SENIOR ADULT EDUCATION
Exegetical Bible Institute, Inc.
Writing by: Grady Mayeaux Ph.D.
Work of Jan l993-Aug 2001
DESCRIBING AND DEFINING SENIOR ADULTS.
I have come to recognize there is a need for an instructional writing regarding the operations of a senior adult ministry open to all denominational churches interested in seniors. Included should be a guide for building a ministry to reach out to and involve the older members of church congregations. I feel well qualified to do this due to extensive exposure to senior adult work and long years of service in this area. The following research should provide much needed knowledge for any senior ministry to become successful.
Before presenting, I would like to dedicate this writing to Reverend John and Virginia Haynes. They were personal mentors to me and my wife Annette while attending and working in the Senior Adult Ministry at Rockdale Baptist Church. At my request I was an assigned intern student to Reverend John Haynes while attending seminary. He taught me how to be a Senior Adult minister, which led to a large senior adult ministry in five local counties.
Brother John, now promoted to Glory wrote the following article. I have decided to place this article written from his heart in this writing that all may know not only from books but from actual feelings expressed by not only a senior adult himself, but as one of the great pioneers of a true Senior Adult Ministry Program in the Church. He was the Senior Adult Pastor at Rockdale Baptist Church, Conyers, Georgia, and USA.
“I am a Christian, A Churchman and a Disciple. I must not be looked upon as just another old person, or one among a class of people, all alike. I am an individual with needs and I have the ability to supply needs to others. I hurt, I joy, I think of Now and of The Future, as well as those precious memories of my past. Though my face may be wrinkles, my appearance altered by age, I am still an individual. God made me different in genes, in temperament and experience. You may find this hard to believe, but I AM!! Surely!! There must be something in me that is different than what others see in me.
I know my weaknesses better than others know them. Even in old age the self that God gave me still exist, and no two selves are alike. Old bodies may have common characteristics but old selves are different.
I must liberate the youth that is in me. I need to be accepted and belong. Most of us do. I want to be heard with a HEARING THAT PAYS ATTENTION!! I want to belong with a belonging that gives at least Equality. I do not want to be patronized-I do not want to be isolated from young people. I want relationships to be what they’ve always been!!
The MISUNDERSTANING caused by the so-called generation gap, often regulates useful, intelligent, experienced, and wise older people to the dry wasteland of screaming silence. Is there any wonder that solutions to problems at home, in business, schools, and yes, in the church and government are not heard? We feel that we are the unheard age. We bring both the good and bad attitudes from our past. I apologize for my bad and pray to be better-I cling to my independence with an iron will, even in my most dependent circumstance.
I often think seriously about the meaning of life, about serving God, and the past, and then I think about heaven much more than I used to. I struggle with how much I should be actively engaged in life or if I should begin to disengage. I know that I will disengage eventually, no matter what, I am determined to hold onto life even though my body continues to let go.
Would you remember something for me? Remember that Senior Adults are people too. We need pastoral care as much as ever. Remember to set aging in the context of personhood. Help me to know everything that is available about aging. Accept Senior Adults as individuals not as old folks-you may find a gold mine. Remember listen to us and listen well, and by all means, when you Listen, Hear!!
Remember the Senior Adult Program is not just for looks!! Remember the financially, physically and socially (disfranchised) among us. Give hands-on attention to the ministry to Senior Adults.
Recognize the inevitable disengagement of the aging, not as the evil intent of society and not as morbid, surrender of the individual, but as a physical reality of the human situation.
Encourage and invite the Senior Adult to be involved, not just in church but all of life. Help the aged to keep their independence as long as they can, yet prepare them for dependency. Open the way of Christ to the aged into the mystery of eternal life through Jesus Christ and the heavenly home before death comes.
Look at your own fast approaching old age and prepare for it!”
John Haynes, l993
Many seniors believe they are simply old and unable to care for themselves, a burden on society, senile, non-contributory, and simply waiting to die. I pray this writing will encourage churches to immediately incorporate a Senior Adult Ministry in their church programs.
Most people know older people and encounter them frequently in or outside the family, and in ministry settings. Senior adults are shown to be those who are the product of past experiences in one sense. This writer understands and agrees with previous writers as Horace Kerr, that these things are building blocks that have helped shape a person’s thinking and thus his personality making him what he is. In many cases the older person is closer in some ways to the image of God than a younger person because he has the benefit of years of experience and wisdom. Such a person naturally has worth and purposes to himself and society.
This brings to light discussions of the needs, losses, and capabilities of old age. All of these affect the definition of a senior adult. After struggling with the idea of what age constitutes a senior adult, I define them as people who have reached the retirement years. Time has perhaps shown the fallacy of this idea as the age for retirement is now being highly debated.
The book, “A Church Ministering to Adults” written by Jerry M. Stubblefield, reveals much more about the senior adult, especially in the field of education. Adult Christian Education is certainly an area of extreme and increasing importance in America as the population ages as a result of increased life spans. The need to educate the adult membership of the church is critical. As pointed out in the text, this has been seen as an attempt to prolong the life of and protect the institution of the church. While in one sense this is an erroneous reason to educate, it is necessary to recognize that the church will decrease in numbers if not done.
The author points out what he considers to be a large part of the adult population which is involved in adult education courses in some form. This number is approximately twenty million. Of this number only forty-five percent or about nine million are involved in non-scholastic areas of education in business, governmental agencies, and churches. In actuality that paints a very dismal picture of the number as there is no indication that many involved in one of these areas is not also involved in another area. Certainly some are. In actually one must question if indeed these numbers are far too low. No figures are given for senior adults though it is pointed out that their numbers are increasing as the population ages.
Researching the need for Adult Christian Education, I found one text that covered a brief history of the subject. The point is made early on, in particular among the Jews, there was little if any distinction made between secular and religious learning. They saw both as simply learning about God and how His world operates. The author underscores the importance of this idea and continues his work by elaborating further in this source of thought. The course of development of Adult Christian Education in America is outlined to show that most all education in the beginning developed from and through church education.
Theological and Philosophical theory are shown to be somewhat inseparable when considering religious education. This is said to be true because the theological theory is concerned with the relationship of God to his people and creation. The philosophical theory is man’s idea of his purpose and being related to other people and his surroundings. Because God is creator, they must be considered together.
All age groups of adults have different needs. Senior Adults are certainly no different. They are unique in that they are facing losses of loved ones including spouses and friends, losses of bodily function and possibly even mental functions. They lose abilities and are often unable to care for themselves. Increasing health problems abound. In addition life is nearing its end and bringing the individual to consider what his life has meant and can mean in such areas as being a grandparent, or a functioning and worthwhile part of his family, community and church.
In regard to the adult groups, the need for Adult Christian Education is great. To be effective it must meet the needs of the adults of all age groups. To do so it must be relative to their needs. This can only happen when the correct emphasis is placed on God and His relationship with these people. In other words, the individual must be brought to recognize God’s plan for his life even at an advanced age. This plan must be seen as purposeful, viable, and attainable. Education can and must do this by encouraging and equipping the individual and in turn the church to utilize the gifts God has given to each individual. When this is done, the reality and totality of growth and maturity will be attained in the lives of Christian Adults
THE RESPONSIBILITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF THE CHURCH IN WORKING WITH SENIOR ADULTS
The church has a responsibility to minister to and with Senior Adults. As they are a
growing percentage of the population, this will become increasingly important and necessary. The question of numbers aside, the importance of ministering to all people of all ages is an obligation. The church must do all possible to help this group reach their full potential before God and their fellowman.
God’s word addresses the issue of aging and older people. Without a doubt God sees this group as one that is valuable to him and to the church as well. Many passages refer to aging as deserving of honor and respect. Others attribute wisdom and maturity to this normal part of life. The latter years are a time of fulfillment and reward and a time of promise. As such the Scriptures command respect for the elderly and recognition regardless of age. Further exhortations imply care for the elderly as needed. The utilization of them as teachers and leaders can allow a time of fruition of excellence.
