Renewed Purpose

December 19th, 2011

We have become a throw-away society. A quick glance through your post-Christmas trash receptacle will likely affirm just how much we have come to love convenience. From gift bags and self-stick bows to aluminum food containers and plastic utensils, we enjoy the easy life.

I confess that I am not immune. I like products that make life easier. Every time I change a grandson’s diaper, I am especially grateful for disposable diapers. But it seems we have taken the idea of convenience to a whole new level. Things we used to keep and reuse for decades are now tossed into a disposable trash bag and hauled to the curb. The truth is, we rarely bother to repair broken things. As consumers, we are inclined to toss things aside and buy newer versions.

Just think for a moment about technology. How long did you keep your last cell phone before buying a more up-to-date model? If you are like most people, it was less than two years.

Think, too, about all the ways the world bombards us with the message that young is better than old. Stroll the aisles of a big-box store and take note of all the anti-aging products. Then consider the influence of the media. With the exception of folks like Betty White, older adults are typically portrayed as grumpy curmudgeons or bumbling buffoons.  Rarely are they shown as people who are valued for their experience and wisdom.

Recently I attended a conference for church leaders interested in ministries to, for and with people 50 years and older. One of the speakers was my friend and colleague, Dr. Rick Gentzler, Executive Director of the Center on Aging and Older Adults for the General Board of Discipleship for the United Methodist Church. With great passion, Rick talked about how we live in a world where old things have become so disposable that we just throw them out when we think they have outlived their purpose. Regrettably, that way of thinking has also permeated the church. 

In a push to reach younger people, many churches have brushed aside older adults, giving only lip service to ministry to, for and with seniors. We like to believe that if we have an occasional fellowship dinner or outing for senior adults, we can check the box for older adult ministry and say we’ve fulfilled our calling. Trouble is, we haven’t. 

I have witnessed this phenomenon first-hand with many frail older adults who are struggling to find purpose in life. Most are unable to drive to worship services or participate in the life of the church as they once did. Others are unchurched and have deep spiritual questions. But in a tough season of life when seniors desperately need the church, the church is often absent. 

Authentic ministry seeks to address the wide variety of needs among older adults who are in various stages of the aging process. For those who have lost independence and are in physical decline, the challenges are great. So I wonder. Is your church consistently walking alongside older adults who have grown frail? How are you valuing them and nurturing their dignity? In what ways are you helping them rethink ways they can minister to others? 

This year when you haul the post-Christmas trash to the curb, I hope you will be reminded of older adults who feel like they, too, have outlived their purpose. In our quest to reach young people, we must be careful not to throw out the old. They, too, are children of God.

Each month, Missy Buchanan shares insight and strategies for rethinking 50-plus ministry. Her latest book, Aging Faithfully: 28 Days of Prayer, is now available. You can find Missy online at

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