It is not uncommon to hear elderly Christians question their usefulness or value. They have memories of youth, strength, and service, but they are only memories. In their discouragement they ask: Why am I still here? What do I have to offer? These saints are tempted to believe that contribution and service determine their value. They used to be able to serve on ministry teams, teach Sunday School, or lead prayer meetings. They were once worth much, but now in their old age they are worth little.
These are the sheep that God has called many young pastors like me to care for. A large part of our lives are still in front of us. We do not have any memories of what we used to be able to do, but we are filled with excitement about all we could still do. We are not overly frustrated with our bodies, our memory serves us well, and the majority of our loved ones are still with us. We are young pastors, at least for now. So how do young pastors lovingly care and pray for members who are tempted to doubt their worth as they age? What do we say? How do we pray?
In what follows I want to offer three encouragements for how young pastors can minister to their aging members who are prone to discouragement. This is not the final word, nor is it necessarily the best word. It is simply one young pastor’s efforts to love his people well.
- Remind them they are a person created in God’s image.
Society suggests that a person’s value is dependent on what they can contribute. Christians must insist that value is determined by God. So every person, at every stage of life is valuable not because of what they can contribute to society, but because they are created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:26-27) The loss of strength, energy, and ability is a sign that sin has touched that image, but by God’s grace we are being fully conformed into the perfect image of God, Jesus Christ. (Col. 1:15; 3:10). Aging Christians may not be able to serve the church as they did in their youth, but their value does not come from service. It comes from the savior.
- Rally them around Paul’s edifying purpose.
Paul once felt the competing desire of remaining on earth and departing to be with Christ.
“I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith…” (Philippians 1:23-25)
As long as the Lord allows us to live we have the opportunity to encourage the progress and joy of every Christian we meet. We can lovingly encourage elderly Christians to adopt this edifying purpose. This does not have to be complicated or strenuous.
A silent presence or a brief encouraging word can encourage progress and joy. A simple hug and “I love you” is an experience of fellowship for those united to Christ. The zeal and desire to gather with the church before declining health makes it impossible is a visible display of perseverance. Who doesn’t want to finish well after watching a faithful, elderly Christian slowly roll their walker into the church sanctuary?
- Refresh their inner-being with prayer.
No matter how weak the physical body becomes, those indwelt by the Holy Spirit can strengthen their inner being. To encourage persecuted Christians Paul wrote, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16) In Ephesians 3 Paul prays that his readers be strengthened in their inner-being.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”- Ephesians 3:14-19
Could there be a better prayer to pray for our elderly members? No matter how frail their body, they can be strengthened to comprehend God’s immeasurable love for them in Christ Jesus. This is what pastors can do for our beloved elderly members. We cannot solve their physical ailments, but we can usher them into the presence of God in prayer so that they might “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and “be filled will all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19)
Pastoral care cannot be learned in a book or blog post. We learn by doing and I still have a lot to learn. So let’s go to the homes and bedsides of our beloved elderly members to remind them of the imago dei, rally them to a gospel purpose, and refresh their hearts with prayer.