Stewardship and Retirement to the Glory of God: An Interview with Jason Branning

How did you become a financial advisor?

I became a financial advisor and business owner through God’s providence. I did not hear a voice saying this is what you should do, rather I applied for a few different opportunities toward the end of college, prayed, and watched to see God’s providence in the circumstances and options He opened to me.  

As a senior in high school I was especially interested in economics and visited a local stockbroker to hear about real world markets. I entered college and loved big ideas and critical thinking, so I majored in English and took a minor in history. As late as the summer after my senior year in college, I anticipated pursuing a PhD and becoming a college administrator or teaching in a university. I had been accepted at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and was planning to pursue a Masters in English studying C. S. Lewis with Bruce Edwards, a renowned Lewis scholar. Around the same time, I began dating Mary Kelly, who was a rising senior at Mississippi College. That post graduation summer became the fork in the road for my career. I had taken a job with Steve Morris’s brother and a few men at First Presbyterian. I had been tasked to serve on a research project for their financial planning company. Towards the end of the summer, Randy Morris suggested I would do well in the field and would enjoy serving others through financial services. He offered me a job and a training track, and I went through the open door in the marketplace rather than the academy. Looking back, I realize that I had become interested in the financial markets and the idea of serving Christ in the marketplace. As well, I wanted to remain in closer proximity to Mary Kelly while she completed her senior year at MC.

How does having a Biblical worldview transform the way you practice financial planning?

My relationship with Christ has transformed the way I see all things. Lewis says it better than I, but this is how I feel: “I believe in Christianity [or Christ] as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I strive to apply the command to do unto others as I would want done to me as I serve clients. I believe we use the best academic research in the field of finance and prayerfully attempt to apply biblical wisdom to each client. Some of the published research I have done with a business partner is an outworking of stewardship principles. We have prioritized goals we believe will offer a wise way to use all resources the Lord gives through retirement.

How should a Christian think about retirement?

Some Christians believe retirement is not biblical. Yet in a fallen world, retirement from one’s primary job in the marketplace is a reality for most everyone due to declining physical or mental health or changing market dynamics. I believe Christians, as stewards, should appropriate over a working career the resources God gives them to prepare financially for this stage of life.

I think the Christian should think about their retirement the same way as they think about their life lived before God. Two principles come to mind: Lordship and Stewardship. Retirement should be a willing act of submission to the Lordship of Christ. Believers recognize that we do not control our lives, the Lord does. Our days are numbered on this earth and until He returns, part of our submission is being realistic about typical life stage patterns in this world - accepting that aging involves a process of decay. The Christian retirement can bear witness to God’s faithfulness over a lifetime in His provision and the wise handling of His resources as believers rightly save toward this phase of life.

As well, believers can model the creational Sabbath rest cycle in light of our broken world and human frailty during retirement. We can fully rely on the Lord until the end of our lives here and be at rest in the reality of His presence and provision. 

Finally, retirement from the marketplace does not mean retirement from the kingdom. All believers at every age and stage have a role of serving, learning, teaching, relating, and glorifying our Savior. Retirees should be on guard against making an idol of retirement’s worldly promises of free time, leisure, autonomy, rather than (if healthy enough) seeing themselves as free to generously serve or give in new ways.

What are some of the areas of weakness that you often see in how Christians approach their money, wealth, and retirement planning?

All of us fight a spectrum of emotions and ideas about money. Some see money as offering security or hope, while others think it is evil or dirty. I think the Bible shows that money is a neutral object. “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It is how we use money that is the issue and we must not hold money as a love. We will project meaning or significance on resources based on our heart inclinations - either use money as godly stewards with generosity and wisdom or it will be our false idol that will enslave and destroy us.

Christians should strive against a worldly mindset that says wealth accumulated provides stability while refusing to trust God rather than money. If we get fearful when money is tight, we should pray for God to show us what our heart really treasures and repent if we rely on anything but God. Wealth accumulation is not evil but can be a sign of the wise application of biblical principles. Yet, worldly wealth is not promised us in this life.

The main idea Christians should keep in mind is our position as stewards of the resources God gives us. We ultimately do not own anything - our lives, fortunes, or time - but are called to honor God with all He gives and all we are.