Nearly every Sunday, (and Christmas morning was no exception) our family worships and serves at a retirement community. My husband, Jon, is the chaplain and he is the pastor to this flock of people and our children and myself are a part of the community of faith. We have two services every Sunday morning – one contemporary and one traditional (Just kidding!). But seriously, we have two services because the 80 to 100 people who attend church each week can’t all fit into the room at the same time! Read more
Wes and Judy Wick lead a dynamic ministry called, YES! (Young Enough to Serve). I have known both of them for several years and we share a similar passion for ministry with older adults. This video that their son produced is outstanding! It’s just 3 minutes long and communicates in a very compelling way why we must engage older adults in the life of the church. So watch, be inspired and then go do something! Read more
A little over a month ago I received a very encouraging e-mail from a married couple who are obviously making an impact with their lives. Here is an excerpt from the e-mail: We lead a small group of “Empty Nesters,” all of whom are boomers and members of the same church. Our small group of about 15 have been studying Richard Stearns’ DVD series called The Hole in Our Gospel DVD It is based on his book by the same name. We decided we wanted to do something and not just learn from the needs of the world. We decided in our naivety (but not God’s) that we wanted to drill a well in a third world country. We started the series in February and decided that we would give toward the well project whatever God gave to us in unexpected ways. Research said it would be anywhere from $5000 to $10,000 for a drilled well. Read more
What keeps people from serving? The apostle Paul knew of one thing that could keep Timothy from serving God to the fullest extent and that one thing was ageism. Ageism is the term used to describe the negative biases we have about certain age groups and this is exactly what Paul was addressing in I Timothy 4:12 when he says to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Ageism happens when someone is told they are ‘too young’ to do something and it also happens when someone is told they are ‘too old’. Read more
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?
Last week a very dear friend, who is in her early seventies, visited our home for several days. We enjoyed laughing, eating and catching up on each others’ lives but one short conversation reminded me of ministry with older adults and the importance of churches and organizations providing specific volunteer opportunities for retirees.
Our friend retired from her career as a children’s librarian and among other things, began volunteering for a local school. However, whenever she went to the school she found herself never knowing quite what to do. You see, the school didn’t give her any responsibility. She just had to show up and go to the different teachers and ask if there was anything she could help them with. She felt in some ways that she was bothering them and finally decided that she wasn’t cut out for this type of volunteer work. Interestingly, she is now back working part time at the library.
Unfortunately, her story is not uncommon. There are a number of reasons that organizations fail to fully utilize retirees as volunteers.
1. Organizations believe that they should not give volunteers any major responsibilities. This is a big mistake. Just because someone is a volunteer does not mean they cannot handle leading a big project or running a program.
2. Organizations fail to give people specific tasks or a specific job. Volunteers need to know that what they are doing matters and that they are filling an important need. You won’t retain a volunteer if they don’t have a specific job. They want to do more than just ‘show up’.
3. Organizations don’t find out the unique skills and experiences that the volunteer has. Having been a librarian, our friend would have been more than happy to be put in charge of re-shelving books in the school library or processing returned items. But no one asked her.
What lessons have you learned about engaging retirees as volunteers?
One of the primary components of an effective older adult ministry is having a strong emphasis on service, but creating this atmosphere, where service is an expected and normal thing, does not automatically happen. Some churches have neglected to see their older adults as valuable resources full of life experience and wisdom and instead they have bought into the world’s lie that once someone reaches a particular age they should “slow down” and “let the younger people take over.” It takes effort and in some cases a shift in attitude to build an outwardly focused older adult ministry.
Shortly after Peninsula Covenant Church, in Redwood City, CA began their Plus ministry, Dr. Alan Forsman, one of the strategic planners for Pepsi, talked to the church about the characteristics of the 50+ generation. Rod Toews, pastor of Plus ministry says, “This particular presentation to our church helped to raise the awareness that the church had really not been doing a good job of valuing the 50+ members. Our older members were feeling disenfranchised and like the church did not really care about them. The first goal of our ministry was to help the older adults feel valued and worthwhile and in doing this we realized that our people had the time and the abilities to be involved in missional things.” The Plus ministry began blessing the community by praying for the lost in the city, being involved in community service clubs and taking the elderly to doctor’s appointments. It did not take long until the Plus ministry was recognized by the entire church as being a ministry with an outward focus. In fact, other ministries in the church began to look to them for support and help in various service endeavors.
Mopsy Andrews, pastor of BOLDer adult ministry (Being Our Lord’s Delight) at Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, TX is also very intentional about making sure the 50+ ministry is focused on serving. “One of the primary goals of our senior pastor when he first came to Chapelwood was to change the landscape of our church to be outreach oriented. Chapelwood is in an affluent suburb of Houston, and he wanted us to change the image of our church from being inwardly focused to a place where all kinds of people could find love and acceptance.” The older adult ministry embraced this emphasis, and in fact one of the primary purposes of the BOLDer Adult ministry is to supply the people for the many service projects organized by the church. BOLDer adults at Chapelwood now serve in a variety of capacities from short-term mission trips, to encouraging people looking for employment, to providing transportation to nursing home residents. Mopsy says, “Our church now has over 300 mission and outreach ministries and over 1,200 BOLDer adults are involved in supporting these ministries.”
What churches do you know of that have intentionally outward focused older adult ministries?
(This blog post was adapted from a portion on my concept paper, “Creating New Opportunities for Older Adults to Serve”).
This week I read a great article regarding the ministry of YES! (Young Enough to Serve). This article tells the story of Frances, a 75-year old woman who is singing in a Mobile Home Choir, doing senior outreach work for her church and has just begun work on a Master’s degree in psychology and counseling. Her story reminds me of something I heard the late Dr. Gene Cohen (a leader in the field of aging) say in a presentation. He said as we get older we develop more of an attitude that says: “If not now, then when?” Stereotypes say that older adults are cautious, but many 50+ age adults are plunging into new adventures – things they have never done before. Things like going on an overseas mission trip, mentoring a disadvantaged teenager or going back to college! Anything is possible!
How have you seen older adults display an attitude of “If not now, then when?”