Considering the needs of Senior Adults, the church must fulfill the need to help provide opportunities for the abundant life Christ promised. In so doing God’s mercy and grace is demonstrated through the concern, love, and care exhibited by members. The church can set the tone for attitudes towards this group, provide for spiritual and social enrichment, utilize leadership and abilities of all members, and provide support for families through the church. These efforts will involve the entire church, to include the Senior Adults, to minister to the older members as well as involve them in ministry to the rest of the church.
To accomplish this ministry the church will first of all find itself utilizing the ministries already in place. The Sunday school, church training, music and missions organizations all offer great potential for ministering to and involving this group. Senior Adults can provide leadership, planning potential, wisdom, guidance, and participation in all of these areas. By involving these people here, the church will promote involvement in other areas such as ushering, greeting, volunteer help in the office, weekday ministries in the church and many others.
Beginning implementation of programs of ministry in other areas really begin to make the seniors feel included. This begins when their needs are addressed in the basic ministries of the church. When additional plans such as weekly Bible studies and other opportunities are provided, the older adults generally respond with increasing interest and involvement.
In the process of working with and providing for Senior Adults, the church must address special needs and requirements. Such things can be barriers to ministry and participation. Lack of awareness on the part of the pastor and staff is detrimental. Concerns such as lack of funding, special physical plant limitations, reluctance to isolate the seniors as a group, lack of interest in a special program, or even reluctance to start another program can be barriers.
The church will find that it does indeed have the resources needed to minister in this area. This group of people cannot be ignored before God. If indeed He has placed them in the church, they must be considered and their needs addressed and ministered to just as any other group or need in the church. God has indeed placed them there as an opportunity. Plans and programs may be simple but must be implemented. They begin with the basics and are expanded as the need and opportunity arises.
Chapter one of Stubblefield’s book, addresses the issue of the adult life structure or the progressive steps and directions that are encountered as individuals move from adolescence into adulthood and eventually into the senior years even to death. A great portion of the work is devoted to development theories.
Many fail to take God into account which leaves out the reality of sin in life. Presenting sin, as it is in the lives of everyone including Christians, is a necessity. Many of the problem areas and transitions of life are magnified greatly in the lives of the sinner. While in the life of the spiritual Christian, they seem to flow by many times with little realization of their passing. God must be the center of all ministries.
It must be realized that the efforts used to address the stages of life; even so, leaving God and sin out of the equation gives a skewed view of this process at best. Rather then rely on secular, non-God oriented theories; it would be interesting to see rehashes of these ideas adjusted to the biblical perspective. Therefore, I insert God into all my personal work in the senior adult ministry, which now has made a good guide line for the past ten years.
The greatest advantage derived from the work is to bring realization to the educator that there is indeed a difference between adults at different stages of their lives. While some of these theories have shown age ranges, the educator must recognize many differences that affect these ideas. Such things as sex, background both spiritually and socially, education both secular and religious, length of one’s salvation experience and resulting stage of maturity, mental and physical abilities, and myrias of other factors affect the adult’s stage of development.
An effective educator will study the Bible for guidance in developing his program or presentation. In addition he must consider all factors that will affect the particular ministry involved. He must seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit in assembly of the format and presentations. As well, his implementation of the program or ministry must address the needs of those to whom it is directed.
The minister to adults must remember that his task is to help the individual build his life structure in a manner shaped by Christian values and priorities. This will be based upon God’s Word, prayer, study and a constant pursuit of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The result will be an effective strong Christian disciple and a better-prepared minister for future ministry in doing God’s work. A good listener will utilize this information to edify the Church.
YOUNG AND MIDDLE ADULT YEARS
Stubblefield classifies Young Adults as those people between eighteen and thirty-
four. Koons, another author, on the other hand allows fifteen year olds to be included as young adults for various reasons one being the early age of giving birth for some girls (+/-). The view of maturity for this group is a debatable issue. Without question an eighteen year old does not normally have the same responsibility concepts as that of most thirty year olds. Even so, maturity is seen as a growing process. At certain points in adult development transition stages occur. Even another author sees one of these occurring between seventeen and twenty-two. This change from adolescence to adult does not happen overnight. This time is a bridge from the old to the new.
When discussing Young Adults, the results are found to be very interesting. Although their physical numbers are increasing, their percentage of the total population is decreasing. Of those who never marry, men are in the greatest number though out numbered in totality by women. The greatest numbers of young Adults are married. Interestingly single women participating in ministries outnumber single men three or four to one.
During the period of Young Adulthood is one in which the person learns many things and sees many changes in his life. It is a time when a mate is generally chosen, a decision to have children is made, a profession or livelihood is chosen, views of life are changing, relationships with parents change, decisions to give self to others are made, illusions are shattered, reality must be faced and other such life-altering effects are encountered by each individual.
In the lives of many Young Adults some very traumatic experiences are encountered such as divorce, widowhood, death of parents or children, severe financial problems, job loses, etc. Whether or not this occurs, it is a time of transition, discovery, establishment of identity, and acceptance of values and ideals only held loosely or not all in the past. In addition as the age of thirty is approached another time of transition is entered. Here the individual begins to see the need to find true direction in life and pursue that goal more diligently.
During this time is a prime time for ministry to this age group of people. They are seeking direction and certainly have needs in their lives. They have recognized in most cases that they are away from parents and on their own. Many will have needs that they can not meet themselves both spiritual and in general living. They will then be open to help in child rearing advice, financial advice, marriage workshops and other life related skill helps of which they have little or no knowledge. The spiritual aspect is certainly always of concern as it is critical at all stages of life. These early adult years are very crucial to the young adult, his spouse and children as this is a time of preparation for middle adulthood.
The church has a golden opportunity to work with this age group. Doing so however requires working with them where they are in a way to bring them to where they need to be. This group today is instilled with “a me” attitude and resent being “preached to”. They still have the same needs as always and must be reached.
MIDDLE ADULTHOOD YEARS
Middle Aged Adulthood is in one sense a preparatory period for the senior years.
This period may be considered to cover the years from thirty-five through fifty-five or sixty depending upon one’s retirement age. There is more agreement on the upper end of the age range than the lower. The lower end may vary from twenty’s to forty depending on individual viewpoints as to what constitutes middle adult life.
The greatest percentage of married people are found in the middle years with over
eighty percent of the total population being married. Within the ranks of the middle aged adults is an increasing number of those divorced and remarried. This number has increased to represent about twenty-seven percent of the married numbers documented in the year 1999. The number of widowed is fairly low and has been decreasing over the last forty years. The never married singles are decreasing in numbers and percentage as well. Those who are single and divorced are increasing with more women than men in the group. A much smaller group is represented by those who are separated. These fit into neither the single groups or married group.
The people in this period begin to lose the illusions of youth and through attrition finds that his choices are more limited partly due to the necessity to make permanent decisions affecting the long term. The freedom to make changes lessens because of demands of family, job and other factors. The need to settle down becomes clearer.
This person’s identity emerges more clearly. This identity is determined somewhat by psychological development, physiological environment and one’s social-cultural environment. These things coupled with physical losses bring about a time of recognizing one’s self as being both responsible but also finding some things outside the realms of one’s ability to control. It is a time when self-esteem, fear of success or failure, and motivation all play a part in movement through the period. This is different for men and women.
Family situations play an important part in this time. For most people the children are leaving home. At the same time parents are dying. In the midst of all these happenings, the individual must face his own mortality and the deterioration of his physical attributes. Because of changing family situations many women enter or re-enter the job market. People tend to want to be productive.
During the earlier years the settling down period occurs while in the middle portion of this period one experiences the Mid-life transition. For some this is a very traumatic time while others appear to cope well with it. Many go through the fifties transition as they approach this decade of their life. It is a time when many make “final” changes in jobs, homes and other such things in an effort to rejuvenate their lives and gain greater fulfillment. Very often this marks the most productive years of life.
