Do we have misconceptions about the old? There are plenty swirling around in society but often we who are becoming seniors have too easily accepted them without thinking. Let me give an example. They say the old deteriorate mentally. Forgetfulness is a common sign of this deterioration. The young forget to do their homework, forget their multiplication table, forget appointments but do not say to themselves, I’m getting old! Seniors should not say that they are mentally deteriorating just because their memory sometimes fails them. This is just one example.
Other misconceptions about seniors are:
-seniors are weak and are often plagued with illnesses.
-seniors are irritable, stubborn and unteachable.
-seniors are less productive than their younger colleagues.
-seniors are generally withdrawn from life and activities and prefer to vegetate.
The first thing we need to do is to set free the mind of such misconceptions. If you are becoming a senior, do not allow such misconceptions into your mental software. If you are young, do not look at your brothers and sisters who are growing older in this light. See them differently and treat them differently. This is kingdom thinking and living.
Catch the Age Wave is a book about how the church should seize the opportunity of deploying the church’s seniors to reach a rapidly aging population. The church’s seniors are defined by the authors Win Arn and Charles Arn as those in the late 50’s and 60’s – the “soon to be retired” or “the recently retired.” My purpose was to survey what has been written about how churches pastored their seniors. Here are my brief reflections.
The Arns feel that there we should view seniors today differently from how they were viewed in the past. They are not weak and sickly. Today’s seniors are healthier than their counterparts a decade ago. They do not yet need a great deal of volunteers to take care of them. In fact they are potentially a great source of volunteers for the church. They can be great care-givers. Their retirement motive is not necessarily to play or rock the chair. They want to work, learn, grow and serve and play too. Evidently churches in Singapore need to revise their views of the seniors, and give more attention, more resources to deploy seniors and reach the unsaved seniors. I cannot but agree that we need new eyes. Ageism, that bias against the old, has no place in the church that boasts of Abraham as the father of their faith.
However, I was dissatisfied with the way spiritual development was dealt with superficially in the book. The tasks that seniors have to tackle and the spirituality of this stage of life were not spelled out nor examined. There was no mention of the very stark reality of the challenges of ministry to the seniors – especially the older old. Nothing was said of the infirm, the shut-ins, the poor, the sick and dying and their needs. The focus was heavily focused on the hope, the positive, the opportunities and ideas for ministry. It was imbalanced but their purpose was different from what I was searching for.
Their methodology was based on the “homogeneity principle” of church growth. This is the idea that the more people are of the same race, status, language and age group the higher the likelihood that such a homogeneous group would grow. I thought that such a mental model would deter church leaders from seeing the church as ideally multi-generational and meant to be so because holistic, deeper and richer learning of the faith takes place more effectively in such a social context.
Arn, W., Arn, C. 1993. Catch the Age Wave. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House.