15 things young preachers need to know about seniors

“They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green…” (Psalm 92:14).

All generalizations are false. Including this one.

Every rule has its exceptions. Including this one.

Even so, I’m going to make some general statements about seniors.  Readers will think of exceptions. But by and large, these statements have been found to be solid and trustworthy throughout long years of ministry.

One: Seniors are not against change; but they dislike abrupt change.

There are no 1948 Packards in your church parking lot.  No 1952 DeSotos.  But the seniors driving those Camrys and Corollas did not one day trade in that Packard for the Toyota. There were a series of incremental steps in between–like, first buying a 1955 Fairlane, then a 1962 Chevelle, followed by a 1972 Bonneville, and so forth.

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When I get old, how I don’t want to be

The old man stood at the checker’s station in my grocery store. The line behind him stretched out for a half-dozen people.

He’d bought a few things, but the process of paying for it was taking forever.  He fumbled around in his pocket for his wallet, then struggled with it in search of his debit card, and only with the checker’s help was he able to insert it into the machine and complete the transaction.  In the process, he flirted with the lady behind him, the one just ahead of me, and made friendly comments to anyone else who might be overhearing this.

I was interested to see both the checker and the woman customer were patient with him.

When he finished, the man seemed in no hurry to pick up his purchase and move out of the way for the next customer.  He looked at the line forming behind him and muttered something about being 82 years old, as though this were an achievement for which he was being honored.

You will not believe this since I’m writing about it, but I was not impatient with him, and said nothing to anyone.  I did not roll my eyes, did not react, but sent up a quick prayer for him.

But I was warned.

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Message to seniors in the Lord’s work: Never retire!

“Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). 

“Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season you will reap if you faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

Never stop doing what God put you on earth to do, whether a senior or a beginner.

And as for the seniors among us, this is certainly no time to slack off. It’s just getting good.

I’ll be speaking to the senior adults in a Mississippi church this weekend.  The person making this schedule definitely had seniors in mind. The meal–I’m not sure whether it’s lunch, dinner, or supper–is set for 4 pm, after which our worship service is scheduled for 5 o’clock.

Now, they didn’t say, but I guarantee someone figured we would all be home and in bed by 6:30!

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I am a senior adult. Finally.

“They will still bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:14).

For reasons unknown to me, I have never looked upon myself as a senior.

I’ve smiled when host pastors would welcome everyone to our senior adult emphasis, then say something as outlandish as “If you’re 50 and above, you’re a senior.”  Why, I have children who would qualify by that standard, but they’re barely out of their teens.

I’m smiling.  This is serious but with a wink.

The other day, while riding the train from Concourse D to Concourse B in the Atlanta airport, I entered the crowded car and spotted an empty seat toward the rear.  As I settled into it, I noticed the sign read “for handicapped and seniors.”  My spirit smiled at that.  “I’m a senior.”

It felt good, actually.

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5 words to those who minister in nursing homes

My brother Ron, age 80 as I write, is still active in the ministry after over 53 years.  In addition to preaching at a church near his home, he holds services at a nursing home. Ron says, “For the past 23 years, I’ve done a monthly service at a local nursing home. I enter, knowing that this may be the last message they will hear and I act accordingly. They love to hear me sing Fa Sol La and I accommodate them. No messages on tithing or knocking on doors but a message from the Word that will help them cross the bar a little easier.” (Note: Fa Sol La is also known as Sacred Harp Singing.)

My friend Charlotte Arthur flies under the radar in her nursing home ministry. Few people know of her ministry to these invalids. Charlotte visits and ministers and devotes herself to comforting these who are in the declining years of life. As her former pastor, I accompanied her on one occasion to visit an elderly friend who had served our church for decades. Charlotte and a friend or two had pulled the strings to get Cleve Davenport into that nursing home where he was being cared for night and day. I asked her how she got started in this work.

“When I was six years old,” she said, “my mother took me with her to visit people in nursing homes.  So, I’ve done it all my life.”  She paused and said, “I love it.”

Here are five statements on nursing home ministry to encourage you.