The age differences provide great opportunities for ministry due to heavy involvement in family life. Most are married and have children. Opportunities abound for these people and their families. They are generally open to ministry in these areas. Also, the area of marriage is critical in these years which provide great opportunity for ministry in the areas of marriage growth and enrichment. Because of the great number of this group who are divorced much can be done to minister to the hurts and needs of these people. Leisure time is another area in which ministry can be directed. Money management is certainly high on the list of ministry areas. In addition there are many singles that need attention and ministry. This particular age group has a tremendous opportunity for the church to reach both evangelistically and in an effort to disciple, and in many times assisting different age groups in the works of the Lord.
LATER ADULT YEARS
Later adult years are a time that is different from the stereotyped ideas of most
people. Even the age at which the Senior Adult period begins is debatable. Some recognize it as fifty-five, others as sixty, and still others as being sixty-five, others as seventy, and still others as being seventy-five. A great problem that exists today which did not several decades ago is that the age span of the Senior Adult years has increased greatly. Certainly due to the large increase of people in these years and the greater life expectancy, the range is greater. The result is often the grouping of all these people together regardless of age.
My studies have shown that many problems thought to be attributable to old age are simply carried into those years from earlier life. People who are grumpy as an old person most often were earlier. Without question illness and disability increase with age; however, the problems are far less prevalent than thought. Most older people are well able to care for themselves and be productive far into their senior years. Much of this is due to increased awareness of health concerns and better medical care. In addition is the recognition by people in this group that they can continue life and enjoy it. No longer are the senior years considered a time to waste away from inactivity both mentally and physically. Churches need to recognize this fact and tailor programs and ministries to utilize the older adult’s talents and experiences not only to minister to their own group but to the church and community as a whole. After all, seniors are part of the church and community. They are a viable and useful resource that must be recognized and tapped. Seniors themselves need to recognize these facts in order to make the transition without traumatic consequences.
LATER ADULT YEARS AND CHURCH PLANNING
The first aspect of development must be the recognition of the need with a prayerful commitment to the idea by the pastor and church staff. In this area the program will begin to develop by the careful leadership of these people in the areas of Bible study, prayer, and further work to determine what is wanted and needed. The pastor must be the greatest supporter because without his leadership, the sheep seldom follow.
The second aspect of development results from motivation and commitment and by the church staff and leadership. The need to do further study of resources, establish direction for the ministry and basic organization must begin. The church should become involved at this point in utilizing and gaining input from all age groups, other ministries of the church, church leadership and the seniors themselves. At the same time studies of resources, areas of needs and basic involvement of oversight councils should begin.
The last development stage is the real action stage. Here the ministry is actually planned, evaluated, altered and expanded as needs arise or change. These activities are administered by the individual responsible for the ministry, whether a staff member or a Senior Adult Coordinator. The council or committee will be actively involved on a regular basis. The age range and activity levels as well as other factors must be considered in this final development stage. Kerr suggests that in doing this, six areas of concern should be addressed. Certainly a ministry must not be rigid in deciding to address exactly six. There may be more or less in a particular church. Additional resources, etc. may dictate differently.
Seeking of God’s will must be included to complete the planning. Leaving God out, all the planning in the world is to no avail. The church labors in their own power and way cannot be successful. Far too often this is the case. A church decides and plans to implement a program and then ask God to bless it. They then wonder why it doesn’t succeed. Even worse, they “praise” God because they see great ‘success” (known as numbers or acceptance because of pleasurable aspects) while ignoring the fact that nothing spiritual has been accomplished.
A good Senior Adult program is one which is the result of the pastor leading the church to become a spiritual body. When all planning has been done as a result of knowing God’s will, his timing, and his way program success is obvious. That body of Senior Adults is very active not only in the programmed activities but also in the spiritual life of the church. In that way the seniors are not only participating and benefiting, but the church has been immensely blessed and enriched as a result.
EXPANDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR SINGLE AND SENIOR ADULTS
On one hand the needs of Single Adults have not changed over the years. What has
changed is the numbers in this group. In addition the environment in which the church and this group find themselves has changed. As a result the church must examine the Single Adult in view of today’s society. This does not indicate a need to “alter” the gospel or “water down” the truth. Rather the church must rethink some of its approaches to this group and re-examine its stand in dealing with singles. Singles are and should be part of the body of Christ. It is the church’s responsibility to first seek these people out for the purpose of evangelism. The church then has the fellowship if they are not already a part of the body.
There are four groups of singles, the first being those who have never married. These people have chosen this lifestyle either intentionally or simply have not reached the point of finding the mate desired. This group must be recognized as a viable part of the body as Christians. They have gifts to use and as much to offer to the church as any other Christian. Simply because they are single does not automatically mean there is something wrong in their life.
The widowed group has shown little growth percentage wise in the last forty years. They have special needs for which the church has long found ways to meet through ministry. Today’s complex lifestyles have increased the necessity for new ways to minister to them.
Another group is those who are divorced. This group has grown rapidly in numbers and percentage in the last forty years. The needs of this group have been left un-addressed in most churches through the years. Simply because of their numbers the demand for ministry is highly evident. To refuse to address this growing issue is detrimental to the mission of the church. These people need salvation and ministry as much as anyone else. Perhaps they need ministry more than other groups. This group has had to suffer much of the same distress as the widowed but without the usual support of the church and friends. In addition there is quite often the feeling of failure, shame and stigma attached to the divorced. Many opportunities exist in ministry to this group of people.
Another growing group in the church congregation is the separated. These exist due to marital problems that are being addressed, waiting for divorce to be finalized, institutionalization, one mate in prison or away on work or military duty and various other situations. The need to address this group as a ministry target is great and presents many unique challenges to the church.
The church is alarmed by this increase in number and percentage. This group has much to offer because they are adults and comprise about thirty-seven percent of the adult population or half of the adult family units. Some are single with no family while others are single parents. They must not be ignored nor excluded. They must be recognized as adults have worth and dignity. As needed they must be welcomed into a redemptive society and encouraged to participate in ministry with the rest of the body in hope and singleness of purpose to praise and glorify Jesus Christ who welcomes all who come to him in humility and repentance. Every Christian is very important to Christ, we should not let one sheep slip away unattended.
MEETING THE NEEDS OF SENIOR ADULTS
One of the most important things the church can do is to include Senior Adults in the
life of the church. This aspect of inclusion begins but is not limited to planning their own ministry and activities. Far too often the church attempts to minister to Senior Adults rather than with them. The church of all groups must recognize that these people are not incompetent. They may in some areas of life be less able than they once were; however, they can still accomplish much with a minimum amount of help and leadership.
The main idea is to minister “with” the seniors rather than “to” them. Inclusion of these people gives them worth in their own minds and in the minds of others in the church and the community. In some ways this is analogous to the idea of helping the poor. There the best help is not a hand out but rather a hand up. The same is true with the Senior Adult group. They must be motivated in mind and challenged in spirit. When this is done they will begin to minister to each other and to others outside of their group.
Senior Adults need to be challenged as long as possible. Ways can be found to do this within the church through the ideas of inclusion. The church must find ways to implement this idea. The numbers of adults in this age group are increasing faster than other age groups by far. Projections indicate that in less than forty years, there will be one Senior Adult for every working age adult. This will place a tremendous burden on the workers. The church must begin to have the seniors take charge and much responsibility for their own needs and ministry. In doing so they will be given what many refer to as “a sense of ownership” of the ministry. This is certainly importance and motivational to those involved.
Presented are several results such as independence and usefulness. The church must utilize these results. The seniors must be given opportunities in planning for themselves and others. The interests and abilities of this group must be studied in order to best use these valuable resources in ministry. A comprehensive approach must be made to minister to the whole person rather than limited areas such as entertainment. Interestingly, these people though approaching the end of life and being in the declining years can indeed grow and change. As such they are valuable Disciples of Christ and are important servants.
MEETING INTERESTS AND FAITH DEVELOPMENT IN ADULTS
Senior Adults need to be included in activities and ministry. When they are ignored or treated as less than fully capable adults, they will tend to act and behave like anyone else who is so treated. After all, they have not changed in their heart, only their appearance. All groups of people are slightly different from others. Groups, like individuals, have distinct personalities. If excluded, some will be vocal and ask to be included, as did the Senior Adults in one church. This particular church is very large and has a median age of thirty-four with a very small Senior Adult group. The church is very active spiritually and is very alive. When the Senior Adults were left out of planning a missions conference, they vocalized their displeasure and made known their willingness, desire, and abilities. The next year one of their own planned the entire three-day event. That individual is now a part-time staff member of the missions department!
