What do you do when you’re 47 years old and wondering what you want to do when you grow up?
While working in telecom, I was tossing and turning late one night over a project when the question hit me: In the grand scheme of things, is this telephone system installation really worth all this emotional energy?
When your career and the phrase “grand scheme of things” intersect, watch out.
I’d heard so many voices advising to work where your passions are, but it’s hard to be passionate about telephones. On top of that, I had no idea just what I WAS passionate about, other than to identify my passion.
Just be careful when you pray about something like that
As I looked at things that were meaningful to me, and at what I enjoyed the most about my job, so many things pointed back to a previous life in ministry. Was God calling me back into that? I wasn’t sure what or how or where, but sometimes you just know when something’s going on.
Preparing for a career that doesn’t exist
I enrolled as a part time seminary student, unsure of where that would lead. Over time, I found a growing interest in ministry with older adults. I decided to enroll in classes on senior adult ministry, but there were none. Okay, could I find a course at another school and transfer it in? There were none to be found.
When our nation has more people who are 55 and older than 18 and younger, I found it astonishing that I couldn’t find any classes, let alone degree programs, for ministry with older adults.
It quickly became clear that this was a career path where there was neither a career nor a path. You’d think I’d learn something from that, but the more that reality set in, the more I was drawn to this area. Maybe what fired me up so much was seeing what I felt were missing priorities at best and an injustice at worst within the church. Churches weren’t hiring pastors for ministry with seniors, seminaries weren’t preparing pastors for such ministry, the church seemed totally uninterested in their elderly, and I couldn’t shake the feeling something had to be done about this.
Somewhere along the line, I realized God had been answering that prayer about finding my passion.
I tried to customize my seminary education by focusing assignments on how the given topic would apply to ministry with older adults. I finally concluded that I’d get better preparation by transferring to a Christian university where I completed my Masters in Gerontology.
Working towards Paradigm2
It’s one thing to go to school for jobs that don’t exist, but what about when you graduate? A degree in gerontology opens the door to a lot of age-related career options, but whenever I thought of those options, I could never get away from the question: “What about the church?”
We desperately need to encourage ministry to and with their older members. We need to wake the church up, encourage and equip her for such ministry. That’s ultimately what my passion has refined into, and I can’t shake the feeling that that’s what I’m being called to do.
I wrestled with a number of things related to that sense of calling. Was my job (then as a business manager for a nonprofit) distracting me? I felt like I needed to develop experience before I could do anything. Was my nonprofit work training for starting my own ministry? I don’t have nearly the experience or expertise of the leaders I saw in senior adult ministry. With each question I was thinking I needed to wait, I needed experience before I could really do anything
And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling about how great the need was. And here’s the thing: With all the great work being done already by those already leading the way in senior adult ministry, my experience as a student was that sometimes that work isn’t readily out there, that it can be hard to find. So much of what’s out there is in niches, without much organized out there to bring all that work together where people can find it and learn from it.
I realized I can do something about that. I don’t have to wait for more experience to dig in and find out who’s out there with boots on the ground. I can find their work, ask questions, get their experiences, learn of their needs. I can share that information, and I can find out if anyone has help for someone else’s challenges. If I’m starting conversations, then I can introduce people to one another. I had some thoughts on where we could focus in our ministry to older adults, which led to a name, and all of that came together to the vision behind Paradigm2.
The irony in all this is while this whole journey started with a career crisis, today the job part of the equation seems the least important. I left my position as a business manager when I felt it was distracting me from this passion. I found that delivery gigs were a great way to pay the bills while giving me schedule flexibility for getting conversations started with people. I don’t know if anything from this will turn into a job or career, and I’m okay either weay. I do admit thinking that if this could eventually take care of the bill-paying part of things, it would allow me more time to put into this work, but ultimately that’s in God’s hands.
Two take-aways from this journey regarding this site:
I’m not an expert. They say you need to rely on your authority as the leading expert in an area to build a site like this. I’ll be honest: there’s a good possibility you know more and have more experience than I do. My passion leads me to try to learn as much as I can but I know I’ll never be able to catch up to many of you.
That’s okay. This isn’t about my expertise. It’s about yours. And that of others like you. I’m here to facilitate. My job is to go out and find you and learn what’s working for you. It’s to find out what you need, and find out if anyone else has found solutions. My job is to meet you and introduce you to one another so we can help, teach, and encourage each other.
Four take-aways from this journey about the state of senior adult ministry:
A lot is happening behind the scenes. It’s not as obvious, maybe because it doesn’t happen under a particular label. It’s in our care and family and adult ministries. Because it doesn’t stand out, it can feel like Elijah in I Kings 19 when he lamented that I’m all alone, when God had to point out there were 7,000 others who were faithful. It’s good for us to find out what’s happening out there, sometimes we just need that encouragement.
The need is great. As I network with people in and out of the church, people are perplexed at how churches seem so uninterested in addressing the needs of their older members. Older adults end up feeling unwanted and unneeded in the very congregations they’ve invested their lives into. In too many ways the church at large and churches individually seem uninterested and unprepared to minister to and with their older members.
It doesn’t seem to be getting better. When starting this journey, I was seeing increased activity and interest, and expected senior adult ministry to see significant growth by the time I graduated. It seems to be going backwards. Fewer books are being written, less money seems to be allocated by churches, and I see fewer staff members dedicated to older adults. I saw organizizations dedicated to senior adult ministry that no longer exist.
We need each other. The issues related to age are extremely wide spread and varied. It’s impossible for one congregation to address all those needs. Churches and their leaders working with one another can have a greater impact than any one church. We don’t have a lot of the ready-made resources, degree programs and such that other areas of ministry have, but we do have each other. We need each other for the information and encouragement. We need to become a community.