ever before has the United States had so many elderly citizens who are "too old to work and too young to die." Caring for their spiritual needs constitutes an important and rewarding aspect of the pastoral ministry.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Census there are almost 21 million persons in the United States 65 years of age and older. The steadily increasing life expectancy of our population up from 48 years in 1900 to 69.8 years in 1956 has resulted in an ever-enlarging number of older patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and homes for the aged. 1
MAINTAIN CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
The Good Shepherd demonstrated pastoral care for His sheep 2 The twenty-third psalm provides an excellent portrayal of His pastoral work. His keen awareness of human needs made Him sensitive to the unspoken longings of every heart.
The basic needs of aged church members must be adequately met with spiritual insight and an understanding of the special problems of the aged. The following suggestions are designed to strengthen a pastoral-care program for the aged.
SEEK OUT AGED CHURCH MEMBERS
Often names of aged or sick members appear on church records but their whereabouts are unknown. For various reasons these members may have been transferred from home to home or from hospital to hospital. Because of mental confusion and deterioration, they may not be able to recall the name of their pastor or to correctly give the name of their denomination. On the face sheet of the medical record the term Protestant or Christian may be used. It is not uncommon to find a blank space.
A certain lay member learned that John W. was a Seventh-day Adventist living in a county nursing home and that his mother, also a Seventh-day Adventist, was hospitalized in a state institution in another county. Their names were not found on the church books, nor was there any record that they had been disfellowshiped. The mother, although very forgetful, maintained a good Christian spirit. The son, who was retired from his work as a cook, knew of no action taken by the church against him or his mother. They had simply been forgotten. When asked about this mother and son, some elderly members of the church said, "We thought they had died many years ago."
The names of elderly members should never be removed from the church books unless they are really spiritually or physically dead. Sometimes aged members who are unable to attend services regularly or to give offerings may request to have their names removed because they feel rejected or unwanted. The elder should pray for wisdom from Heaven in order to understand the inner motives behind such a request. It may be a cry for help or an unconscious appeal for attention.
BRING ELDERLY PEOPLE INTO THE REMNANT CHURCH
Nursing homes, homes for the aged, geriatric hospitals, and state institutions comprise a new field in which our elders can win souls for Christ. The elder can usually get permission to conduct prayer meetings, Bible study classes, group singing, or Christian worship in these institutions. Such activities can be a great benefit to all. It is not unlikely that some of the elderly people may make their decision to accept Jesus as their personal Savior and follow Him in obedience.
The elder must know how to prepare spiritual food for elderly non-Adventist in a simple but appealing manner.
As an ordained minister and a clinical psychologist, I worked in this field for many years in cooperation with clergymen and witnessed baptisms into the remnant church. It is so gratifying to hear of baptisms from this new field.
One day a 79-year-old woman in a mental institution came to me and said, "I want the Lord to forgive me because I have not kept the Sabbath for so many years." When I asked how she knew so much about the present truth, she responded, "I finished the Bible correspondence course that you enrolled me in." She was soon baptized.
Seventy-one years ago the pen of inspiration wrote: "It is wonderful how many aged people the workers find who need but little labor to lead them to receive the truth, Sabbath and all." 3
RESPECT RETIRED WORKERS AND AGED MEMBERS IN THE CHURCH
Most elderly people suffer from fear, insecurity, and inferiority. In their dependency they may cling to the elder and pastor as a dependent child to a supporting parent. The old, the disabled, and the feeble require the same warm, emotional relationship as any other person. Therefore, the elder or pastor should provide a church atmosphere as nearly like family life as possible. To address an elderly person as "uncle," "aunt," "grandpa," or "grandma," in a respectful manner will help him to feel that he belongs. His past achievement for God in soulwinning activities may be mentioned briefly in an appropriate way. Once or twice a year, special programs may be given to honor retired workers. 4
Our senior church members should be visited regularly. When they feel lonely or nostalgic, it is the pastor's duty to help them review the blessings that our merciful Father has bestowed upon them.
ASSIST AGED MEMBERS TO OBEY THE LAWS OF HEALTH
Some elderly people become anxious over unknown dangers. Accelerated heartbeat, flushing, trembling, a lump in the throat, sweating, and tight muscles may accompany this nameless dread. When they are subject to continuous anxiety they cannot get worries off their minds. They may repeat actions, or they may avoid places and people. Loss of sleep, appetite, and energy, and lack of confidence in themselves are typical symptoms. If the highly sensitive needs of the deeply depressed person are not met, he may consider or attempt suicide.
I knew an elderly church member whose husband had been a wonderful local elder for many years. When her husband died she became so severely depressed that she almost lost her faith in God, in prayer, and in the Advent hope. Another veteran leader of our denomination experienced depression at the death of his wife. Late in life it takes a long time to recover from such traumatic experiences.
Satan takes advantage of the aged person who may lack mental strength, causing him to listen to the voice of a stranger. He may develop some "new light" and tend to accept some "new ideas" that may compensate for his spiritual deficiency. The pastor must be alert to check the tide of "old wives' fables" or dreams. 5
Temperance in living habits ensures a happy and healthy life. The elder or pastor should draw upon the instructions in Counsels on Health, Counsels on Diet and Foods, The Ministry of Healing, and Medical Ministry so that he can encourage our elderly members to eat the right kinds of food. They need to have an adequate intake of protein, minerals, and vitamins, and to avoid the overuse of sugar, fat, white flour, or anything that is not simple, fresh, natural.
