himself to work towards fixing the various injustices that have been done in the retirement system. John McArthur recounts the time when he preached from the pastoral epistles and challenged his listeners to take care of their parents before they turn them over to the state. He received some of the most vitriolic letters from Christians of his whole career.
When I think of my future retirement, I am reminded of the retirees from my childhood days. When they were no longer able to work in the fields or even in their yards, you would see the elderly come out and sit in front of their homes in the morning hours and in the early evening hours. We as the neighborhood kids would greet them (and woe unto us if we did not), ask them if they would need something if we went to the store, and then listen to them tell those stories that we already knew from memory. They were a part of the tapestry of our community, for in most homes there would be at least three generations living together. None of them had any retirement plans, because they were a part of the family and the family always took care of their own.