The Senior Adult Dilemma, Part 2

In my last post I explored a few issues involved with what I termed “The Senior Adult Dilemma.” I encourage you to read it first for context.

This response came from a friend via Facebook:

Consider that the Boomer generation was perhaps the first to see that government leaders often lied to them. The Sixties were radically different than anything this country had faced. Authority figures, music, sexual revolution, etc., etc. EVERYTHING changed rapidly.

I’ve read stats saying 1 out of 4 were sexually abused and we know that kind of abuse is often by someone in a place of authority in that person’s life. They were drafted into the first war (Vietnam) that was so unpopular that when coming home they were often met at airports and pelted with tomatoes. Even today one can walk in a VFW event and immediately tell the Vietnam vets. This generation was among the first to come out of college with massive student loans.

These folk (Boomers) have been told that they have spent the nation into oblivion, are guilted over abortion (the Supreme Court chief justices who wrote majority opinions were appt. by Republican Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. Check out Republican Supreme Court appointees and their decisions. Not good. In fact, Ike said his appointment of Earl Warren was the “damnedest fool thing I ever did”.), and many are reduced to working two or three part time jobs to support themselves. One outlives early retirement. They have only know SBC live to be in turmoil their entire ministry life.

My point is that there is a lot of latent anger in almost every congregation among the seniors.

This friend spent more than a decade as a traveling evangelist, and has been nearly two decades in denominational work.

Two other friends, one via Twitter and another offline, also mentioned existing or potential issues with Baby Boomers in the Senior Adult Dilemma. As the oldest Boomers are just hitting retirement age, I think it remains to be seen. I hope, rather, to see Boomers go into their senior years pressing forward without looking back. In point of fact, I have been eyewitness to the Dilemma since before the oldest of the Boomers were out of their 40s.

While Boomers may fall to the same temptations current and past seniors have faced, this seems to be beyond a mere Boomer issue. Unless these issues are addressed, Boomers, Busters, Millennials and future generations may fall as well.

I should note I’m hardly an expert. I have been blessed with some fantastic relationships with senior adults. We loved, honored and respected each other, often in the midst of disagreements about “worship styles” or church direction. Then there were those who did not fit in that group ;^)

What I offer are thoughts as my old age grows larger in the windshield. Now let us consider a few possible solutions:

1. Seniors often feel left out, but need more than Branson, Missouri trips to help them continue to grow in Christ.
Which came first the chicken or the egg? Do churches lower discipleship expectations on seniors to little more than a travel club, or do seniors fail to respond to discipleship efforts requiring more than a travel club?

Another friend who has been in ministry for many years wrote this:

A friend of mine, a pastor and missionary of many decades reached his 70’s and told me this, “I have more time to give, more knowledge to share and a hearts desire to minister but no one wants and old man. If you are over 50-55 try and to get a position in a church, very difficult. I know there are older people who are like those in your article but there are many more who love God, love their church and desire to be in ministry but many times the church has turned them away or formed a “senior saints” group that basically takes trips for pleasure. The older generation needs to be challenged to press on just as every other generation in the church.

2. Aging entrenches routine as a form of comfort and certainty, but church leaders often miss this.
A former co-laborer on a staff once made this observation about his widowed, senior adult mother-in-law: “If a light bulb goes out at my mother-in-law’s house, she will call us every day until I can get over to replace it. Even if it is in a room or closet she rarely uses. She seems fixated on it until I can get it done.”

As we get older and more physically restricted from “adventures,” routines become places of comfort. If this is true of young people–and to some degree it is true of us all–with some it gets much worse with aging. Predictability becomes the groove through which life is comfortably lived. Like residents of The Shire many eschew the unknown and enjoy the serenity of sameness.

But, like nostalgia, routine is not a spiritual gift. Arguably, the desire for a “whole life routine” can work against spiritual growth: it is hard to invite God to break into your routine if you do not want God to break into your routine. Or fail to believe it is something He would even do.

When church leaders misunderstand the routine they multiply problems for themselves. You may not be able to change it; but you do well to take it into consideration in decision making.

3. Most people who come to Christ do so in their younger years and seniors should participate in their church’s efforts to reach them.
Every study I have ever known indicates most people who come to Christ do so while young. Youth pastors used to say the majority are saved before the age of 18. Barna says it is a “substantial majority” (2004) who do so.

If this is the case why would churches in their evangelistic attempts not focus a lot of energy in reaching those under 18? Further, why would senior adults not rejoice to be a part of leading young people to Christ?

