Years ago I was conversing with a retired woman who had graciously agreed to take over the church’s ministry to seniors. She was explaining to me her goals and frustrations when she made a complaint I did not expect. She said that the problem with our ministry to seniors was that the “older seniors” only wanted programs which allowed them to come to church, sit down and watch. She and her husband wanted to walk places and do things.
One of the great privileges of being a pastor (or a member of a church) is that we have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with people of all ages and situations. Sooner or later, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, will all wander into the church. Unfortunately, however, we do not value everyone equally. This is particularly evident in the ways that many churches view seniors.
To be certain, seniors are almost always welcome at almost every church. We are happy to see older members. If occasionally they complain too much they more than make up for it with their loyalty, their service and their tithes. That said, churches will spend considerable time and energy designing ministries to help children, teenagers and young families to find faith and live Christian lives. Ministries that target seniors, however, are too often limited to luncheons and capital fund drives. Granted it might be argued that young people are “the future of the church” but what good is worrying about the future if we never really live in the present?
So what do we need from the church as we grow older? People are different and there is no one single answer, but ten years ago one of the leading mega-churches (Willow Creek) commissioned a first class study called “Reveal” to learn more about the spiritual lives of their own members as well as the members of churches in the surrounding area. What they learned surprised them.
The leadership of Willow Creek had expected to find that “the more a person far from God participates in church activities, the more likely it is those activities will produce a person who loves God and loves others”. What they found was more complicated.
The study divided church attendees into four groups according to their level of spiritual formation:
- those who are “exploring Christianity”
- those who are “growing in Christ”
- those who are “close to Christ”
- those who are “Christ-centered.”
What the research actually revealed was that people in the first two categories were actually happy with and benefited from participation in church programs and ministries. However, as people matured in their faith they became less satisfied in what the church offered because they were trying to advance to a place where their faith was less dependent on the church and more dependent on Christ.
So what does this mean to older Christians? The Reveal study focused on spiritual maturity which is not the same thing as chronological maturity but there is a relationship between the two. As Christians grow older in years it is hoped that they will mature in their faith. With that in mind, many older Christians need something different than they did earlier in their faith journey. Attending church and remaining in Christian fellowship is still important (if for no other reason than we are commanded to do these things) but the focus needs to change from what we are “taking in” to what we are “giving out”.
What does that mean? It might help to look at things this way. As a pastor I am aware that there are many Christians who support me as I preach and lead the church. I am profoundly grateful for their support but I believe that pastors are not the only Christians who need that type of help. As Christians mature we all are meant to have ministries, and for many Christians that means doing things for God where they (and not the pastor) are the leader and the initiator. This means that the leaders of mission efforts, programs, and classes, deserve and need help and respect in something like the same way that the pastor does.
So where does that leave you? If you have reached a place where you believe you are “graduated” and need to find a ministry to make your own, then the church needs to be in the business of equipping and supporting you. If you are currently serving Christ but feel burned out and exhausted then we need to know. Christianity is like baseball. Every individual is supposed to come up to take their swings but even when we are in the dugout, we are still a part of the team.
So as your pastor I would like to ask everyone (of all ages); if you are looking for a new way to serve Christ, please let me know. And if you are already serving Christ but need help, again please let me know. I don’t know exactly what either I or the church can do to help you but we will try. Ironically enough it is our business to assist you in becoming a Christian who doesn’t need our help (or needs it far less) because they can stand on their own two feet and serve Christ
And to Mount Oakers everywhere, remember this. Part of who we are to become is a church that helps anyone and everyone to grow to maturity in their faith so that we can stand on our own, but not alone.