The Caleb Generation
by Bill Sheeks
F

or years, the church has placed a strong emphasis on caring for its older members. Rightfully, attention has been given to the homebound, the hospitalized, and the immobile.

However, if this is the extent of the church’s involvement with seniors, we are failing. After all, only 5 percent of seniors are in institutions. Many senior adults are able and willing to serve the church in the area of their calling. Putting these people on the shelf is a gross error.

Billy Graham says the calling of God is not “until retirement” but for a lifetime. This observation is true for all people, not just ministers. Few older people are happy doing nothing.

Senior adults are the fastest-growing age group in America. One out of every eight Americans—some 40 million people—is 65 or older. Every day, 6,000 Americans reach age 65.

This is an army of people who are able-bodied, gifted, and usually willing to give themselves to service. Many of these people have spent their entire lives working to support their families and have talent. They simply need a place to serve. Pastors who label these people as “outdated old fogeys” or “a generation of time past” are missing out in giving the church experienced disciples who can be a giant force for church growth.

Simply sponsoring a meal once a month for the seniors won’t do the job. While that promotes fellowship and is certainly not to be discouraged, it does not provide a vehicle to utilize stored talent and God-given gifts.

Our senior citizens grew up in a culture that showed respect for authority, respect for age, and honor for God. But when the senior arrives at the golden age of retirement, he or she finds con- temporary values have changed radically.

American society glamorizes youth and chases after youthfulness, while there is a breakdown of customs, morals, and general respect for the elderly. Perhaps this is a reason some aged persons feel forgotten and resentful. The church must turn this around and recognize the potential that lies deeply (sometimes too deeply) within the heart of the senior.

In a world of stress that can easily take its toll on senior citizens in the church, we need to encourage all ages to regard older people as useful, available, and productive. Proper utilization of these precious saints is the answer.

Shakespeare said, “Youth is full of pleasure, age is full of care.” The Bible speaks of how God confided in and gave responsibilities to older people who were leaders. Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, and Jeremiah were among that number. Another man of great faith was Caleb, who said:

I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now (Josh. 14:10-11).

Can you imagine Jesus instructing His disciples, “I am sending you forth to evangelize . . . you work hard, be loyal, and give it your best until you are 65”? No, the calling was for life.

Often church leaders complain of a lack of teachers and other workers. Sunday schools in the Church of God have been suspended because of a lack of teachers . . . church buildings have overlooked needed repair because they did not have the necessary finances to update facilities. Why not look for workers among the elderly? Retired schoolteachers and former teacher aides could fill the teaching roles. Retired men and women who have worked with their hands for years can serve as maintenance and janitorial workers. Senior choirs can spark activity in the music offerings of the church. The greatest homemakers in the world are seniors who prepare meals for the underprivileged and shut-ins. Smiling seniors make wonderful greeters.

The typical senior will not openly volunteer his or her services unless they feel needed or wanted. The church should take the reins and organize efforts to find older people who are gifted and assist in assimilating them into the church’s activities. The pastor, or someone appointed, should begin the process by finding talent, encouraging its use, and placing these good people into roles of ministry where they feel comfortable and fulfilled.

Katherine Scarborough taught Sunday school for 61 years. She began teaching preschoolers in her early 30s and taught the same age in one church for three generations until she recently passed away.

Ed Brooke, age 82, is currently ministering in Muslim-dominated Turkey. After 12 years of evangelizing, he has recently had a breakthrough that appears to be the making of the first Church of God congregation in that country.

A church in Kannapolis, North Carolina, is working with a home for children that sponsors lodging and care for pregnant girls and assists in baby care. Senior ladies serve as “rockers” for the babies, thus assisting mothers when they go to work.

Margaret Gaines, 80, after spending almost a lifetime in Israel birthing a church in Jerusalem and a school in Aboud, was forced to return to America because of her failing health. A church near her home in Anniston, Alabama, was scheduled to close because no pastor was available. The state overseer asked Sister Gaines to pastor the small congregation in Wattsville. She is now averaging 20 to 30 in church. Wattsville is reaching out to a group of boys who need special training.

Ruth Souders is a staff member of the North Cleveland (Tennessee) Church of God, who recruits volunteers. She quizzes older people about their passion to work for God. Sometimes, says Ruth, seniors want to work in an area where they are not familiar—taking on a new challenge. Ruth has 60 committees of volunteers; a third of them consist of older people. North Cleveland would not be the strong church it is today had it not been for the tremendous number of senior adults who support the church with their skills, talent, hands, heart, and finances.

The church is the logical place to provide seniors with opportunities. This not only blesses the church, it honors God.

The greatest days of a senior’s life are when he or she is fulfilled in helping a neighbor.

I encourage every church to survey its membership. See the corporate potential. Give attention to utilizing people, regardless of their age, if they possess the gifts needed.

God has given certain individuals long life for a reason; it may be to help your church in filling a void. Respect the senior who is capable and willing. Hear that person say, “Use me.”