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Archive for January 2011

Two Ways to Create a New Perspective of Aging

My guess is that a number of you have seen this picture before. If you look at it one way you see a beautiful, young woman…if you look at it in a different way you see the face of an old woman. (Hint: The chin of the young woman is the nose of the old woman).

It’s interesting how our view – our perspective – can have such an effect on how we approach something. For many people, aging has been seen as something negative and something to avoid. It is time we work to create a new perspective.

Here are two suggestions of how you can begin to do this in your church.

1. Draw attention to the contribution of older adults.

This woman is in her late 70s and volunteers her time with the tech ministry at her church. She does not fit the unfortunately common stereotype of an older person complaining about the music or powerpoint slides or lights. Rather, she is giving of her time and abilities to serve people in the local church. In fact, she runs the light program! We need to tell her story and the hundreds of other stories of older men and women just like her. Write about them on your church blog. Share their story from the platform on a Sunday morning. Create a video of older adults serving in various capacities. You get the idea. Start doing something to communicate that older adults are valuable and capable of making a difference.

2. Teach about the lives of older adults in Scripture. One of my favorite examples is of Caleb in Joshua chapter 14. After years and years the Israelites are finally coming into the Promised Land. In verse 6 we come upon Caleb who recalls the promise God had made to him 45 years before to give him the land of Hebron and then in verse 10, Caleb says: “…So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country the Lord promised me that day.”

Here is a guy who did not approach aging as something negative, rather he fully embraced this stage of life and all that God had for him. Young people and old people in our churches and communities need to hear these stories, so they know that this can be a reality for them.

What are you doing to help create a new perspective of aging in your ministry context?


The New Old

Last Thursday, Ed Stetzer invited me to write a guest post on his blog, “Thursday is for Thinkers”. I’m re-posting the article below. I hope it is helpful as we all try to sort out what ministry with the new old looks like.

Well, it’s here. The year 2011. And people like me who have spent their entire ministry, work and academic life immersed in the field of aging and older adult ministry have been anticipating this year for a long time. Just a few weeks ago when January 1st rolled around, the first of 78 million baby boomers turned 65. Pew Research Center reports that 10,000 adults are turning 65 each day and that in 20 years, almost 20% of our population will be over the age of 65.

In the past month there has been a surge of news articles and stories on the topic of aging baby boomers, a group I like to refer to as ‘the new old.’ These are adults who are primarily between the age of 50 to 70 and view the later years of life in a completely different way than their parent’s generation. The new old are active, involved and anything but ‘old’.

Government, health care, fashion merchandising and a host of other businesses are giving serious attention to the implications of this huge demographic.

And it’s time the Church enters into the conversation.

How do we respond to this phenomenon? What do we need to know?

Here are 4 key issues we must consider.

1. The new old are approaching aging in a much different way than preceding generations. For starters, leading-edge baby boomers and those just slightly older, do not like the word senior and they reject just about anything that smacks of old age.

I’ve had more than one frustrated church leader tell me, “We can’t get those sixty-year olds to attend our senior adult activities!” One primary reason for this is because the new old, do not consider themselves to be seniors and for the most part, they are never going to fold into the existing senior adult ministry at a church. They are not interested in potluck luncheons or bus trips. While some of these ministry ideas have worked in the past, they are not going to reach this new generation of older adults.

Community senior centers are discovering this and making adjustments like taking out the shuffleboard court and putting in fitness centers. Some retirement communities are even removing the names ‘senior’ and ‘retirement’ from their titles. The Church will need to follow suit.

A handful of churches across the country are creating boomer ministries (separate from their senior adult ministries) and are calling these new ministries Encore, Adult Impact or simply Boomer ministry. Whatever the format, we need different ministry names, fresh ideas and a whole new approach to how we do things.

2. The new old are reinventing retirement. The New Retirement Survey conducted by Merrill Lynch found that 76% of boomers want to keep working in some fashion during retirement. Many adults want to retire from their current career and launch into something new, like part-time work or a job that has flexibility. The type of jobs boomers are most interested in are working in the nonprofit sector, starting their own business, or just doing a fun job that is less stressful. One thing is certain. Boomers do not plan to sit in a rocking chair and simply relax for the next 20 years of their lives. They want their retirement years to include a component of work – either paid employment or a significant volunteer role.

3. Not all older adults are Christians. I know that sounds so simple, but think about this for a moment. Many churches invest a lot of time, staff and resources into children’s and youth ministry – which is important – but few churches are intentional and strategic about reaching the millions of older adults who do not have a relationship with Christ. Ironically, there are some characteristics among 50+ age adults that make them very receptive to the gospel. They are facing a number of life transitions such as caring for aging parents, concerns about their own heath and mortality, financial worries, and evolving relationships with their adult children and grandchildren. All of these stresses provide great opportunities for communities of faith to reach out with ministry. Boomers are also receptive because they are searching for purpose. They are entering a new phase of life and are asking questions like, “now that I am getting older, my work life is changing and the children are out of the house, what is it that gives my life meaning?” Obviously, Christ-followers hold the only true answer to that question.

I’ve been thrilled to learn of a few church plants and multi-site venues that are purposing to reach out to this age group. But we need more.

