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Proclaiming the Gospel by Caring for Our Elderly

July 27, 2009
S. Michael Craven
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In an effort to answer the demand for practical steps by which the church can demonstrate its essential witness-bearing love for one another, there is perhaps no greater opportunity emerging than that of caring for the aging saints.

As Tertullian wrote roughly 1,800 years ago, “it is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ” Such loving kindness expresses a distinct characteristic of Christ’s kingdom come into the world. What better opportunity to demonstrate how this new life in Christ has transformed us—reorienting our priorities away from self to others—than by how we care for the aging within the community of God’s people?

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he stresses this responsibility toward the elderly and widows in particular. Paul goes so far as to say that anyone who does not provide accordingly for his own family is guilty of denying the faith and worse than an unbeliever (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8). So such care is not merely a nice option if it’s convenient or affordable but a serious and universal command.

In the decades to come, more Americans will enter the ranks of the elderly than ever before in history. The oldest baby boomers turned sixty in 2006, and when the trend peaks in 2030, the number of people over age 65 will soar to 71.5 million—one in every five Americans. This is twice the number in 2000, according to "The Maturing of America: Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population,” published by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. The Census Bureau predicts the nation will have more than 1 million centenarians (100-year-olds) in 2050, up from 71,000 today!

Given the disproportionately aging population, the impact will be enormous and the resources needed to meet the needs of this generation will almost surely be inadequate. According to a USA Today report, “The cost of health care and retirement benefits of an aging population threatens to bankrupt the nation unless dramatic changes are made” (Dennis Cauchon, “Who will take care of an older population?” USA TODAY, 10/24/2005). Prior to the recent financial collapse it was noted that “the average American retires five years earlier than in 1950 and lives 12 years longer. This phenomenon—work less, collect more—has ripped a hole in the senior citizen safety net” (Cauchon). Subsequent to the financial crisis, many seniors may not be retiring as early, however their retirement savings are likely worth much less.

According to the Maturing of America study cited above, there are a multitude of needs that are as yet unmet within many communities. Such as:
In one-third of the U.S. communities surveyed, older adults do not have access to a range of needed preventive health care services, such as health education, community-based health screenings, and counseling about prescription drug programs.

More than one-third of communities do not have fitness programs for older adults.

Only 56 percent reported having “dial a ride” or door-to-door transportation services.

Only half of the communities reported having home modification programs helping older adults adapt existing homes for physical limitations.

Over 40 percent of U.S. communities do not offer formal job training and retraining programs to help older adults remain in the workforce.
Suffice it to say, the timing could not be better for the church to begin preparing for this social reality in a way that speaks loudly to a watching world.

Could churches build and manage assisted living facilities, retirement centers, and nursing homes for their members? Some churches and denominations actually do and some have been in existence since the 1800s. Consider the benefit of having such facilities on the grounds of the church. Elder members could remain actively involved in their Christian community. Additional activities could engage youth in the church in order to foster the transmission of intergenerational wisdom and teaching compassion. Aging brothers and sisters could live out their final years with their church family—in a loving, Christ-centered community—with whom they have longtime relationships.

Smaller independent churches could partner with others in their community to accomplish the same ends, pooling their resources to build and maintain such facilities and services.

Immediately, churches could begin organizing teams dedicated to retrofitting homes of the aging who are still able to live independently but whose homes may need modification or general household maintenance.  Wouldn’t it be a great blessing to remain in your own home as long as possible?

Loneliness, depression, and isolation are enormous problems among the elderly. The church could organize additional teams within the church to insure that their homebound seniors are visited, invited into other homes for dinner, and participate in other family activities—adopted, as it were, into other families within the church. Every day in the United States, seventeen desperately lonely adults over the age of 65 commit suicide—the highest suicide rate of any demographic group. Many could be prevented with a minimum of attention from their church families. These same families could also see to many of the daily needs of these seniors, as they would their own parents.