These happenings can and will occur when the church is spiritually where it should be. When an omission is made, it is addressed and corrected. It should be noted that the Senior Adult group in this church is addressed in all ways even to having a Senior Adult Pastor assigned to them and their needs.
Smaller churches can meet the needs of their Senior Adults in other ways. The seniors in these churches will recognize the limited resources and opportunities but still desire inclusion and activity. The staff of the church should recognize and address the needs. If not the seniors themselves must make known the needs and move to have them addressed in the church. Often this group can be a problem in and of itself in older churches. They are a power group and will control people and committees in order to have things their way. While one would think this would benefit the seniors, many times the opposite is true. This tends to stagnate the senior ministry as well as that of the entire church.
Seniors feel they are people and have needs that should be addressed just like
everyone else. Sometimes they will not speak out concerning this or will allow their needs to go by the board in view of other needs being addressed. The average church cannot address all situations but must make an effort where possible. Limited funds and other resources can prevent a full-fledged assault on problems; however, something can be done in all churches to meet some of these needs.
Physical problems can be met with wheelchair access, classes being held on the ground floor, etc. Classes that address seniors’ needs and interests can be organized and held. Events for them and encouragement to participate in ministry to each other and others outside their age group can be encouraged. Where needs exist that cannot be met because of limited funds or resources, cooperation with other churches, ministries or organizations can be made to better serve all involved. The key is communication and cooperation between the church staff, church leaders, the seniors, and all other parts of the body of Christ.
DISCUSSING CONVERSION, FAITH, GROWTH AND BIBLE STUDY AND HOW THE CHURCH CAN SERVE SENIORS IN THESE AREAS
The best that can be said is that although the subject can be studied, it must be done with the recognition that the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of every individual. Because each individual is different, the Spirit works differently within each person. This individuality makes the study of the growth of faith a difficult effort. When a study is complete, one will find many things that can be general references of basic manners in which faith grows; however, one can not be dogmatic, as to do so is an artificial limit on the Holy Spirit’s work.
Presented are three perspectives on how individuals come to profess Jesus Christ as Savior. These are developmental-conversion, crisis-conversion, and process-conversion. Developmental-conversion is considered to be the result of a person being subjected to the Gospel through parents, other family, church while a child or other such exposure to the truth. Stages involved are the nurture stage as young child. Next is the indoctrination stage followed by testing, making choices and active devotion.
Crisis-conversion is primarily a result of people’s suspicion and distrust of others. Such a person will tend to be confused and have trouble handling situations that do not match their understanding of life. They will follow strongly leadership in the case of a week personality while they will eventually see errors or shortcomings if they possess strong personalities. Authority is the key issue in crisis-conversion. It may be placed strongly on God or may be placed on a strong leader.
Process-conversion grows from the other two. It is primarily a drawn out process of
turning to Christ over a period of time. Such a person may begin or even compete a turnaround in his life without regeneration occurring. It may follow at a later date.
Because of the many variables such as maturity, background, experience, knowledge, needs, activities, social and family contacts, etc., a viable theory of faith development and growth is impossible to express. Even if all these variables could be measured and the differences between individuals could be placed in the equation, one would find it difficult if not impossible to quantify and identify all the ways of the Spirit in his approach to generating faith.
PROGRAM MODEL FOR ADULTS
To establish a model for program planning for Adults, one must first understand that any efforts must begin in prayer, continue in prayer and be finished in prayer. Only through prayer can the responsible individual even begin to have a hope of an idea as to what is to be done.
There are established general areas of responsibility for such ministers as the minister of education; however, within these responsibilities there can be such variation and latitude in ministry. Prayer will place the minister in the proper relationship with God that he will recognize God’s leading and will. Then and only then can a program idea be formulated and planned. Anything short of this will be an attempt to operate in the power of human beings rather than in the realm of the Spirit. Far too much of this type of planning and programming takes place today.
When God’s will is established as to a ministry need, the approach to address the need must be determined. Again God’s leadership will many times reveal the proper approach, method or program. The minister next needs to seek for and provide the necessary resources to implement the ministry or educational process, etc. Often these will be very obvious, while at other times they must be sought diligently and with care. For example, a certain teacher or particular curriculum must be sought to be available at a necessary time. Procedure or techniques for implementing the ministry must be determined and details studied from various perspectives to ensure a smooth running, appealing, and viable ministry. Operation of the program must be implemented which may in some cases involve “trail runs” or “run through” to be sure all problems have been worked out and addressed. In addition careful observation must be made to determine when changes, additions or deletions must be made. This would be responsive operation rather than a static mode of operation. Finally, evaluation and reassessment of the overall ministry must be made. As indicated above, this should also be an ongoing step.
I have pointed out and presented several models for consideration. It is certainly valid to use different models. Perhaps the minister must understand that the model may change in accordance with the particular ministry effort. In addition, as was previously pointed out, many of the “steps” in the model overlap and should be implemented at various points throughout the planning procedure. By doing this, checks and balances are established that will ensure the best possible approach for the entire ministry effort.
In every incident the minister should follow a model and he must also consider other elements besides simply planning steps. The people to whom one is to minister must be considered, their input and planning contributions should be considered as well as the desires and commitment of these same people.
It would be well to point out that if the Spirit is heavily involved from the minister’s end of the planning and implementation, the procedure is greatly simplified, less planning is needed, and “success” is given. An example is Rockdale Baptist Church. Dr. John Haynes & his wife Virginia implemented and conducted one of the greatest senior adult programs in The Southern Baptist Convention. I thank God to have completed my internship under these ministers while attending seminary.
WORKING WITH ADULTS IN THE CHURCH AND COMMUNITY
There are numerous agencies in an area as large as the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Those of a special mention are the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.
One metropolitan area wide agency is The Aging Connection. This agency provides assistance for persons sixty years of age and older or people concerned about those in that age group. They provide or refer to services such as adult day care, emergency response systems, homemaker services, employment services, transportation, senior centers and volunteer program. In addition such services as money management advisement, tax advisement, referrals and other such helps are offered.
The Senior Citizen Service of Metropolitan Atlanta, Inc. offers a Foster Grandparent Program, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, in-home services, and adult day care service. Meals on Wheels provide hot lunches delivered to the homes of the elderly. Locally, Rockdale and Dekalb Counties have Senior Citizen Centers which provide many services in addition to providing a place for seniors to meet with others of their own age. In addition these centers provide organized activities for seniors. Senior citizens volunteer in the local hospital and other locations and institutions including historic sites. They serve there in many capacities from information givers to guides to nurses aides to counselors. The Counsel on Aging and our local church Rockdale Baptist both have programs for seniors.
The church can be involved in many of these areas simply by the Senior Adults and others becoming involved in these civic and personal services. By so doing, the Christian has excellent opportunities to minister and witness to those whom they encounter in these places. In addition the church itself can offer the use of facilities. Often a gym can be used for rehabilitation for those stricken with heart attacks or for a place for the elderly to walk or exercise in a safe environment. Speakers or even chaplains can be provided from the church membership. Perhaps the church music department can provide training or accompaniment for events in the senior centers.
The greatest help the church can give is that of providing the gospel and spiritual leadership. In today’s flight from religion, however, this can be a sensitive issue. The church must be aware and provide help in a manner that shows forth the love of God in a way that cannot be denied. Without question two volunteers in a hospital can both help someone who has a loved one in bad physical shape; however, only the Christian can offer the real help needed.
THE ROLE AND RESULTS OF THE SENIOR ADULT PASTOR
The role of Senior Adult Pastor naturally is to be the spiritual leader and minister
to senior adults. The expectations and responsibilities vary from on e church to another because of varying needs in different congregations.
