MINISTER OF OLDER (SENIOR) ADULTS
Minister/Director of Older Adult Ministries
Think of ministry with senior adults. What thoughts come to mind? Did you think of potlucks, bus trips to Branson, Missouri, monthly fellowship luncheons, and nursing home visits? Hold on to that HurryCane walker; I have news for you! Senior Adult ministry is in a period of significant change as America’s population rapidly ages because of a tidal wave of Baby Boomers reaching their 60’s and 70’s. Richard Gentzler, in his book, An Age of Opportunity: Intentional Ministry by, with, and for Older Adults, writes, “Today, 10,000 people turn sixty-five years of age every day in the United States, about one person every eight seconds.” The Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are redefining aging and retirement in our culture today. Overall, Boomers are living longer, enjoying better health, and have more wealth than previous generations.
Ministry with older adults (I intentionally use the term “older” adults because most Boomers hate being called “senior” adults) is vastly different than it was just 20 years ago. While ministry with adults over 55 may include ministry activities like those listed above, it is so much more! A one-size-fits-all senior adult ministry is a myth. Gentzler writes, “No one ministry-type reaches all the older adults in a congregation or community. Not only are there many different age-cohorts, from say 55 to 105, but there are married couples, widows, divorced, never married, healthy-active, frail-elderly, homebound, and residents of continuing care retirement communities, just to name a few.” These differences make senior adult ministry remarkably interesting and require a broad range of responsibilities for the ministry leader.
While ministry with older adults is challenging, it is also gratifying. The position involves typically ministering to senior adults and leading senior adults in their ministry to others, encouraging them to use their gifts, talents, and treasure for God’s Kingdom. More specifically, the role of the minister of older adults is to lead, evaluate, plan, direct, and coordinate all aspects of the senior adult ministry in the local church. Here are some of the typical responsibilities:
Discipleship. Plan and develop Bible study and prayer groups, educational classes/seminars, conferences, and spiritual retreats.
Pastoral Care. Enlist, train, establish and coordinate, the pastoral care ministry of seniors. This responsibility would include hospital visitation, hospice care, retirement home visitation, and funeral planning.
Outreach. Promote regular outreach for senior adults in coordination with the overall church program of missions and outreach. Plan for and develop opportunities for older adults to share their faith.
Recreation/Social. Plan and develop activities for fun and healthy living. Examples include camping, hiking, walking, golf, board games, and traveling.
Intergenerational Ministries. Plan and develop opportunities for older adults to mentor, coach, and tutor younger generations in the church.
Missions/Service. Plan and develop opportunities for participation in missions and service. Examples include short-term mission projects, oversees missions, prison ministry, respite care ministry, and community projects.
First, understand that preparation for ministry is a lifelong learning process. While education is not confined to the classroom, the ministry skills needed to serve as a minister of older adults effectively can be enhanced through formal education. A high-school diploma is essential. Studies in Bible, gerontology, psychology, leadership, discipleship, time management, and educational philosophy are beneficial. While not crucial, an undergraduate degree provides a helpful foundation that will be useful in meeting the challenge of the variety of responsibilities assigned to a minister of older adults. Additional study at a Southern Baptist seminary develops needed discipline through arduous study, refines problem-solving skills, provides a broad base of Bible knowledge that engenders confidence in a minister, exposes new fields of ministry, provides opportunities for fellowship and affirmation, and acquaints the minister of senior adults with Southern Baptist polity and resources. A seminary specialization in senior adult ministry, when offered, is highly recommended. Beyond education, what characteristics should someone considering serving as a senior adult ministry leader possess?
Amy Hanson, speaker, educator, and consultant in senior adult ministry identifies four characteristics churches should look for when choosing a senior adult leader. The first is an unquenchable passion to minister to and with senior adults. “Passion keeps the leader focused. It is the thing that drives people through the challenging times of ministry and keeps them on course,” states Hanson. The second characteristic is a teachable spirit. Because ministry with older adults is changing and evolving as Boomers retire, a ministry leader must have a solid desire to study and learn continually. Third, a senior adult pastor should have a heartbeat for the lost. Hanson cautions, “Too often older adult ministries are built on the social model where the goal is simply to pacify the seniors and keep them happy. The foundation of an older adult ministry must be built on evangelism, and the only way this will happen is if the leader sees it as a top priority.” Finally, a successful senior adult minister must have the ability to equip leaders to lead the varied ministries required of an impactful ministry with older adults.
Opportunities to serve in the field of senior adult ministry are on the rise. Why? The aging population in the United States is exploding as a massive wave of Baby Boomers reach retirement age. To put things in perspective, Americans over the age of 65 now outnumber teenagers by nearly two to one. Churches are just beginning to understand the enormous needs and opportunities associated with older adults. With the graying of congregations across America will come the need for pastors and ministers who specialize in the care and equipping of seniors. No matter your age, If you have a heart for ministering to, and with, senior adults, God may be calling you into older adult ministry. Ministry with senior adults is one of the most exciting and rewarding ministries to be involved in today!
A full-time pastor of older adults serves typically on the pastoral staff of larger churches, churches whose mature adult ministries have grown to the point that they require a pastor that can specialize and focus solely on ministry to and with older adults. Persons are selected for the position of minister of older adults by pastoral recommendation independent of or in conjunction with the recommendation of a personnel or staff search committee. Search committees often learn of prospects by requesting names from church members, college and seminary placement offices, and association and state conventions.
The minister of older adults has the background and potential to serve in other age-group ministries within the local church. With the growth of a church and its ministries comes the need for specialization. Additional educational ministries begin to emerge and require other staff such as age-group ministers specializing in ministry to preschoolers, children, youth, young adults, senior adults, single adults, and college students. The skillset required of a minister of older adults could effectively be applied in other age-group ministry positions or even as a minister of adult education.
In addition, the qualities and skills of a minister of older adults uniquely qualify them to serve as a consultant in associational, state convention, and denominational entities whose focus is senior adult ministry.
Finally, as more churches identify the need for seminary-trained pastors who specialize in ministry with older adults, the demand for seminary graduates with a concentration in this area will grow. This demand will, in turn, create opportunities for experienced pastors of older adults to teach at the seminary level.
Written by Tom Dawson, Minister of Adult Education, First Baptist Church O’Fallon, IL