FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Seminary professor Terri Stovall wants churches to “understand the current trends of the aging population that will balloon over the next 50 years, to examine what Scripture says to seniors, families and the church, and to [offer] practical ways to meet the needs associated with the elderly.”
Stovall, who teaches women’s ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, asks, “How does our theology and ecclesiology come together to truly care for the aged and care for those who are the caregivers?”
Stovall, who addressed the topic during a family conference at the Texas seminary last fall, is concerned that many churches could be “blindsided by the intense needs and issues” of an aging population.
Such issues include helping church members care for aging parents; ministering to the increasing number of homebound members; and providing ministry opportunities for seniors.
“There are times when the church must … care for the aging,” said Stovall, citing the Bible’s instruction to believers to care for widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16) and assist the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46). Many seniors and their caregivers will fall into these categories, needing ministry by the church to meet their spiritual, physical and emotional needs.
“Regardless of a person’s age,” Stovall said, “the church must provide opportunities for seniors to stay involved. Being a part of the body of Christ gives one a sense of connectedness and roots, as persons desire to belong to and be a part of something larger than self.”
Most aging adults gain wisdom and should have opportunities to declare God’s works to the coming generations (Psalm 71:17-18; Joel 1:2-3) and pass life skills to younger people (Titus 2), Stovall said. Therefore churches can “help senior adults not retire from something, but to something,” she said.
Stovall shared various ways churches can help seniors stay involved in ministry, including:
— a “Senior Adult Sunday” with seniors in leading roles.
— showing video tapes of seniors’ testimonies.
— helping seniors mentor the next generation.
— getting seniors involved in doing missions.
— involving seniors in prayer — a vital ministry they can undertake with minimal physical effort.
— invited retirees to minister as church office assistants.
Churches must not overlook caregivers, Stovall added, but minister to them by:
— helping them learn new communication skills especially for aging parents who may be suffering from dementia. Caregivers also may need counseling to deal with the twofold grief of parents with dementia who are also approaching their death.
— making sure caregivers don’t skimp on their own spiritual nourishment.
— enlisting church members to assist caregivers with routine chores and errands, as well as providing “adult-sitting” ministry to allow caregivers personal time.
— helping caregivers understand end-of-life issues.
— informing caregivers of other options: respite care, home care, retirement facilities.
“What is the best thing that a church can do to benefit both the aged and the family caring for them?” Stovall asked. “In short, strengthen the families. We can talk about ways to care for the aged and giving rest to the caregivers, but it truly comes down to strengthening families and giving them the foundation that will carry them through the difficult times.”
Norm Miller is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va. Reprinted by permission of Texas Baptist Crossroads, published by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.