Churches may elect to have such a minister while others may not. The size of a
church does not necessarily have anything to do with the decision. A church of only three hundred active church members may have need for a minister with only part of his responsibilities being for senior adults.
Smaller churches may be in a community with mostly older people. They may
find no need for a youth pastor but have great need for a Senior Adult Pastor. At the same time there may be no need in this case as the main pastor may have responsibility for pastoral care, the minister of education will be responsible for all areas of education and training while the music minister may be responsible for activities.
One large church of five thousand members with a median age of thirty-four has less than one hundred senior adults. Although the church has a Senior Adult Pastor, a minimum of his time is spent in that area. He is primarily for pastoral care for the entire church as well as for the evangelism effort.
It is apparent then that the church should make the determination based on needs and interests, not necessarily on numbers or size. One very important factor is the involvement and participation of the seniors. If they are taking great responsibility for their own ministry, there is less need for a Senior Adult Pastor dedicated to that ministry. Even so there are definite needs for such a ministry position in many churches in view of the aging of the population.
Each church is different and has different needs in its congregation, the role and ministry as well as the preparation required for this position varies greatly. Even so, there are some expectations and qualifications which should be recognized. This pastor must understand thoroughly his role which should be that of catalyst rather then being the program. He will most likely understand this if he has a genuine conviction of the importance of senior adults in accomplishing the mission of the church.
The qualification is that he must be a leader. His ministry must be multidimensional in that he must address the spiritual as well as the physical needs. He must recognize relationships between the seniors and the rest of the congregation as well as between the different groups of seniors. He must work to cultivate personal relationships and generate fellowship among the seniors and other age groups in the church. He must be an equipper of others and be able to enlist, train and select leaders and volunteers. In addition he must be a growth agent. Coordination and correlation of activities, programs, and efforts must be important to him in order to move his ministry with the rest of the church body.
The Senior Adult Pastor must be concerned with all aspects of the lives of his people. He must have the perception to recognize both spiritual and physical needs and have the inner resources to be able to lead these people to find the fulfillment of these needs. He must be able to utilize the seniors themselves to carry out the ministry where possible and to plan and choose direction within the ministry. A church that has such a minister can accept a viable, active senior adult group to contribute to and spiritually edify the church.
EFFECTIVE EDUCATIONAL AND RECREATIONAL MINISTRY FOR ADULTS
The answer to this dilemma must be general because of the various conditions,
locations, resources, abilities of seniors, expertise and dedication of staff and church, interests of seniors, spirituality and other factors. Most certainly this point is made over and over through most literature and the texts that I have studied.
Opportunities for recreational activities are many and varied. While one or two seniors may prefer a rousing game of checkers, most will not long be satisfied. This is certainly true of today’s seniors. As stated above many factors must be considered; however, such activities should be those that will appeal and involve the greatest number of seniors. That is not to say that limited interest activities should never be planned. Interestingly enough, planning for limited appeal activities may, if done correctly, broaden fields of interests for some or many. This will particularly hold true with a group of active seniors who like to be challenged. Groups that have a good rapport and fellowship with each other will encourage this type of “interest broadening.”
Many activities as possible should involve both sexes and those who are more active as well as those who may be confined to wheelchairs. Some churches may plan trips to sightseeing locations and combine them with shopping trips and special events such as shows, lectures, performances, sporting events , etc. Social events such as banquets for special occasions or to mark honor people, groups, etc. will be high participatory activities if good insightful planning is norm for a church. In some cases special transportation may need to be addressed, especially if something such as a progressive dinner is planned. Many activities can be planned both big and small in keeping with interest, resources, etc.
Ministry and educational efforts are probably as varied for this age group as for any other although the program will vary with this age group. Far more often this group is willing to visit hospitals and home-bound. This is true because of available time as well as being nearer to the age of those who are generally more in need of such ministry.
Educational efforts must be interesting and generally will be Bible studies, doctrinal studies, and other spiritually related classes. There will be need for other areas of education which will in some cases border on recreational activities. Such classes as how to do certain things never learned will be helpful as well as a challenge to the senior. For example a man may learn how to do simple wiring in the home which will allow him to make repairs or simple changes and installations for which funds may not be available on a limited income.
The educational effort will find the senior in an unexpected role as a teacher or instructor. A skill such as plumbing will provide an opportunity for an individual to minister to other seniors as well as younger people in the church and community in either instructional or ministry efforts.
Unlimited activities in the educational, spiritual and recreational areas can be planned for seniors. Perhaps the task of selecting such activities is easier with this group because of their high interest and availability to both participate and take responsibility for planning and implementation.
THE PROGRAM AT YOUR LOCAL CHURCH
Rockdale Baptist Church of Conyers, with John Haynes as Senior Adult Minister, had an excellent program of activities in all areas for the Senior Adults. The number was small compared to the overall membership of the church. The church, at that time had over two thousand members with only a hundred or less in the senior age group.
The church did have a pastor assigned to the Senior Adult group. The efforts of both this pastor and the seniors themselves provided an excellent array of opportunities. There was neither “overkill” nor inadequate opportunity.
Perhaps one important factor in this church is the integration of the seniors into the mainstream of the church as a whole. For a church with a median age of thirty-four, this has been accomplished in an unbelievable manner. Perhaps the seniors there were simply not those to sit back and wait (a trend to be noted in the newer seniors today). Well over half of that group was involved as deacons, greeters, ushers, teachers, welcome center workers, mission workers and ministers, visitation workers, children workers (to include nursery, preschool, and youth departments)and volunteers in the church office. One senior adult woman was a part-time paid staff worker in the financial office as my memory serves me right.
The church was doing what a church was supposed to do. The focus was not on people but on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit was awake and moving in the congregation. Because of this, the church had Christ’s heart for people as was evidenced in the missions programs local, statewide, national, and international. A very active evangelistic effort had been part and parcel of the church focus and thrust for the last seven years. Even to the point of assisting with a Billy Graham Crusade. People in the church were ministered to as well as those outside. For a large church there was a warmth and caring attitude throughout. The seniors were a part of this and ministered with the church, through the church and to the church as well as to each other. I believe when a pastor looks over his shoulder and can not see a senior adult very near him most of the time, then something is seriously wrong.
The senior adult pastor had easily developed a fellowship with this group that allowed them to simply express their needs and interests vocally. Planning was done accordingly. Generally this pastor and his secretary do most of the administrative planning of activities from the arrangements standpoint while the seniors take over to implement and carry out the plan on their own. This gives them ownership, participation, voice, and enjoyment.
The greatest lesson to be learned is the one to which most Christians give vocal credence but little actual reliance. That is to get first things first. That is to get the church and people in the right relationship with the Lord and they will get in right relationship with each other. A love for each other and others outside the church as well as other groups in the church will be the natural overflow of this right spiritual stance. All that follows will be much easier from the decision making and planning standpoint. The needs will be clear as well as the interests. They will not be clouded by selfish interests or worldly interests but will be highlighted with the spiritual being most important.
SPECIAL CONCERNS IN ADULT MINISTRY
There are differing needs for Senior Adults that are not wholly dependent upon age. Most Senior Adults have adequate mobility and resources to handle physical needs. On one side of this situation are those with little resource and great need while on the other side are those with little need and great resources. This holds true for social activity and spiritual needs.
Presented on a social level some people even at the Senior Adult level are shy or feel inadequate around those who appear to be confident and well equipped socially. Some may be awed in the Senior Years by being “thrown” into a situation where they are in the same group as people who they formerly considered on a different social level and were thus untouchable. By the same token there are those who may feel they are “above” others in their group. Hopefully a Christian atmosphere would overcome some of these problems, though in reality it is recognized that this is not always the case.
Presented on a physical level or spiritual level many people in need do not ask because of fear, shame, pride, ignorance, or of “bothering” someone with their problems. Again these needs must be addressed by an effort expressed.
The minister may need to be extra bold in approach. This is particularly true in the area of witnessing. Simply because one is older and has attended church for years does not mean that the individual is saved or spiritually mature. Even if the individual is saved and spiritually mature, he still needs the opportunity and encouragement to be involved in spiritual opportunities of edification. This is just as true as for a person that has been socially active for years. This individual can not think he no longer needs social interaction because he has been active for years.
