Developing Kingdom Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Aging and Retirement – 2

The Lord said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer.  They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work.   Numbers 8:23-26 NIV (1984)

Retirement, that is, stopping work for a life of ease, is a relatively modern concept.  J.I. Packer in his book, “Finishing our Course with Joy” says, “The Biblical “ideal of ripeness and increased focus in life in our old age stands in direct contrast to the advice for old age that our secular Western world currently gives.  Retirees are admonished, both explicitly and implicitly, in terms that boil down to this:  Relax.  Slow Down.  Take it easy.  Amuse yourself.  Do only what you enjoy.”

Cotton Mather, the Puritan firebrand, in the early 1700s attempted to encourage older workers to consider being “…pleased with the Retirement you are dismissed into.” [2]  This concept did not mean the worker would receive a monthly pension; rather it was an encouragement for the older to step aside and let the younger have a place of contribution.  Until the Industrial Revolution, mankind simply worked until they could work no longer.  It was the move away from primarily an agrarian society and to a factory work environment that was less physically demanding that gave older workers an opportunity to continue to work to increasingly older age. 

Monthly pensions to older workers began to be addressed in the U.S. in the late 1800s.  “In 1875, the American Express railroad company set a precedent by establishing the first private pension plan in America.  Banks, utility companies and manufacturing companies quickly followed suit and established pension plans funded mostly by the employer.” [3]

In 1883, Chancellor van Bismarck of Germany had to face the growing attraction of the Marxists who were promising older German factory workers an old age pension.  To counter the Marxists, van Bismarck offered to pay the German factory workers to stop working and receive a monthly payment from the government.  He chose the age of 65 as the age to stop working.  It is interesting to note that the life expectancy in Germany at the time was 62 years of age! [4]

As we form our policies and personal convictions on aging and retirement, let’s be aware of the historical development of the concept of retiring to a life of ease in our old age. More importantly, let’s look to the Bible for direction and help in addressing our aging staff and surrounding demographics.


[2] N.Y. Times, The History of Retirement, From Early Man to A.A.R.P.  March 21, 1999

[3] http://www.thinkadvisor.com/2006/04/01/the-history-of-retirement#.VwGUm5ispiI.email

[4] N.Y. Times, The History of Retirement, From Early Man to A.A.R.P.  March 21, 1999

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