Many seniors struggle financially, a condition that should never exist within the body of Christ. Currently, 3.4 million seniors age 65 and older live below the poverty line. Millions more are barely making ends meet just above the poverty line. If Social Security benefits did not exist, an estimated 44 percent of the elderly would be poor today, assuming no changes in behavior. Do any of us really believe that Social Security will be able to meet the future needs of our burgeoning elderly population, assuming it will even exist in 25 years? Might we, like the early church, see to it that there is not a need among us (see Acts 4:34)?

Churches could provide educational seminars to help the elderly manage the labyrinth of health care, drug prescriptions, financial management, and a host of other essential issues. Think of the diverse talent and expertise within the church that could be brought to bear on the multitudinous issues confronting the elderly. Could the body of Christ so care for its aging members that even those opposed to the gospel might say, “Look how they love one another…”? I think yes—and I would say that such love and care is not only essential to letting the world know whose disciples we really are but also essential to living in obedience to the King.

© 2009 by S. Michael Craven


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Response from : Ken Quick  

July 27, 2009 8:41 AM

Hello Michael:

Thanks for addressing this issue. I definitely believe it will be one of the ways we (the church) can distinguish ourselves from the world. While I'm not against Christians building and running institutions for the unsaved elderly, I do not think elderly Christians having to live in one of these institutions should be the norm. We are commanded to honour our parents. One of the ways this is done is to care for them in their final years as needed. I believe the teaching in 1 Timothy 5 about the care of widows is pretty clear on this and clearly applies to parents. The individualism, selfishness, and anti-family mindset of our culture has infiltrated the church to such an extent that we Christians don't think we're responsible for our parents in their later years and/or that "institutional care" is the answer, just like the unsaved believe. Where our selfish, self-centered culture is clearly headed as the elderly begin to vastly outnumber the young is euthanasia. Since our atheistic/evoloutionist worldview says life is cheap and meaningless (can you say hundreds of millions of abortions), why keep the "old farts" alive, since they're of no use to us? This has already begun is European countries under the guise of "mercy" since the elderly have a "poor quality of life" in the eyes of the state. We need to start with our own families and church families in caring for the elderly just as we're told in 1 Timothy 5. Only then should we be looking at how we should help the population at large. We already blew it by 'inventing' (starting) orphanages, hospitals and schools, and then failing to continue them and/or allowing the state to take them over.

Response from : Nelia Lynn  

July 27, 2009 10:12 AM

Michael, you are so correct about the church taking the lead in caring for senior citizens. In light of what our governement is trying to do to our health care, we need to stop it and a good way to do that is offer our seniors help from the church.

Response from : Duane Fueslein  

July 27, 2009 10:15 AM

Actually, our obligation of care extends far beyond our families and churches... what of the care for the aging population in general... ?

If ever there is an opportunity for obiedence in this area it is now-


Response from : Paula Peters  

July 27, 2009 3:42 PM

Wouldn't it be better for elderly adults to be taken care of in their home or in their children's home rather than an institution such as a nursing home? It seems the church could help in many ways, some you mentioned in your article, to keep the elderly in their own homes by helping their families take care of them or at least helping provide someone to take care of them at home. It would be cheaper in the long run than building nursing homes and providing staff and all to run them. Thank you for the article as it brings to light a growing problem.

Response from : Yvonne Berger  

July 27, 2009 8:33 PM

I applaud your sensitive words concerning this issue. My pastor lived next to a dear woman named Ruth about 6 years ago and called me to see if I wanted to help her do laundry after hip surgery. Six years later,Ruth just turned 90 and my 23 year old daughter does her laundry and light cleaning, my two sons do yard work for her and I visit her each week. It has meant so much to her. She is not a believer and my daughter and I have shared the gospel with her more than once. She is not interested. She has let us pray for her a number of times though. I believe God has us in her life for a purpose. We are Jesus to her. She has told me many times how much it means to her that we are there for her. She does not have a daughter but told me she would want one like me. I believe what she really loves is Jesus in me and my children. I am very blessed that we've all made such a difference to her. She is house-bound with health issues. I believe there are many older folks that would be thrilled by youth or any people from churches that would take a regular and personal interest in them. So many of the plder generation are forgotten and underappreciated. We need to value life at all stages.