It can be seen then that Senior Adults still have needs in all three areas. The social and physical needs may be greater at this point in life than before because of possible extra time available after retirement or simply because of the quest for answers and meaning in life previously neglected. Social needs will in many cases replace those that were met by work and career or other parts of one’s life. The person may need other people for support after the death of a spouse or friends. Because of failing physical abilities, the senior may need those who will be aware of his activities and be concerned if he has needs or fails to “show up.”
There will be other needs than those mentioned above. The church can look at these and see a great opportunity to minister to those in the church and to those outside as well. Certainly the church can not ignore these needs. Work must be done to meet them and minister to them in a way that is not concentrating on the individual but on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
PROGRAM OF BALANCED CONTENT FOR SENIOR ADULTS IN THE CHURCH
The balanced program will of necessity vary from church to church. This is true
because of the differences in the Senior Adults within the group. Every group will have different needs. There are five areas of a balanced program. These are spiritual enrichment, learning opportunities, socialization, service opportunities and services needed. As the text points out, many needs within these areas will already be addressed by a particular ministry of the church such as the Sunday School, Church Training Department, Missions Department, Benevolence Ministry, etc. Even so, there will still be areas of need.
An area of spiritual enrichment is one that can not be neglected. In a group of spiritually oriented adults this is simple for they clamor for opportunities. On the other hand it is needed even more and must be offered and encouraged. Many churches offer a morning Bible study which is convenient for some seniors. This is particularly helpful to those who can not attend church in the evening hours on Sundays or Wednesdays. Special studies in doctrine, Bible, missions, stewardship, ethics, etc. may be offered to help these people grow and mature spiritually. Special prayer times are often helpful and appealing to this group in view of their increased concerns for those who are sick.
Opportunities are important for this group as well because of new situations they are now facing. They are interested in finding out how to do things and go about doing things they never before considered. Most seniors desire to continue learning. They now may have time to study subjects of interest that they could not before. Learning is a way to stay active and alert. It presents a challenge to them that is needed at this time in their lives. In addition it provides a tool for them to use to help others as well as themselves. Formal or informal groups may be formed to study things of interest. This may even include college classes, computer classes or subjects of community and social concern. The church should examine what courses or studies may be offered in house or in cooperation with another church. Possibly holding special classes in the church for a college session may be a possibility. Whatever is done must be in accordance with needs as expressed either through a survey or some other method of polling.
Socialization is another area of ministry. In fact it is perhaps the first considered for seniors. The church must recognize this is highly important because these people will rely upon each other in many cases for support and help as they face times of physical slowing and personal need in their lives. Quite often the Sunday School provides much of the needed social activity. For some this may be insufficient. When this occurs, the church staff will need to address this need by encouraging the seniors to form a club or group if not already in existence and begin especial events as often as needed to fill this need. In some cases once a month is sufficient whereas once or more a week may be needed in other cases.
Many areas of service opportunities and service needs may be combined in view of the fact many of the opportunities for service and needs are often within the group itself. When this is true and there are sufficient resources within the group to handle the need, certainly that is the first and primary source of service and meeting a need. For example when someone needs a light switch replaced but cannot afford to call an electrician. An experienced person in the group may be available to do this work.
There are many needs within the group that the group themselves can not meet. Perhaps someone needs a furnace repaired with no qualified person in the group who can perform the work. The church needs to seek someone in the congregation to do the work or help that individual have the work done commercially by funding through the benevolence program. There are many people in the group who desire to be a helper to others in the group or the church or even outside the church. An example: a retired financial counselor in the group wants to minister to others by giving of his time helping those who can not afford to pay for this service. Each need must be recognized and met as appropriate within the resources available.
The Senior Adult Pastor and Senior Adult Coordinator needs to review the entire
program and determine if all areas of need are being met. If not more emphasis needs to be placed in the areas still lacking. Often this will mean a slackening in another area because of limitations. Depending on what the situation is, decisions must be made to decide which area can and will be addressed in accordance with the purpose and mission of the church and the importance of the needs.
The balance of the program certainly would not be all spiritual and no social. It must, as stated above, address the needs of the particular church and group. To sit and write out a precise or exact program in a general way is to ignore reality. It has then become a program and not a ministry. It will have been designed to meet the requirement for a program, not a need. After all ministry should be designed to meet specific needs rather than general aims or goals.
BIBLE TEACHING AND DISCIPLESHIP FOR SENIOR ADULTS
The greatest emphasis comes from the biblical admonitions and commands to commit to one’s heart the Scriptures and an understanding thereof. The Shema (Deut 6.6-7) was a clear Old Testament command to know the Scriptures and their meaning for life. It further was a command to teach God’s word to one’s children. This cannot be done if one does not know and understand the Word. In addition Christ was a teacher and emphasized teaching. The Great Commission was a direct command reflecting the importance of teaching in the mission of the church. When priority is given to Bible teaching the church will likely be spiritually sound.
Special attentions should be given to adult Bible teaching. This is necessary because they are the parents of the children and are responsible for leading and teaching their children. In addition they are the leaders of the church, of business in the community, community leaders, members or the communities and representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. Adults make all sorts of decisions that affect the world and everyone around them. To make the proper decisions they must know the Scriptures.
In accomplishing the work of the Sunday School the church must organize its efforts to work under the leadership of the Holy Spirit to meet the challenge of all facets of adult Sunday School work. The basic organization is first the class followed by the department.
The class is the main element which has a teacher as leader. Ideally the class should have a secretary to maintain records. An outreach leader is needed to guide in reaching prospects, in witnessing to the lost, and in strengthening the class. Also an activities leader is needed to minister to class members and prospects, build class fellowship and coordinate weekday class activities. Group leaders or care group leaders are needed for every four to eight people so that close fellowship and ministry are accomplished.
The department is organized along similar lines with a department director, department outreach leader, activities leader, and a secretary. Similar duties are assigned to people in a department that have the same focus as the class.
Planning is considered important for both department and classes. Although much is given in various texts, planning and emphasis will greatly vary from church to church and department to department.
In planning the writer sees as important the provision for weekday Bible study opportunities outside of the Sunday School hour. Some possibilities include Adult Vacation Bible School, Bible studies held in offices or other locations and other possible times as opportunity arises.
All things done must be done because the church is to glorify Jesus Christ in all that is done. To do so, the church must follow the Great Commission and teach God’s Word so that Christians will know and understand Him as they should and the lost will see a difference in the lives of Christians. In turn they will seek knowledge of Him and find the truth of His Word as being applicable to their lives.
SENIOR ADULT MAY BE DISCIPLINED AND BECOME DISCIPLE TO OTHERS
A disciple means that one is a learner of the master. A Christian is a disciple of
Christ and should thus not only accept the views of the Master but seek to practice His instructions. Discipleship training is built on the concepts of each individual having supreme worth in the sight of God, the nature and essence of the Christian life demands growth, and the church is a spiritual democracy that demands an informed membership and training leadership.
To properly educate disciples’ two principles must be observed. These are learning by doing and individual development through individual participation. Four tasks are important and necessary to adequately train the disciple. The training must equip for personal ministry, teach Christian theology, doctrine, ethics, history and church policy and organization, equip for service, and support church work. While these tasks may seem to overlap, they each have individual emphasis important to full Christian development.
The goals of training are similar. Growth in Christian discipleship must occur. People must learn to comprehend discipleship. People must learn to comprehend and apply biblical doctrine. They must live biblical principles. In addition they must know and participate in the Church’s ministry as well as edify the church.
When discipleship is understood, the educator or minister must lead people to accept and desire training in discipleship areas. In order to do this he must lead the people to become aware of the personal need to grow. Once they have awareness, they need to understand that it is God’s call to them to seek training to grow and to see possibilities that will enable them to respond to God’s call. Recognizing God’s hand in the lives of the people; the minister, teacher, or leader realizes that the Spirit must bring conviction to the heart of the disciple to follow up and take the necessary action to train and participate. Obviously exhortation through preaching, example, encouragement and other means will place the needs before the people for the Spirit to be able to work. Finally the active participation results in the individual using what has been learned and the gifts God has given in order to live the Christian life and to serve as needed.