4. Aging boomers have the potential to make a tremendous Kingdom impact with their lives. They have time, experience and resources and they want to participate in purposeful endeavors that will benefit others. As these adults enter their retirement years, they desire to do more than staple newsletters, fold bulletins and make coffee. One man said about his retirement: “I want to give my time to ministry through my church, but I’d like to do more than be an usher.” These are adults that can lead community efforts to help with homelessness, give hours each week to mentoring children at an underprivileged school, serve for an extended time overseas, counsel those who are facing unemployment and on and on the list goes. It is imperative that we open our eyes and recognize the potential of this generation and then find ways to unleash them into ministry. My fear is that if the Church does not engage them, they will look elsewhere.

Never before in history have so many adults moved into their later years of life with so much health and vitality. We have a window of opportunity right now to harness the capacity of this enormous generation. To grow them up as disciples of Christ and to mobilize them for His mission. Let’s not miss the chance.

What are the barriers you’ve seen that keep us from developing robust ministries with aging boomers in our churches and communities? What are you doing in your ministry context to reach out to this age group and tap into their ministry potential? What other comments and ideas do you have about ministry with the new old?


Let's Talk about the Baby Boom

This past week I was invited to be one of the guests on a local radio program with two of my colleagues from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The topic? You guessed it…Baby Boomers. One of the things I appreciated most about the program were the demographics presented by David Drozd. While some of the stats in the program are specific to the state of Nebraska, there are lots of national and even global implications. For example, in the state of Nebraska, before the baby boom, the average number of births per year was 22,000. When the baby boom began (and throughout those nearly 20 years that followed) the number of births per year was 32,000. I’ve known the baby boom was a big deal – but just hearing the way David presented the numbers really put things into perspective. I’ve included the program below if you care to listen. It is divided into 2 parts.

One of the questions the host of the show posed to us was (I’m paraphrasing), “Knowing what you do about the huge numbers of baby boomers entering the later years of life, what is it specifically that preoccupies your mind when you go to bed at night?” Please post a comment regarding your answer to that question. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“The Art of Aging” Part 1
“The Art of Aging” Part 2


The Baby Boomer Generation in the News

2011 is a defining year as millions of baby boomers celebrate their 65th birthday and cross the threshold into what used to be (and to some extent, still is) the chronological marker for old age. This noteworthy event has been all over the headlines with many news stories being reported on this phenomenon.

Here are a few take-away points that I deemed as important in what I’ve read in the past week.

  • Boomers want to be engaged and will continue to reinvent themselves through work and volunteer efforts.

  • Finances are affecting aging baby boomers, and perhaps their biggest financial concern is the cost of healthcare.

  • Many older boomers are experiencing the phenomenon of their adult children moving back home and some boomers are also having to take an active role in raising their grandchildren.

  • Boomers and older adults are continuing to work past the retirement age, but are choosing to do new jobs that are meaningful to them.

  • Boomers have always made an impact and we can expect them to continue to do this as they move into their later years of life.
  • Below are the links to several articles and news stories that you may want to check out.
    Forever Young: What’s in Store for Baby Boomers? (segment on the Today Show)
    Boomers Take the Retire out of Retirement
    (Segment on NPR)
    This Isn’t Grandpa’s Retirement (USA Today Opinion Piece)
    Baby Boomers: Officially You’re Now Senior Citizens. (Christian Science Monitor)

    What does this information mean for those of us who want to minister with aging boomers? What have you seen or heard in the news lately regarding boomers that we need to take notice of?


Churches Reaching Out to Caregivers

One of the most challenging life issues facing boomers is caring for their aging parents. Eavesdrop on a conversation between adults who are in their 50s and 60s and at some point you are bound to hear them talk about their concerns regarding their aging mom and dad.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on how churches can minister with aging baby boomers by providing ministry with the boomer’s parent. Now, I want to suggest a few additional ways that churches can minister with boomers who are caregivers.

1. Offer a support group. Call it whatever you want – support group, small group, discussion group, whatever. The point is to provide a safe place for those caring for an aging parent to talk about their concerns and heartaches, share resources with one another, discuss Biblical principles related to caregiving and pray with one another.

2. Develop a ministry devoted to providing breaks for caregivers. Some churches host an adult day care on their campus where caregivers can drop off their elderly loved one for several hours, knowing they will be well cared for. Even providing this service once a month can provide caregivers with a much-needed break.

3. Invite caregivers to telephone the church if they would like to discuss issues related to their aging parent. One church leader told me that whenever the church attempted to hold workshops or conferences focused on caring for aging parents, the turn-out was low. But, when he put a short blurb in the Sunday worship bulletin suggesting that those wanting to talk about issues related to caregiving could give him a call, his phone was ringing off the hook.

4. Suggest resources. Caregivers are busy and overwhelmed. They do not have time to spend hours on the internet or in a bookstore. One of the most helpful things a church can do is to become a clearinghouse as to the resources available in the community. Churches can research services available and then create a library of brochures and phone numbers and make these available to caregivers.

It is also helpful to have a few books that you would recommend. One I frequently suggest to caregivers is Caring for Your Aging Parents: When Love Is Not Enough by Barbara Deane. While the book is 20 years old, it is still one of my favorites because it approaches caregiving from a Biblical perspective and discusses the emotional and spiritual needs of the caregiver and the elderly parent.

With people continuing to live longer, opportunities for ministry with caregivers is only going to increase.

What have you found to be effective in ministering with those who are caring for an aging loved one?