Response from : Kenneth John  

July 28, 2009 2:14 AM

In Canada & Britain they already have decided to withhold Medical Care to those they have decided are not worth spending Health Care money on. Children & Seniors are dying as a result. When people in churches here in Australia vote ALP they are voting for Abortion, Decriminalizing Partial Abortion Etc.

Response from : Susan  

July 28, 2009 5:19 AM

Michael, I could not agree with you more. Only those of us who have felt our own need and weaknesses before a loving Savior have the resources He will give us(love, patience, longsuffering, etc.)to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Success in God's kingdom is much more about loving sacrifice than it is about having a celebrity platform in a megachurch atmosphere. My prayer is "Lord, help us to be more like You".

Response from : Greg Williams  

July 28, 2009 10:39 AM

Excellent article and challenge to Christ's Church to truly be the Body that we are called to be by first and foremost meeting the needs of those within the Church!

In my marriage/family seminars and classes of late this has become more and more of an issue as aging, economy and other issues are forcing us to either be the True Church or quit playing the game of 'church'. My comments in light of the real Acts 2 Church (and throughout Acts and the NT times) which was that the believers had everything in common and met each others needs (in particular those who were more or most needy). My question in light of this is are we really going to build an "Acts 2" Church or just use the phrase for another cheap salvation, cheap service outreach program that sends more immature disciples (or perhaps not disciples at all) out without helping to prepare and continue to mature them. If we are serious about this, it then begs the question of intimate relationships in community (a key to the early Church to be able to show the world how different it was and be the 'light of the world' and a 'city set on a hill') then how are we going to accomplish this when we've fallen for the world's way regarding Marriage and Family. And, if we can't do Marriage (the most intimate of earthly, human relationships) right, how can we build other relationships of Love, trust, caring and serving?

I believe this is a huge issue in helping the Church see why God ordained Marriage as the key relationship and from Marriage/Family flows servant-leadership in the Church. It is crucial that we put all of this together as I believe it will begin to happen in the Church as it first begins to happen in intergenerational and extended families that can truly come together in Christ and expand by "having everything in common and sharing according to each one's needs" (Hmmm... that sounds familiar, doesn't it)!

I just heard Dr. Terry Hargrave of Fuller Theological Seminary speak on this at a Marriage conference regarding marriage, family, intergenerational communities and the economy. It was both bleak and hopeful as he gave some very practical insights and solutions all from a Truth perspective (although he was "cunning" in his delivery) to reach many in the audience that were not of the 'Christian' persuasion.

I spoke with him afterward and we really connected on this whole idea coming together, as you've put forth in this great article, to see this time in our history for the Marriage, extended families and the Church to really come together and make a difference - what a way to show the world we're different!

Thanks so much and God bless in Christ!

In His service

Greg Williams

Response from : Clancy Rust  

July 29, 2009 12:16 PM

There was no nemtioned of also being sure the elderly need told the Gospel and so they can have Eternal Life.
God Bless!

Response from : Daryl  

August 9, 2009 9:15 PM

Beautiful article.

Isn't this Christ's way, and isn't His way the only humane answer to our society's healthcare obligations, instead of the sinister implications of Cost Containment by a gray and grim bureaucracy in Obama Care?

Response from : Jone  

November 17, 2009 12:52 PM

I completely agree! Yes, yes, yes! May I sit in on a committee meeting? May I brainstorm and possibly begin taking steps with some of the same heart? This is an enormous need/ opportunity which, as you said, is growing and will be HUGE!


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