As the disciple becomes active in learning and doing, he needs to be taught on a continuing basis. He needs to learn he is part of the body of Christ which is the church. It is in essence a mission organization which teaches missions, engages in mission activities, supports missions and provides and interprets information about the work of the church and denomination to other members and other groups.
WORKING WITH SENIOR ADULTS DEALING WITH LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES AND MUSIC
I point out the greatest value to working in the area of music is that the
Scriptures command and exhort Christians to make music and sing hymns. As such the performing of spiritual music in any manner is worship. This is true whether the music is performed in a large congregation or in private. The idea is to worship God through the music.
The church music is used in three areas. These are worship, education and outreach. The most common and most important is as worship. Even when used in education and outreach, worship is still the main idea of the music performed. For adults this provides an area of worship in which almost all adults can participate. Interestingly even the deaf and dumb in some churches “sing” by singing the words to songs.
Adults can participate in the music simply in congregations singing, in the choir, in ensembles, in quartets, choruses, instrumental ensembles or orchestras, hand bell choirs, working with children, as accompanists, soloists, drama presentations, media technicians, teaching, and other areas. It involves the adults in ministry as well as worship and education. Importantly music provides a method of mission work to many who would never otherwise get involved. This often takes the form of singing in nursing homes, hospitals, shopping centers, civic groups, or other such areas. Music may be performed in the homes of shut-ins. It can be taken down the street or around the world to support mission efforts or in some cases be the mission effort. The John Haynes’ Program for Seniors was enhanced with a lovely group known as the Senior Choir throughout the church.
SENIOR ADULTS UTILIZING DEDUCTIVE LEARNING, INDUCTIVE LEARNING, PEDAGOGY, AND ANDRAGOGY
Deductive learning occurs as a result of the assimilation of facts and applying them to specific instances in order to resolve problems. I prefer to identify this method as the Rote Method of learning. Math tables, for an example, are memorized and then methods of combining these facts in specific ways are applied to derive answers to problems. Generally deductive learning is the major type of learning for the early years. While this type of learning involves doing, it also has a heavy emphasis on knowing.
Inductive learning is more life focused. The learner experiences something in his life that causes him to take truths, facts, or principles and apply them to find answers to problems that are life related. Such learning is generally related to the needs, problems, and day-to-day activities of life in which adults find themselves. While this type of learning involves doing it also has a heavy emphasis on feeling.
Pedagogy is the art and science of teaching children. The normal type of learning involved is deductive learning. A teacher is generally leading a content oriented course of instruction. This type of learning generally deals with absolutes rather than abstract thinking.
THE LEARNING DIFFERENCES IN SENIOR ADULTS AND CHILDREN
Adults learn differently than do children. A child learns because it is expected of
him. He has to complete school and gain information and learning to be used later in life. While the text does not indicate so, many children learn because they have inquisitive minds and enjoy learning, contrary to popular opinion. In one sense this becomes self-directed learning although not as a result of a life situation demanding it in all cases. The adult learns because he is self-directed in his efforts. He sees a need to learn something to be utilized immediately or very shortly.
A child is dependent upon the teacher or society to say what is to be learned. For the adult he makes the decision what and when to learn. The teacher or instructor is there to guide and encourage the desire and perception of the need for learning in the adult. In the teaching of children the primary technique is that of transfer of knowledge. In the adult it is one of experiential techniques. The adult uses past experience or present experiences to resolve problems and derive solutions. For children there is a fairly standard curriculum which the school states must be learned. In the adult learning occurs when the adult sees the need for it in order to cope with problems. The educator or teacher is primarily responsible for creating a desire for learning. Finally in the child there is an understanding that much that is learned is for future use while the adult sees the learning as a process to increase competence and skills in those areas needed in one’s personal life.
The adult assumes responsibility for his own learning. That is contrary to the old military adage that “if the student fails to learn, the teacher has failed to teach.” In other words the adult decides if the material is relevant to his needs and aims in life. In addition he must see the effort as delivering the benefits worth the effort. Because it could be argued that a child could say the same about learning in view of dire consequences, one must realize that the difference is the willing choice the adult makes rather than the expected choice of the child.
The one teachable moment that was not really discussed so far is that which occurs at the time of salvation. While most who are saved experience salvation prior to adult years, it is indeed a very teachable moment for an adult. The individual recognizes his own lack of spiritual understanding and is thus open to teaching, leading and guidance. Perhaps this teachable moment can be considered to also be the time when one rededicates his life to Christ. At the same time one will experience a spiritual moment when he feels the leadership to dedicate his life to full-time Christian service. This same thinking will extend the teachable moment in many cases to those who volunteer for special work or mission projects. These are teachable moments because the individual recognizes his need for learning skills, subjects, procedures, etc.
Teachable moments in the church occur when an individual agrees to serve on a committee or as a teacher. Acceptance of other responsibilities within the church will bring about the recognition of the need for further preparation and study.
Many times a teachable moment occurs at a time of disagreement with a friend or acquaintance. When a person ““cools off”” he may understand that he has been responsible for the situation and must make apologies or even restitution. In addition he would recognize the need to have a change of heart because of his error.
The birth of a child can be a very teachable moment for an adult as he or she realizes firsthand the responsibility for the child that now lies in their hands. Concerns such as proper care physically, spiritually, and other parent related areas bring awareness of responsibility to mind. If unprepared, the adult will recognize his or her need to do so and quickly. One’s own well-being is no longer foremost. Instead the parent sees the child as very important and worth sacrifice of self. Other aspects of responsibility will surface such as concern for where the child is, who the child associates with, what the child is taught, where is schooled, how he is fed, and many other such concerns. All lead to a desire to learn and study the best way to handle each situation. Sadly today finds more and more parents who care little about such things as is evidenced by their total lack of apparent concern, preparation, or activity to offer the child anything other than the sorry lifestyle they live themselves.
A major problem is the loss of income or job. This situation brings out an understanding of one’s own inadequacy in many cases. People who are well qualified and may have held jobs for many years find themselves out of work because of a buyout or downsizing. Many of these are adults nearing their senior years. They have not succeeded in building the necessary retirement situation, are too young to retire, but find themselves on a job market that doesn’t want them nor can absorb them. These people find themselves having to downsize their expectations for life. They have to face situations in which they are no longer in control. They are teachable at this point as they realize that they must seek help and guidance from someone who can either help them find work or at least put them in touch with a true sense of perspective on the reality of their situation.
A major illness can be a teachable time. This occurs in later middle adulthood or the senior years. A heart attack, diagnosis of cancer, multiple-sclerosis or other major illness will bring about a time of seeking for answers and guidance. A family with children can ill afford to have one of the parents incapacitated or removed from the home by death. The problems of coping with such situations bring major trauma to both adults or in the case of death to the surviving mate. Not only will this individual have the normal problems of life to contend with on their own, but they will have to deal with the children and their perspective of the situation. Divorce of a spouse can also bring about many of the same problems and teachable moments.
The victim of crime can bring teachable moments as well. The person will wonder how or what he did that caused the crime to happen. Most of the time the situation will involve loss or expenditure of money that would not otherwise have occurred Sometimes there will be physical injury or assault. In the case of rape the problems have increased. This will be particularly true if the woman is married. The husband and wife will have some very difficult times adjusting to the situation and each other. Such things as how to prevent future occurrences, how to deal with losses that were not insured, how to deal with news media in some cases, how to deal with friends and family, and many other problems will occur to produce teachable moments.
MYTHS ABOUT SENIOR ADULT MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH
Many misconceptions exist concerning adults and education of adults. These myths have hurt the ministry efforts of the church for many years. As a result the educator must recognize these and understand how to deal with them when they crop up. These exist in at least three forms. They concern myths about adults, myths about them as learners, and myths about ministry and organization of adults.
