Her words over the telephone were direct, quick and seasoned with love: “There is so much of God’s living to be done today! After morning group Bible study, I’m taking the bus from Leisure World to the physical therapist, then on to the mall, having lunch with friends, shopping and then meeting with my accountant—you know, I must start getting things ready for when I get old!” This from a 92-year-old retired, licensed Foursquare minister!
You have probably heard: The 20th century has given us the gift of longevity. Since 1900, the percentage of Americans 65-plus has more than tripled and, in number, increased by 11 times. Today, 37 million Americans have already celebrated their 65th birthday. In the next year, 2 million more will be joining them.
The fastest-growing population segment is those 85 and older. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a woman who reaches 50 and remains free of cancer and heart disease can expect to live to her 91st birthday. An average healthy male who is 65 today will most likely live to see 83. At this rate, by mid-century, those 65 and older will outnumber young people—for the first time in history.
With this longevity, retirement age is rising. Industry is finding out age is an ingredient that knows no boundaries. Older workers have demonstrated to the business world that their ability to produce and to offer assistance and resources in the marketplace is a valuable commodity. Entrepreneurs who want to take advantage of experience can utilize this. Today, 80 year olds are dating, getting married, and an unprecedented number of grandparents are parenting again.
It is not unusual to find that young seniors in their late 60s and 70s are not interested in joining a seniors group made up of people in their 80s and 90s. They don’t want to be with those “old people”!
This phenomenon is working to reshape attitudes, families, work lives, institutions and, yes, the church.
Let’s change the assumptions.
You might be surprised at how many of our assumptions about the older crowd are completely inaccurate. Here are the real facts:
- Don’t assume most mature adults are in nursing homes. The numbers are only 1.1 percent for ages 65-74; 4.7 percent for ages 75-84; and 18.2 percent for those 85 and older.
- Don’t assume mature travelers are staying home. In 2004, they took 201 million trips, accounting for 36 percent of all domestic travel (business and leisure).
- Don’t assume the average mature adult is in poverty. Eighty percent own their homes free and clear. According to the Social Security Administration, 82 percent have multiple sources of income.
- Don’t assume older people do not use the Internet. They represent the fastest-growing Internet market in the United States. They use the Internet more often, stay online longer, and visit more websites than younger users.
- Don’t assume these “new” seniors are old or declining. Most view the future as a time of harvest and spiritual renewal, a time of enjoying service, growth and play.
- Don’t assume they don’t know what God is up to. They are prayer warriors and have witnessed the mighty and the miraculous works of the kingdom.
- Don’t assume they want to be left alone. They want to be involved in all God has destined the church community to be in this world.
Since the 1960s, a Western culture has evolved that treats ageism like a problem. Ageism is perpetuated in the church, too, when leaders believe people are less valuable as they age.
In their book Catch the Age Wave (Beacon Hill Press), authors Win and Charles Arn describe some of the possible signs of ageism: an unbalanced emphasis on youth without proportionate outreach to older adults; a lack of representation of older people on boards and committees; and ignoring the experience and wisdom of older adults in ministry roles.
How God views running the race of life.
Aging needs to be viewed through God’s intended design and through the clear lens of biblical understanding.
The Psalmist provides a picture of how God the Father views the value of age: “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing” (Psalm 92:13-14, NKJV).
In fact, with increase in life, a person deepens. “Even though our outward man is perishing,” wrote the apostle Paul, “yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
God has purposed His church to be a “multi-generational community,” and never intended there to be age segregation. The shadow of the cross does not recognize the isolations of generations.
The young are to learn from their elders in a spiritual apprenticeship (see Psalms 78 and 145). That’s why the order was “Paul and Timothy.” If the apostle Paul were to show up at a lot of “church ministries” today, he may well say, “Where are the wise, aged and experienced?”
Nonetheless, all of us are growing older. Granted, some physical changes happen with age. But this is a natural occurrence that doesn’t need to invalidate one’s personality.
