“Please Pass the Salt”
By Rachel King, Discipleship Director for the Sonshine Network Ministries
This familiar phrase is heard at tables everywhere. As families gather at the dinner table, in the kitchen of an avid cook, or even at a fast food restaurant, salt is the staple for adding flavor to every type of food. Adding flavor, however, has not always been the primary function for the use of salt. Until refrigeration was invented and common in every home, salt was used as a preservative. It was used to cure fish and meats, and pickling or brining were used to preserve many vegetables. So, what does that have to do with Senior Adult Ministry?
Senior Adults have a mandate from God. Throughout the Old Testament, God instructed that they were responsible for seeing that His Word, His stories, and their experiences were to be preserved and passed on to the next generation. That was a huge responsibility and still is for our senior adults!
So often, after raising children and retiring from work, seniors may feel that life has passed them by. Rapidly changing technology and the busy lifestyles of their children leave them wondering about their purpose, and where they will find a place to be relevant in the future. In God’s Kingdom, everyone is invited to the “table”, and He has a plan and purpose for everyone, including seniors. So, how do we encourage seniors to find their purpose and pass their knowledge and experiences to the next generation? The balance of keeping the seniors engaged and involved, while also encouraging them to relinquish some of their roles so that emerging young leaders can step up, may be our biggest dilemma.
Keep in mind, “seniors” is a very broad term. It includes the frail and elderly, those who are experiencing health problems and loss of independence, and even the “New Old” who are familiar with technology, possibly working, taking care of parents or grandchildren, and still experiencing a very busy lifestyle. Engaging them all can be difficult. But here are a few tips.
Emphasize service. The one thing most seniors have is time. They can prepare crafts for children’s services or make meals for bereavement. They can teach or assist in Children’s Ministry or Sunday School classes. They can hold and rock babies, greet visitors, or mentor in local schools or libraries. Find places in the church where they can work alongside those who are younger. Be intentional in partnering seniors with youth and children to create intergenerational environments. Encourage seniors to share their personal testimony and experiences which can often capture the interest of children and teens.
It is important that the local church meets the needs of seniors as well. Not all seniors have accepted Christ as their personal Savior. Make sure you meet their spiritual needs, as well as their mental and physical ones. Here are a few ideas that will minister to seniors, and reach seniors in your local community.
Create ministries that can help them, such as walking groups, visitation teams, or health fairs.
Create opportunities for them to learn something new. Have a computer or cell phone class so they can become more familiar with technology. It is important that they can stay in contact with family members.
Host events where they can be creative; cooking, crafting, or painting classes are some possibilities.
Plan times where they can create friendships; lunches, picnics, and holiday parties, or fun trips will do the trick!
Several years ago, my father was serving as a board member of a large credit union. He had worked in finance all his adult life. Since his retirement, this is where he found purpose and pleasure. However, he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease for some time, and could no longer drive. He didn’t know who was president or even the current year. He sat through meetings and said very little, but our family knew that he was no longer able to continue holding that office. He insisted that he was fine, and did not realize the extent of his dementia. This was his last connection with longtime friendships and his sense of purpose. He refused to resign.
Finally, our family knew it was time to intervene. We gathered together, and my sister, working in India, joined us via skype. We kindly spoke to him about resigning, but he insisted on remaining…. until my sister explained that she had to work abroad because an executive in the U.S. would not retire. The executive’s retirement would open the door for others in the corporation to move into positions they have been working toward, but unable to fill until he stepped down. My sister explained that there were younger people that would like to take my father’s position on the Credit Union board but they would not have an opportunity until my father stepped away. That clicked and he agreed to resign! It took the focus off his inability and changed to an opportunity for someone younger.
That approach is important in the health of the church. We need senior adults. Many of them have preserved the knowledge, experiences, and faithfulness of God, and we must make opportunities for them to pass it to the next generation. When passing the salt at the table, there is a time when both people are holding the salt shaker. Make a place where seniors can work alongside and mentor someone younger. However, let them know the timeline for when they must “let go” for the passing to be successful. Hopefully, the next time someone asks you to “Please pass the salt”, you will do it with a greater appreciation for the senior adults in your life!