I can’t believe it. I just got called a “senior” by some new young pipsqueak of an associate pastor. I am seriously having a hard time with this. I am in my fifties, for heaven’s sake! I will begrudge you “middle aged”—but am I already a senior?! This is like calling a 30-year-old “past their prime.”
While I cringe at being referred to in this way, it does bring up some questions I don’t hear addressed very often—what does God consider “old age”? How does our role change as we get older? Is there some point at which we stop doing and start complaining how things aren’t as good as in the old days?
Most churches don’t handle older adults very well. At least ours hasn’t (although that may be changing). The problem is that they lump everyone over fifty into one huge category.
When I slid over the hill a few years back, I started getting emails from our church’s “Generations” ministry. (The solicitations from AARP were bad enough!) In addition to a few worthy projects, many of the church-sponsored events were primarily social—communal Thanksgiving meals, guided tours to Israel, game nights, concerts featuring music from the 40s and 50s… the sort of things “old people” would do. (Before you start commenting, I realize that many of these can be fun. However, as a whole, they were the sorts of things that would appeal to, yes, seniors!)
The expectation seemed to be that once you reach a “certain age,” it’s time to give up serving God and work on your golf swing, or simply settle down in a rocking chair on the porch and leave the hard work to the younger folks.
Use it or lose it?
Lying around the house may sound appealing, but it’s not very good for us. In most countries, older adults are expected to continue to pull their weight. A friend who built some senior living centers in rural China told us how the residents not only cook their own food, they grow it! Interestingly, they also experience very few cases of dementia.
Compare that to where my dad lives, in an independent living apartment at a senior care facility. He is provided with two meals a day, a housekeeper every two weeks, and transportation to all sorts of fun and helpful places. He doesn’t have to do much besides wash his clothes. Therefore, he spends his days watching TV, reading, and napping. Despite my daughterly nagging, he is getting weaker and more forgetful every year.
Keep working? Or retire?
I don’t think God expects us to stop living before we’re dead. Look at some of the people in the Bible. Moses didn’t start his leadership career until he was 80. Joshua was of retirement age when God tapped him to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Noah was 600 years old when he became a sailor and zookeeper!
On the other hand, there is at least one place where the Bible commands a quasi-retirement. Numbers 8:23-26 reads:
The Lord said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work….”
Granted, we aren’t all Levites. Still, you can see the principle here. The work the Levites did—slaughtering livestock and performing the sacrificial rituals—was fairly strenuous. God isn’t saying that we should all hang it up at age 50. He is making an allowance for our aging bodies.
As we get older, it’s easy to make excuses—I’m too out of shape, I’m too old to learn a new skill, I already paid my dues—instead of getting involved in what God is doing around us. I prefer to think of all that God has invested in me over the years. With all the hard lessons I’ve had to learn, maybe it’s time He got a return on that investment. Besides, I’m really not into playing golf!
What do you think? Does our age (young or old) affect how we serve? What options does your church provide for people to stay involved as they get older?