During a recent phone conversation with a man I’d never met, I learned about this 240-page book which is packed with sociological and theological insights on aging and the church. It was written several years ago by Dr. James M. Houston, an elderly theologian at Regent College in Vancouver, and Dr. Michael Parker, a retired Army officer and professor of social work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Though not evenly helpful and sometimes a bit disjointed, it’s a gold mine of insights.
I’m personally challenged by the fact that, today, 1 out of 8 Americans are 65 and over, but by 2030, it will be 1 out 5! The subject of the role that the church of Jesus Christ should play regarding older people is of special interest to me. Thus, I found this work both informative and inspiring.
I would agree with Asbury Seminary professor Dr. Chris Kiesling’s comment on A Vision of the Aging Church: “Fresh insights emerge throughout as these authors set commonly referenced scripture texts in the context of aging, offer insightful gerontological research to faith communities, and guide congregations and organizations in ministry both to and from older adults.
Parts of the book
Each part of the book is quite different. Part One deals with the ageist spirit that exists in our culture and in the church, which often views the elderly as more of a burden than a gift. Part Two investigates the historical, cultural, and biblical roots behind the loss of status for elders and how this affects the way we view them today. Part Three puts forward some examples of how churches in a community can work together to help the aged, as well as utilize their resources. Part Four presents thoughts on achieving significance in late life. Part Five addresses the important theme of finishing well.
Using our older generation
I was once again reminded that local churches need to wake up to the vital role they can have both in ministering to this rapidly growing segment of our society and in utilizing them in ministry. Older people today are generally healthier than they were in past generations, and they have many gifts and abilities to offer.
To whet your appetite to read this volume, here’s a quote to reflect upon: “In the final season of life, we are in a position to have the greatest influence if we don’t grow weary. [But] if we live as spiritual orphans, afraid of change, slothful and isolated from the world, we may fill up the crevices of our remaining time in idle (and idol) pursuits. … May our last years be as one missionary called her ‘soldiership years’!” (That missionary was the late Elizabeth Elliot.)
Here’s something else that touched me: when asked what value the incontinent, dependent person suffering from late stage Alzheimer’s disease brings to the Body of Christ, the authors reply that he or she provides that person’s family and church “with one of life’s most important lessons – an opportunity to learn how to love a person unconditionally, without expectation of something in return.”
One final thought
The authors stressed that as leaders move toward their sunset years, they should be encouraged to have a ministry of listening, encouraging, mentoring, and praying for younger people. … Personally, that’s my heart’s desire.