By now the over documented aging of the Baby Boom Generation has inspired many jeremiads concerning the collapse of Social Security and Medicare, the paucity of caregivers for the rising nursing home population, and the irreplaceable loss of intellectual capital in our economy and daily lives. The situation, we perhaps comfort ourselves, is even worse in Japan and most of the Western democracies. In short, old people are a burden and we don’t know what to do with them. While my son’s humorous solution of “We’ll just put you out on an ice floe, Dad,” may not be apt, it seems my generation (Veteran) and the Boomers coming along behind us are about to cause a crisis. Perhaps. But I am encouraged by those who think of this time as an opportunity. Here are just a few resources for you to consider that offer up a more hopeful take as well as provide good advice for those who are heading for the finish line with a determination not to let tired legs and shortness of breath deter a great finish.
Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices, by Peter Drucker
This may seem an odd choice, but hold on. Peter Drucker is a legendary management guru, prolific writer, and sometime prophet, coining the terms knowledge worker and the knowledge generation before anyone else took notice. As he grew older, he was struck with the great impact demographics would make on the West and began his end of life emphasis—non-profit management and the need for trained volunteers. Founding the Drucker Institute to support his vision, adapting his wisdom to the non-profit (social) sector, and setting an example of finishing well, he provided another chapter for his legacy: perhaps his most important. His great insight was that freeing up the avalanche of retiring talent would work to the advantage of service to others in the form of older, experienced people who would become volunteers, or in his words, those who would “turn from donors into contributors.” It was his vision more than twenty years ago now that first interested me in the idea of finishing well and how I might use the knowledge I had been privileged to acquire for the benefit of places where management skill was badly needed. While some of the material may be a bit dated, the insights and vision of the value of good management and rare skill sets in non-profits is not. As he noted, this is the fastest growing of the three sectors of the US economy, and its largest employer (counting volunteers). This arena alone is a large opportunity for those in the third third of life.
Half Time: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance, by Bob Buford
This book was my pre-retirement think piece and I credit it with helping me clarify my “what next.” Born from Peter Drucker’s mentoring and Bob Buford’s own sense of a needed change in vocational direction, he offers the reader a series of self-examination questions to begin a “refocus from success to significance.” While today I reject this dualism in vocation, at the time it helped with my own realignment, providing the awakening that I needed to alter my heading. Many people have greatly profited from this book in the last decades and Bob is one excellent example of offering his expertise to the leadership of churches and Christian organizations as he finishes his race.
A Vision for an Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors, by James M. Houston and Michael Parker
J.I. Packer’s recommendation makes this book a must read. This is a very thorough and thoughtful work by yet another aging visionary, James Houston. As founder of Regent University in Vancouver and the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington, Houston is also one of the remaining people whom C.S. Lewis tutored. He has been speaking wisdom to the church for a long time, even on the last lap of his life. This is aimed more at the local church, offering ways to think about the growing component of those who are aging and explores the biblical understanding of this time of life as well as how to both minister to them and engage them in ministry rather than assuming, simply because of age, they are ready to be served rather than to serve.
The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development, J. Robert Clinton.
Years ago in my work on leadership and growing leaders I happened upon this book written by Fuller Seminary professor, Bobby Clinton. What struck me most was drawn from a survey he had done of over 1,500 older Christian leaders where he found that 1/3 finished poorly and another 1/3 finish so-so, while only 1/3 finish well. As he examines how leaders develop and serve throughout life—well into their “afterglow” years of reflection—Clinton identifies the danger zone as ages 35-55. This led me to begin prayerful planning well before Social Security. Clinton has made finishing well the topic of his focus for his own work and has a wealth of resources available including a series of three articles as well as a helpful website.
The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future, by Walt Wright.
True confession: I have not read this book. I do know Walt Wright’s work, which has been excellent; I do have it on good report from my friend, Steve Garber; and I have at least read a thoughtful if somewhat cranky review by Peter Menzies, in Comment Magazine. He is not all that excited about its “workbook” nature, though he sees its value. But heck, he’s not even there yet. What can a guy who’s only 57 know? Instead, I trust one of my personal heroes, Max De Pree, who wrote the Foreword and who is as wise a man as you will find. De Pree is well into the 60-90 year third third and has been Wright’s mentor. Wright, himself is the former Director of the De Pree Leadership Institute, and in this book gives a flavor for the kinds of questions Max asked him as he began to consider how to finish well. The book is divided into eight sessions, designed for individuals or groups to discuss:. Sessions on Facing Fears, Generativity (a focus on the next generation), and on a Renewed Calling give a flavor for its scope and nature. It might function for you as Half Time did for me some twenty years ago.
Ray Blunt is a Former Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute and teaches Worldview and Apologetics at Ad Fontes Academy. He and his wife, BJ, mentor young couples before and after marriage.