Don Pickerill, a dear friend of mine and a six-decade Foursquare pastor/teacher, reminds us that diminishing physical strength does not impair one’s mental or spiritual capacities:
“The spirit is ageless. We do not age in a vacuum, but faith and the experience of years come with us. We are not only getting older, but also getting better as we walk faithfully with God. As we age, the advantages of accumulated experience and multiplicity of tests and triumphs we’ve gone through should enable us to deal with challenges of life with wisdom.”
Experience has value.
A fun story I read in Reader’s Digest (June 2002) illustrates the importance of life experience.
A woman was strolling along a street in Paris when she spotted Picasso sketching at a sidewalk cafe. Not so thrilled that she could not be slightly presumptuous, the woman asked Picasso if he might sketch her, and charge accordingly. Picasso obliged. In just a few minutes, there she was: an original Picasso.
“And what do I owe you?” she asked.
“Five thousand francs,” he answered.
“But it only took you three minutes,” she politely reminded him.
“No,” Picasso said. “It took me all of my life.”
The main point is this: Experience has market value. Your life-walk with God has extraordinary value. Common sense, faith, understanding, hope, stability, patience and love are priceless qualities.
It has been said that maturity with years possesses a rich treasure of talent, perspective and commitment—gifts needing to be shared with another generation. If you are of retirement age, do not see yourself as old, critical or on a shelf. Let go of any attitudes that can distract, dismay or destroy as you race toward the finish line. They are rubbish, and can get in the way of God’s goal for your life. Good athletes learn to put the bad thinking and days behind and don’t look back. That is how they win!
The following five characteristics are common among those who are running—and winning—the second half of the race:
1. They keep in step with God’s Spirit. This means you are pursuing, hearing and following God’s preferred future for you.
Look around; take inventory of your God-given dreams. What you are good at, and what would you enjoy doing if you could? How about taking classes? Discover the variety of continuing education programs in your area. You will be amazed what is available.
2. They stay flexible. This means choosing to be the resilient person God has made you to be. As legendary Foursquare minister Howard P. Courtney used to say, “Blessed are the flexible, for they will be flexed!”
The ability to bounce back from hardship requires resilience. Resilience is a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief in God’s way; and an uncanny ability to improvise.
3. They are willing to take risks. When was the last time you did something new for God? Moses took a risk at the age of 80. Anna was about 84 when she foretold of Jesus’ coming.
God’s performance is not dependent on our ability, only our availability. God will not fail you at this time of your life.
4. They surround themselves with people who challenge them. Be with those of different ages and interests. Learn from them. Let God expand your appreciation for diversity.
Life begets life. My 81-year-old father loved to be with his grandchildren. They brought life, laughter and legacy into his dying body. They challenged him to go on, and he did!
5. They never lose their sense of humor. Sure, disappointment is a part of life. There are seasons to weep and reflect. But there are also reasons to laugh. Be confident that God is faithful and has promised to meet your every need.
One of the many joys for me since becoming the director of ForeRunners—a ministry of appreciation, honor and involvement for retired Foursquare licensed ministers—has been seeing how many of our mature leaders over 65 do not see this time of life as a time of retirement, but rather as a time of refinement.
These dear ones recognize that this status in ministry is not a time of disengagement, rather the acknowledgement of a new time, adjustment to a new place and advancement to a significant purpose. Many are experiencing fresh opportunities to embrace the passion of the Lord for Holy Spirit ministry and to reach new generations.
These refined leaders are identifying new ways of ministry, and are being very effective, happy and useful. Many are involved as coaches, mentors and prayer partners of young ministry couples. Other refined leaders are involved in hospice programs, or serve as police or prison chaplains. Several are now teaching in Foursquare Bible institutes or assisting district supervisors.
With this group, there is a healthy mindset that declares: “Ministry never stops until the race is won!”
By: Rick Wulfestieg, a seasoned minister who has served The Foursquare Church in various leadership roles during his tenure. Rick is director of Foursquare ForeRunners as well as Foursquare Media.