IVP - Online Pulpit - The Age-Old Myth, Part 3

March 2, 2012

The Age-Old Myth, Part 3

If churches wish to embrace the profound truth that God is primarily concerned with what each person is relationally and seek to honor the wisdom of the elders in their midst, what kind of practical changes will the congregation and larger community see?

Encouragement in a healthy lifestyle. Christian teaching maintains that the Holy Spirit truly inhabits the believer, including the body, which is why Paul calls the body the temple of the Holy Spirit. The church can and should be a place of education on healthy lifestyles—that, for example, it is never too late to quit smoking or lose weight. Churches do not often partner with or participate in health-related initiatives, but doing so can being a dual benefit: taking the church out into the community as a caring entity and increasing the health of its members.

A heart for those (of any age) with disabilities. While it is appropriate to strive for “successful aging”—that is, a lifestyle that keeps our bodies and minds sharp for the tasks God has given us—to have failed to age healthfully is not to have failed at being human or fulfilling our calling from God. After all, lifestyle choices rarely contribute to physical and mental health challenges that affect many young people: autism, many cancers, traumatic brain injury, and degenerative diseases. Such ministries often draw in families whose beloved children face such challenges and they teach church members to see the inherent value in each person. Those whose faculties have been compromised by Alzheimers or dementia can be seen in a new light as well.

Support of caregivers. My instinct tells me that churches are already a major source of informal support for adult children, based upon the number of prayers I have heard offered in small groups and church services for people in this situation. But most churches have not drawn upon the many community resources and support opportunities offered in the larger community, nor have they considered the stress of caring for adult parents a need for which their community could use faith-based support and encouragement.

Intragenerational relationships. The paradigm of age-graded Sunday school does great disservice to the development of intragenerational relationships. Likewise, church-related small groups tend to develop by life-stage boundaries. While some intragenerational sharing is healthy and supportive, often the younger members suffer the lack of perspective on their particular struggles. When church leadership encourages the formation of small groups (or life/connect groups) that transcend generational boundaries, they place older members in a position to be able to share their wisdom and experience but also to be loved and cared for by members whose skills can benefit them—for example, younger persons who will help an older church member set up and learn to use their email so they can communicate with their grandchildren.

Capturing the stories of our elders. When a church prioritizes inter-generational relationships, members naturally develop an interest in the unique life stories of their elders. Gifted—or even average—writers can be of invaluable service to families by recording memorable moments in the lives of various older church members. My uncle, a gifted and creative pastor, wrote numerous stories and poems for my grandparents about their childhood, courtship, and experiences in World War II. As a child I was mildly curious about this pastime and enjoyed the stories well enough, but the other day I stumbled on one of them tucked away in a children’s book my daughter had picked up. I had forgotten so much, and was incredibly thankful to have stories of these people I loved, people my daughter will never remember but whose legacy she can continue through hearing their stories.

I fear that many churches fail to take on such ministries because they don’t see an immediate “gospel impact” in them—where are the conversions and baptisms? But talking on such ministries sends a lived theology into the community: God cares for, and therefore we care for, individuals of all ages. God’s word gives a vision for the aging populations in our churches and communities, therefore we follow God even in this.

varnerOP.jpgEmily Varner worked extensively with A Vision for the Aging Church as a freelance editor and publicist for IVP Academic. Her business, AcademicPS, focuses on ministry books and academic texts from Christian publishers. She and her husband doug have a six-year old daughter and are also foster parents to a baby girl.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at March 2, 2012 12:23 PM Bookmark and Share

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