One of the great blessings of my ministry was Mrs. Jessie Lancaster. Mrs. Jessie died several years ago. She was single for many, many years. Having no children or relatives in the community, she depended, more than most, on her church family. She was active in an intergenerational small group at our church, and prayed for me relentlessly. She once told me when I had a conflict between leaving for a youth camp and seeing her in the hospital, “Preacher, don’t you ever come see me if you have a chance to lead some young person to Jesus. That’s way more important.”

That is the outlook I want to have at 80.

4. Churches should view aging as a unique discipleship opportunity.
It is a little too easy to say, “You didn’t hear the Apostle Paul complaining while he was chained up in that dark Roman jail!!” I kind of doubt he is in your church. I kind of doubt he is in the pastor’s office, either. But, if we want to produce a different kind of senior adult believer, we might need to develop a different discipleship strategy for senior adults.

Esteemed professor, Howard Hendricks, who died February 20, 2013, described aging as a:

quiet, ill-defined blur that steals up on one with little advance warning. My body refuses to cooperate with my mind, as if it were a stranger. Mysterious little aches and odd moments of forgetfulness pop up. Birthdays become irrelevant. The surprise is that I no longer seem to be quite the ‘me’ I have always known.

It also rings true that you do not see in the mirror what everyone else sees when looking at you.

Perhaps one solution is for churches to implement “aging out” of age-graded small groups. For illustrative purposes let us say age fifty-nine. When reaching 60 members should join younger groups. That would be the only option since no senior adult groups would exist. This combats the feelings of isolation, opens the eyes of all involved to the needs of each age, and helps facilitate organic mentoring. It also helps disconnect the problem of complaints feeding on themselves.

I have heard people talk about “cradle to grave” ministry, but I have seen few ministries last that long.

One thing seems certain: if we want to reduce the amount of stress and heartache experienced both by church leaders and seniors a modified approach to discipleship is needed.

Despite all the challenges in the senior adult dilemma I have been blessed to know many seniors like Jessie Lancaster. Among them:

My Mom and Dad
My Mother began a writing ministry to women in prison after she was 65 years old. She continued ministry to them after they exited prison. For months she drove to Atlanta each Sunday to pick-up a lady and bring her to church. My Dad, in addition to never missing a work day at church, picks up a blind man for church every Sunday and takes him home after Sunday School and church are over. My Dad often takes this man to the doctor.

Their pastor, Chris, has told me on more than one occasion, “Your Mom and Dad are truly missional people.”

Frances and Waymon Lamb
The Lambs were longtime members at a church where I served on staff. They were members when the church was small enough that Frances sent get-well cards to every member who went into the hospital. The first time I ever met her she was hospitalized. When I entered her room, I noticed her leg standing in the corner of the room while she was occupying the bed. Over the course of several months I visited her so many times we joked about her trying out every room in the hospital. At the end of each visit, she had a list a names for which I was to pray…but never for her. God was taking care of her.

After she died, Waymon became a de facto chaplain for the hospital. He had spent so much time there it was like a home away from home. He had already begun visiting sick people when Frances was hospitalized, and continued returning to visit sick people after she passed away. This he did until he was too old to continue.

Waymon outlived almost all his friends, and died after I was no longer on staff at his church. His graveside service was so small, the pastor conducting the service and I had to serve as impromptu pallbearers.

Mr. and Mrs. Benson
Raynor and Lois Benson, with their adult son, Drew, volunteered in the office at my last pastorate. They were amazingly sweet, showing up every Sunday morning to do paperwork, answer the phones and the like while our secretary was completing the extra records from Sunday. They never asked for a thing, never expected a thing, and always were gracious and cheerful.

One week I got a phone call they had been in a car accident and Mrs. Benson had broken a bone; her arm, I think. They insisted that I not visit. I did anyway, for just a few minutes. As I was leaving, Mrs. Benson said, “I’m not going to tell anyone you came by. You didn’t have to come, and if I do tell people all the old people will expect you to come see them every time they get sick.” I could not believe what I was hearing, but was I ever thankful for her wisdom.

Oh, and those “old people” were her peers.

Myrl Kitchens
The “Adult Ladies” teacher in my very first church. She was a great encouragement, and faithful to teach those ladies for many, many ears. She was the first person to teach me what Genesis means by the sun and moon being given for signs.

Far from “callous disregard” for seniors’ concerns, those entrusted with spiritual leadership should help seniors see their true needs, learn to trust God instead of routines, and continue to press on toward the goal of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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