One thing that surprised me most on my journey to starting this site was seeing my own view change on the importance of dedicated pastors in senior adult ministry. Their presence (or lack thereof) was to me a barometer of the priority and growth of seniors ministry. If we care about youth ministry, we have youth pastors, so if we care about our older adults…. you get the picture.
That view has evolved. Sometimes I think if having a pastor means all we have is fellowship and activity groups that ultimately serve to isolate our seniors, it can be counterproductive. If we aren’t addressing the challenges that are part of aging and don’t integrate our older adults with the rest of the congregation, there isn’t any progress.
Away from age based ministry towards an age responsive approach
In that evolution, it isn’t so much towards feeling like we shouldn’t have staff members. I’ll touch on that more in a bit. It’s more a part of a larger paradigm shift that led to the name of this site, a shift away from age-based ministry towards an age-responsive ministry.
As with all stages of life, older age has challenges and blessings. We tend to only recognize the issues, thus seeing age as a liability. I fear that often results in ignoring those issues. Scripturally, older adults are seen as an asset, as people who have experience and wisdom essential to the spiritual health of the church. It is essential we shift back to that mindset. An age responsive ministry is one that addresses the age related challenges so that we can be freed up to celebrate the blessings of maturity.
The PARaDIGM name
Viewing age as a liability contributes to the struggles of our age-grouped ministries, as it’s no wonder someone would not want to ‘graduate’ into an old age group. In seeing a need to return to celebrating our elders, it was clear that it was better to put more focus on integrating age groups, less on age groups. Inter generational ministry was the key, and with that I stumbled across the PARaDIGM name. Inter Generational Ministries…. IGM…. Paradigm! Eventually the acronym worked itself out to PARaDIGM: Provide Age Resources and Develop Inter Generational Ministries.
DIGM =Develop Inter Generational Ministries
Even though DIGM is at the end of the acronym, the centrality of the intergenerational ministries makes this a good place to begin.
Our society avoids age at all costs, and I fear our churches too often follow suit. That can leave our older adults feeling unwanted and unneeded. An age responsive paradigm shifts the focus on age from being a liability to an asset. It’s an approach that restores a Biblical place of honor for the older generations, recognizing the wisdom, lifetime of experience and resources our older adults offer.
The idea here is for us to dig into how we can integrate our generations. Instead of age segregated ministries, what can we do to facilitate how our youth, young adults and even middle aged adults can from the wisdom and experience of our seniors? Can we better integrate bible studies and small groups? Can we involve our older adults as mentors and prayer partners for our youth and young adults? Can our young parents learn from those who have already walked the path? Can young adults learn from older members as they begin their careers? Can our older adults learn from younger generations? Can we blur the lines between generations where we are no longer segregated but returning to the one body we were meant to be?
The DIGM part of an age responsive paradigm says yes to those questions, seeking to develop ways to grow the relationships between generations in a way that benefits the whole congregations.
PAR = Provide Age-related Resources
The importance of the inter generational relationships and engagement in the church leads to the necessity of us finding ways to meet the challenges that can be a part of aging.
Here’s the deal: age related issues can be overwhelming. They consume not only those experiencing the issues, but spouses, children, grandchildren, and close friends. They drain us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, ultimately impacting the church. Meeting those challenges frees up our older and younger members to be engage in the overall life of the body. It’s not just that, as scripture charges the church with looking out for those who could not look out for themselves. An age responsive paradigm is one that sees the challenges of aging and helps people meet those challenges.
Do we even know what the challenges that our older members struggle with? Are we aware of who is concerned they are seeing signs of dementia? Do we know when our older members’ homes are no longer safe? Who is making sure they are safe in the event of a natural disaster? These questions touch just the tip of the iceberg of age-related issues.
Age related issues aren’t just impacting the elderly. What of those challenged by the aging of parents or grandparents? Are we supporting them as care for parents with dementia? Do we help them cope with concerns for aging parents in distant communities? Are we helping our younger members take steps now to help age successfully themselves?
An age responsive identifies challenges and helps people respond to them. We can identify community resources. We can network with other churches to learn the resources they offer and share our resources. We can develop support systems. We can’t always eliminate the challenges but we can help cope with them, and when people are able to cope with them, they are better able to focus on the blessings of where they are in life.
Thoughts on age related staff
With an age responsive ministry approach, a dedicated pastor may not be necessary for ministering well to and with older adults. I see many churches developing their care , discipleship and mentoring ministries, meeting the PAR and DIGM aspects of ministry without such a pastor.
However, I believe that wherever possible, it is valuable to have age responsive staff, whether in a pastoral role, as a ministry coordinator, or even as a parish nurse that looks out for the well-being of older adults. Sometimes age responsive ministries develop almost unintentionally, but I am concerned that it can also be possible for them to fade just as unintentionally. Having someone responsible for overseeing and coordinating ministry involving older adults can help keep the leadership accountable and keep the ministries intact.
By the way, what’s with the 2 in Paradigm2?
Paradigm by itself didn’t seem like enough, a lot of people use that name. At some point I called it the PARaDIGM paradigm, and the wheels spun from there. It looked like a math problem, Paradigm x Paradigm, or Paradigm Squared, or Paradigm2.
It just fits. An effective, age responsive approach to ministry can be exponential. It’s not about adding people to an age-based group but about multiplying impact by helping people cope with age-related challenges and freeing them up for ministry that can impact the entire congregation and beyond.