Ministry to the Elderly

I was at a seminar last Saturday on ministry among elderly people led by Roger Hitchings. He had lots of helpful things to say. Here are some of my notes from the seminar:

  1. The Bible says older people should serve (Ps 71:16-18; 92:12-15; Tit 2:1-6); be served (1 Tim 5:3, 11); be honoured (Lev 19:32; Prov 20:29).
  2. With people living longer we need to further distinguish between the young elderly (retired active); elderly (slowing down); old elderly (frail). We need different sort of ministry to different types of older people.
  3. There are more people in the UK over 65 than under 18. Perhaps senior’s workers are needed as well as children’s and youth workers.
  4. Old age is a time of loss – social, physical, personal. We need to think about needs in these three spheres.
  5. Old age is a time of fruitfulness – see Ps 92:12-15. How do we help to equip our elderly to bear fruit?
  6. Old age is a time to prepare. John Stott said “I knew I had to prepare for eternity but no-one told me I had to prepare for being old.” Spurgeon said “old age is the dressing room for eternity.” How do we teach our folk not only to prepare to die well, but to prepare to grow old well?
  7. The historical perspective on old age is different from the contemporary one. The Puritans particularly taught that old age was a blessing, a time of growth, and time of fruitful and wise ethical witness to the next generation. Are there ways we can encourage the elderly to serve in this way. Perhaps sharing at youth meetings, serving as wise counsel to pastors, training young couples?
  8. We must remind ourselves that being and identity is more important than capacity and function. Dignity is about being made in the image of God, not about ability to contribute or control bodily functions.
  9. We must remind ourselves that ‘independence’ is not a biblical category. The Trinity himself points to inter-dependence.

Much to chew on! Any ideas on how to minister well to our ‘elders’ much appreciated.

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6 thoughts on “Ministry to the Elderly

  1. Martin -a helpful post, thanks.

    A couple of thoughts -I’m not sure that the answer is to create “senior workers” to match youth workers …but then I’m less and less convinced that distinct youth ministry is a great idea either.

    Teaching that deals with the fears of death and dying seems so important. Aging shouldn’t be an embarressing or fearful thing should it? Does that mean a re-balancing of the balance between thoughtfulness in Christian life and not making it seem like an intellectual exercise -how do we help those with dementia to keep worshipping, serving, witnessing, growing

    The generational shift is a challenge. In a small to medium sized church we seem to have bubbles and gaps in our age groups. For us, a big bubble of 40s-50s and a significant bubble of late 70s-90. Gaps = 20s-early 30s and newly retireds. Is that maybe reflected in the way church life works.

    1. good points – I’d agree with you on dedicated senior/youth workers. Too much segregation not smart me thinks.
      Roger has also written a book on dementia – haven’t read it, but imagine it’d be helpful.

    2. Really helpful. The elderly isn’t just a pension time bomb. Interesting how the tide seems to be turning against specialist ministries. I guess it was probably always mostly a pragmatic thing. Do you think those in Acts 6 had a specialist widow ministry to deal with a pragmatic problem, as well as a general ministry?

      Good question on dementia. Something we’re thinking about at the moment. Also there’s an issue of how family works and doesn’t work in our mobile culture. Thanks for the pointer to the book on dementia too Salts, could do to look at that.

      1. Acts 6 is an interesting one – we always ought to be careful about extrapolating norms from this one, but it does seem in the chapters that follow that both Stephen and Philip are also powerful preachers. So it doesn’t seem that they ‘only’ did table ministry, but that was delegated to them as a responsibility. Whether they themselves did it or organised it is difficult to tell, but I think I’d possibly favour the latter given the numbers likely involved at that stage.

  2. Yes -for me it’s more about the pigeon-holing and encouraging a me-centric section to church life. Table ministry to those in need -is one thing…as long as it doesn’t become a perrson’s excuse for avoiding other aspects of church-life above. Nor do I think this is dogmatic -not proposing we start an anti-youth workers movement…just that I think the easy first response is often “create the ministry” if that has the same effect as some models of youth work have of creating “pensioner-church” then that would be a bad thing. I think we are seeing the outcome of some youth ministry models now where people need a “twenties and thirties service” . On the other hand -someone who sees a need to work with a particularl group at a particular time can have a healthy impact if the result is that the group becomes much more part of church life, much more outword focused in reaching others …and of course where worshipping God becomes central then that’s different.

  3. Thanks guys, I think that’s where I’m at too. If I had a youth worker, I think I’d want them to be involved in general church ministry, with a particular responsibility for youth work, or something like that. I’m certainly against pensioner-church, although I think the CoE might be ahead of the curve on this one 😉 Possibly it get difficult when we follow the HUP in evangelism…

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