INTEGRATE SENIOR MEMBERS IN CHURCH ACTIVITIES
Spiritual growth and development can be realized best through active participation in church services. Factors to consider include their discomfort in sitting still on hard pews for two hours, steps, distance to washroom or drinking fountain, temperature fluctuation, and position for prayer. Many come to fear ceremonial worship in a large church because they have some hidden geriatric problems that most of the younger people are not aware of.
Elderly members need a good audience and more opportunities to express their faith. They want to witness for their Lord. Their frequent and proper expression of faith will greatly enrich their spiritual life. Some may be able to participate in Ingathering work, help in a branch Sabbath school, give Bible studies, and even enter into new-field work.
ENLIST THE COOPERATION OF THE ELDERLY
Help our aged members to be flexible in attitude and cooperative in spirit.
Elderly persons are characteristically conservative and resistant to change, whether of routine, arrangement, manners, morals, or opinions. These tendencies are not to be interpreted as symptomatic of a repressed antisocial attitude; they may be symptoms of physical decline.
Some of the elderly members may think that the content of the sermon preached or some of the church policies adopted are not in harmony with the principles of the church. They can be quite critical in their attitude.6 The sympathetic pastor who can explain new things clearly and gradually is able to remove much misunderstanding. In most cases the differences are found in semantics rather than in doctrine and inner conviction.
INFLUENCE ELDERLY PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH TO DEPOSIT THEIR MONEY IN THE BANK OF HEAVEN
One of the personality characteristics of the aged is their strong tendency to hoard material things. 7 Feeling losses keenly, they desire to hold on to whatever they possess. But they should be reminded how to be unselfish and generous.
The local conference has appointed a special agency to provide legal advice on making 1 out wills and fulfilling Christian stewardship responsibilities. Much instruction along these lines has been clearly given through the Spirit of Prophecy writings. After studying this instruction, the elder or pastor, in cooperation with the conference stewardship secretary, should approach the elderly members about their duty in the disposition of means and property.8 Their children or close relatives may be invited to join in this confidential circle for consultation and planning. Much prayer is needed in dealing with this important business of our heavenly Father.
ENCOURAGE AGED CHRISTIANS TO MAINTAIN PURITY AND HOLINESS
In old age, sexual striving and excesses may become a source of physical sickness or psychoneurotic disorders.
An old and retired minister suddenly fell into sin with his "maidservant." A conference worker requested that he be disfellowshiped because of an affair with his office secretary. An aged theologian whose mind was preoccupied with sex began to molest a teenage girl to satisfy his psychosexual curiosity. Such tragedies can be prevented if our pastors and elders are faithful watchmen, warning our elderly members, as well as workers, before they fall into the trap of Satan. How to help our senior Christians to be pure in heart in these last days presents a severe but challenging problem. 9
In principle, it is not best to mix old men and women together. When they are in a mixed group, close supervision must be provided. They should not read fiction. Their conversation must be noble and clean. Instead of sexual materials preoccupying their minds, they must have the Holy Spirit dwelling in their hearts, helping them to continue the work of sanctifkation begun in their younger years. The last few years may be more important than the first fifty or sixty years in the pursuit of holiness.
When one of these older ones falls into sin we may recall these words from the pen of inspiration." Aged men, once honored of God, may have defiled their souls, sacrificing virtue on the altar of lust; but if they repent, forsake, and turn to God, there is still hope for them." 10 Thank God for His mercy and for this reassurance and promise.
GET ELDERLY FOLLOWERS READY TO SLEEP IN CHRIST WITH PEACE AND HOPE
Elderly people suffer from geriatric diseases, general pain and discomfort, and a distinctly ambivalent feeling toward death. They often want die, believing they have nothing live for. They wish for cessation their physical and mental stresses, but when they feel the hour near, they become disturbed and afraid. They cling to others and want someone near at all times.
The precious promises found in Psalm 23, John 14:1- 3, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, and John 3:16 should be repeated often. Pray with the sick, using simple sincere language as a small child talking to his father. Recount the blessings that the Lord has showered upon him in the past. Review with him how he has spent the best portion of his life for the kingdom of God. Never fail to give him opportunity to praise the name of the Lord and to express his trust in His glorious return.
The visit should be brief and warm. Let the elderly sick feel the comfort and hope that come from the Great Physician and Savior through your facial and vocal expression. How you greet him or how you shake hands with him as you say good-by may convey to him more reassurance than you can express otherwise. Divine touch can reach him through the human hand that is sanctified with the love of God.
These nine areas demonstrate how important pastoral care is to the elderly. A conscientious pastor cares for his sheep and is willing to die for them. When he sees a wolf coming he acts quickly to drive the wolf away. He listens only to the voice of the Good Shepherd and keeps watch over the flock that the Holy Spirit has placed his charge. He is rewarded being able to bring his sheep safely into the fold.
1 K. Wolfe, The Biological, Sociological, an Psychological Aspects of Aging (Springfield, 111.: Charles C. Thomas, 1959), p. 3.
2 John 10:11-18; Eze. 34:11-16.
3 Evangelism, pp. 446,447.
4 Lev. 19:32; Prov. 20:29. See also "Aged Believers,""Aged Gospel Workers," and "Aged Person(s)" in Comprehensive Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White.
5 1 Tim. 4:7.
6 Evangelism, pp. 106, 107.
7 Testimonies to the Church, vol. 1, p. 423.
8 Ibid., vol. 4, p. 479; vol. 2, pp. 647,675; vol. 3, p. 116; vol. 7, pp. 295-298.
9 Welfare Ministry, p. 238.
10 Prophets and Kings, p. 84.
James D. Wang writes from Knoxville, Illinois, where he was the director of the Institute for Purposeful Living.