Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly. (Leviticus 19:32)
It has been said that the spiritual health of a congregation can be measured in its youth, while its spiritual wealth is measured in its elderly. These are the saints who have braved personal tragedies and heartache and yet remain to encourage others. Even as they experience serious health issues, seniors are often the ones who best display how to put your very life in the hands of the Saviour.
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isaiah 46:4)
It’s critical local churches prioritize their care.
How can our younger and healthier members be an encouragement to their parents’ and grandparents’ generation? How can we help them deal with the loss of a spouse, concerns for children and grandchildren, finances and loneliness?
For the past few years my wife and I have had the pleasure of leading a Bible study for seniors. Although the pandemic has changed everyone’s circumstances right now and for the near future, the lessons we learned remain relevant and can still be implemented online or with social distancing measures in place.
A warm, non-threatening atmosphere is crucial to the success of any Bible study – where everyone feels at home and no one will ever be embarrassed by not answering questions, praying audibly, reading verses, etc. Attendees must feel sure they will never be buttonholed or forced to take part until they feel completely comfortable in doing so.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)
Scheduling can also be critical. Before the pandemic came, our group met regularly on a weekday afternoon because most participants are retired and prefer not to drive after dark.
For in-person gatherings, a central location is also important – we use the church building instead of a member’s home. We helped build a homey atmosphere by providing coffee, tea and snacks.
At our Bible study, people begin to arrive 15 minutes early, then for the next half-hour or so we relax, chat and catch up. Fellowship and encouragement are important at any age, but perhaps most especially for seniors, as isolation and loneliness is often a demoralizing reality. When everyone is settled, we begin.
Our sessions have often centred around a video series by the likes of Max Lucado, Chip Ingram and Ray Vander Laan. A typical series is six sessions, each about 30 minutes. Subjects have included heaven, the real God, the mission of Jesus, and living your glory days now.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:18)
My wife and I typically prepare together, previewing the video (sometimes more than once) and preparing a summary/question sheet to guide the discussion (or adapting an existing study guide). We always make sure the questions are clear and relevant.
In the group discussion after watching the video together, we try to provide opportunities for members to share their own insights and experiences.
Our Bible studies typically open in prayer and last about 60 minutes. At the end we also share our needs and concerns and support one another in prayer.
Beyond the weekly study
Extra meetings outside the weekly sessions can also be very beneficial – a phone call between individuals or couples, or a get-together after Sunday service for lunch at a nearby restaurant.
They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green. (Psalm 92:14)
My wife organized a luncheon for 20 women just before we started back up in the fall, a wonderful kick-start for our Bible study season. Normally our group gets together for a meal in a local restaurant at Christmas and just before our summer break.
Being involved in this ministry has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my Christian life. The people who attend are some of the most gracious, godly men and women I have ever met. It has also been encouraging to see the Lord blessing us as we gather weekly to encourage one another, learn more of our Saviour and pray for one another’s needs.
Visit the widows in their affliction. (James 1:27)
It may seem obvious that every church should prioritize a ministry with seniors, yet we do need reminders to do it or to examine how well it is being done. These are the godly men and women who have followed their Saviour faithfully for decades, and in their declining years need our love and attention more than ever.