One general conception is that adults have reached a plateau in which the adult is stable in personality, learning, physical progress, and other facets of life. Researchers have discovered this to be untrue. They have found there are indeed great changes in adults. The adult years have changes in growth and development marked by stages, crisis, challenges, disasters and triumph. Some of the changes wrought are tremendous in the adult and possibly exceed the changes of the younger years.
Many believe adults will not change. Closely related to the above idea, adults do change in relation to the events of life that confront them each day. Sometimes these events bring about dramatic change. In fact the very survival of the adult often requires change.
To claim that all adults are alike is far from the truth. This leads to lumping them all together to provide educational opportunities, to minister, to study, to have recreation or anything else. Without question men have different needs and interests than do women. Younger people have different priorities and interests than do seniors. Singles are different than those who are married. Even professions are widely variable as are abilities. All of these things make for difference.
Adults are poor prospects for the church is another myth. This myth often is a result of a misunderstanding of adults and their needs and ministry to them. Where this is practiced correctly, there is great response. The churches that truly believe in evangelism will find many people responsive to the church. Evidence of this is the number of adults baptized each year.
In the field of learning many feel that adults can not learn as well as children of youth. This assumption is false. The text points out the major difference in the length of time it takes to learn a subject. The capacity to learn is still present though slowed down in many cases. Perhaps this is because the adult has a “full computer” compared to the child. He will have more concerns to deal with and thus less time and ability to concentrate on any matter.
To say that adults are not interested in learning is not true. There are some who are not interested at all. Many more are not interested in what someone else may wish to teach. Many are interested while those whose interests are elsewhere can become interested if the correct conditions are present to encourage learning. Adult learning can be informal pursuit of such things as hobbies. On the other hand it may be formal. One research project indicated that it is common for an adult to spend seven hundred hours a year in learning projects while others spend far more or far less. Generally most adults are seen to attempt two major learning projects a year. The number of adults enrolled in colleges and universities are proof of interest.
Adults learn best by listening is another myth. While many are inclined to agree with this statement, even those being taught, it is well known that learning by seeing and hearing is even better while learning by doing is best. Putting learning into practice makes learning familiar rather than distant. It may be likened to trying to learn to swim by reading a book yet never getting into the water.
Many believe adults will not respond to a variety of learning activities. These same people believe the lecture is the key teaching method. This may be true in some groups or in some situations. Even so, the lecture type teacher will generally also include question and answer, discussion, case studies, brainstorming and other types of teaching. There may be some resistance to new methods though slow institution of them to a group will meet with gradual acceptance and greater learning.
To state that adults will tolerate poor teaching is not as such a myth as the textbook indicates. Experience indicates otherwise. There will be many Sunday School classes for adults who sit every Sunday to hear poor teaching. The problem stems from their inadequate understanding of what teaching and learning really is all about. Even more importantly they do not know or understand the difference. On the other hand adults that do know and understand the difference will not tolerate poor teaching. The fact that some tolerate poor teaching may be indicative of the problems of the church today and the poor overall participation. As such is evidence for intolerance of poor teaching.
Many believe that it is necessary to concentrate on children and youth before adults in order to assure future ministry. This simply is not true. If adults are not taught and ministered, the church will lose this generation which appears to be largely the case today. True the youth and children are future leaders; however, the present leaders are adults and must be taught so that they can teach and lead.
Along the same line many feel that quality adult education is not necessary in the church. As indicated above, adults are the leaders and must set the precedents and expectations for the youth and children. In order to teach strong doctrine and morals, one must be strong in doctrine and morals. The adults are the teachers and leaders and parents. If they do not have a strong basis to teach and live on, then they can not pass this on to their children.
Many do not feel that young adults are interested in spiritual things. They can be and in many cases are interested but feel spurned by the church because of several reasons. The young adult is still trying to break ties with home. This often results in a form of rejection of the parents. Those that do not have this problem seem to see the outside world as more valid and applicable than the church. Others do not want part of a church that fails to see their relevance to the church. They are not seen as full participants. They do not like the “old” style of worship or its doctrines or teachings. The textbook indicates that they are turned off by dogmatic approaches to ethical areas that leave no room for gray areas or differences of opinion. Also there is no room left for personal theology. Hopefully the writer did not mean what can be deduced from such statements. God’s Word does not leave room for “opinion” or “gray areas” or even personal theology. His Word is very clear on these things. One must be sure what the writer is talking about to know whether to agree with him.
One last myth is that middle adults are stable and do not need special programs or ministries as do younger adults or seniors. Indeed the middle years are as unique as all others. Many times the middle aged person is trying to deal with both children and aging parents. Job changes or problems and many other facets including mid-life physical and emotional changes are factors that can lead to disaster or triumph depending on how handled. These are very important years that need much guidance and encouragement from the church. Learning is an area of need for this group and is highly important as it is for every other age.
RESOURCES OF EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY AVAILABLE FOR SENIOR ADULTS IN THE CHURCH
Working with differing groups of Senior Adults, one will find there are differing levels of acceptance of teaching methods. It must be recognized that some are receptive to new tools of teaching while others are not. One thing that has been learned is that those in spiritually dead churches are generally not receptive to new tools or the Word either for that matter, while those in spiritually alive churches are receptive to both. They seem to operate on the principle of “whatever it takes”.
The personal computer is perhaps one of the newest tools for the minister to use. Certainly there are many options for using this tool in study and preparation, record keeping, making handouts, etc. To this point it has and will be limited severely in the church due to the lack of resources and physical plant to have multiple monitors for every pupil in a class. Even so, it can be used on a limited basis to teach various subjects with the software that is now available and is coming more readily available on a regular basis. The computer is a tool that a creative person can utilize greatly and increase the ability to minister due to time saving and the stretching of the abilities of the minister. Maps, graphs, clip art, word processing, desktop publishing, lesson outlines, pictures, handouts of various kinds, etc. can all be produced to make ministry more interesting and helpful.
In addition the computer can be made available or may indeed be available to teachers and pupils in their homes or businesses. Many possibilities exist for creative and innovative use of this tool in the church and ministry. In conjunction with this is the use of networks and other communication tools to pass and gain information and ministry helps. The computers themselves can be used now with counseling software that is available and improving. Games and simulations can be used to teach as can program learning exercises. Many ministers use programs to teach music, plan music programs, keep music libraries, and even augment with computer generated sound during musical performances.
Negative aspects are cost and availability to have available on a large scale. The loss of personal contact is a negative. Computer virus can be a problem when opened to the public. Misuse or abuse of equipment or programs can be a problem. Other negative exist but should be seen as being of minor importance when the benefits are examined in light of the expanded ministry possibilities.
The low price and high availability make the video another tool which can be utilized in teaching. If it is used to teach a class on a particular subject, it frees the teacher in many cases to be doing something else. At the same time the class may lose the idea of the importance of the teacher if this is used too extensively. A major advantage is that it allows lecturers or other teachers to “be present” with a group where this might not be otherwise possible. In addition speaking fees, lodging, board and travel expenses are not in question. Thus the video is a budget stretcher. It allows for experts on a subject to be utilized in any group at any time. The particular teacher can be utilized in a much wider area than otherwise could be. In addition the video can be replayed and reviewed as necessary at any date or time without having to bring the speaker back or contact him whenever a question arose about a point covered in the lecture. He is thus available to all church members rather than a few or those who could only be present at the time.
Many other innovations have appeared over the last several years that can be used. Wide screen television is one example that allows for a larger audience when using videos or having overflow crowds in the sanctuary or classroom. The reasonably low cost of video equipment for recording and immediate playback is an excellent tool for training teachers, etc. Making good overhead projection slides is now easier and can be accomplished by an individual with access to a copier. Many other tools are available. The advantages are many. With older adults there is always a possible reluctance to accept or try these tools. Even so, the wise and creative minister will be able to utilize these tools in many ways to expand and improve his ministry.
Reference Books of Reading and authors are hereby acknowledged during this research. This writer would like to thank all writers who have taken the time to research and pass on their work to others.