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The last temptations of the aged

“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:14)

Can I tell you something odd?

Today, as I was surfing through the program containing all the articles in this website from over a dozen years of blogging, I came across an unfinished draft of one called “the last temptations of the aged.”  I breezed right past it, in search of something else I was looking for.

A moment later, I was back.  That was an intriguing title, I thought.  Must have started that article a year or more back. Wonder what it says.

After reading it, I deleted the entire thing.

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Should the retired pastor remain in that church?

“I’m retired and wondering if I need to join another church. The present pastor doesn’t quite seem to know how to relate to me. I feel I’m in the way around here. So, I’m wondering: should the retired pastor join another church or can he remain in the one where he has invested so many years of his life?”

My answer: That depends.

The pastor asking this added: “Have you ever written on that subject?”

Not until now.

He said, “I feel so awkward, like I’m in the way.”

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7 things newly retired preachers need to do.

(Do not miss the post script at the end.)

Don’t let anyone tell you there is no retirement in the Bible.

Church people will say that, of course, mostly in fun. “Preacher, the Bible doesn’t know anything about retirement.”

But they’re dead wrong.

Numbers 8:25 says, “At the age of fifty, (priests) shall retire from service in the work and not work any more.”

There it is, in black and white. I have no idea why the Lord stopped the service of these men so early, unless to give others a chance to serve.

Not that any servant of the Lord I know today is trying to play that card.  These days, fifty is just the far edge of youth. You’re just getting started at fifty.

However, we post it here as a good-natured response to the smarties who insist that “retirement is not in the Bible.”  (Be sure to smile when quoting Numbers 8:25.)

At any rate, it is entirely possible to retire from pastoring a church but to remain in ministry. In fact, that’s how it’s done.

We are always on duty for the Lord, whether anyone employs us or pays us a salary or not.

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Getting old: What Robin Williams feared, we all do

“I said to him afterward, ‘Hey, are you O.K.?’ And he said something like, ‘It’s no fun getting old.  And I am so (freaking) old.’ But he said it in one of his funny voices, like he was some ancient old guy.  Like it was a joke.”  –A story told by an unnamed colleague on the set of Robin Williams’ television series “The Crazy Ones.” During a break in the shooting, Williams had gone off and sat by himself.  He looked exhausted and sad.

It’s no joke, this business of getting old.

The August 25, 2014 issue of TIME devotes the last half-dozen pages to the life and art of Robin Williams, the comic genius who ended his own life last week.

I thought when I first heard the news and before reading anything about his chronic depression and repeated addictions that he feared getting old and decided to abort that process.  Nothing I’ve read or heard since has changed that opinion.

No one should interpret any of this as my attempt to psychoanalyze Mr. Williams.  Obviously, his situation–the circumstances that led him to make the decision to end his life on his own terms–was complicated by a thousand factors, as would be true of any of the rest of us. Someone said he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s.

I understand about the fear of getting old.

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How to stay youthful all the way home

“They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:14).

It occurs to me that there is one article I can write which Rick Warren cannot (not yet anyway), which Thom Rainer is not ready to write, and which some people couldn’t come up with if their lives depended on it.

“How to be young in old age.”

I’m in that “old age” period, I suppose. Man, it hurts to admit that. But then again, as they say, considering the alternative, I’m good with being 74.

And, I remind myself, I have done funerals for a lot of good people who would have given everything to live this long and see their children married and their grandchildren grow up. So, I am blessed and I thank the Lord.

If you are, thirty, let’s say, and reading this, then I suggest you stop and consider how you are feeling at this very moment. Well, that’s how I feel. I feel great, clear-headed, alert, alive, joyful, without a pain or ache in my body.  Believe me, I am thankful.

That’s not the youthful part, though. When senior adults talk about being youthful, in most cases they’re not speaking of their libido or their athletic prowess. They’re talking about their spirit, their attitude.

And, from the reports of those who know me, I qualify.

So, therefore, let’s give it a try.  How to stay youthful in old age. My top 10 ways….

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