Finding a Vital Ministry for “Elders”

Finding a Vital Ministry for “Elders”

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


In his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr quotes a Native American saying: “No wise person ever wanted to be younger.” In a time and culture where looking good (almost always implying looking younger) is rampant, this statement seems counter intuitive. Yet, when examined, it speaks to a truth we often forget.

Appearances or age are not accurate indications of who a person is and what she might have to offer the world. What we know, through faith and experience, is that the outside of anyone or anything is less important than the inside. Our souls, our spirits, our being, our insides, take time to blossom and grow.

If we embrace aging, with all its pitfalls and trials, and allow ourselves to give what only age and time can provide—experience and wisdom—our insides become visible and matter more than how we look or physically feel. The aging have the potential to become what some cultures respectfully know as “elders,” who are sought out for their learned wisdom and insights. We do our elders an injustice if we do not do so with our older members and friends. It is our task to challenge everyone to continue growing into discipleship, faithfully reminding them (and ourselves) that the call to service does not come with an expiration date. 

Our congregations, with so many aging members, tend to “care for” their elders, rather than “care with” them in ministry. Often we do not invite them to serve however they can—praying for others, calling in person or by phone on others in need of love and hope, writing notes and cards, serving on committees (even if by conference call), working on issues of peace and justice, to name but a few possibilities.

Life is not for the young alone, it is for every one still breathing. Congregations have elders who are still incredibly creative—artists, poets, storytellers whose gifts can still be shared. They have elders who have been caregivers all their lives. The desire of many is that they still can do so. As congregations, we do well to be creative in allowing and teaching new ways for them to share their gifts of faith and talents.

Old men (and women) ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For further union, a deeper communion.

(From “East Coker” by T.S. Eliot)

The church “ought to be” guides and supporters for the explorers.