Skillman’s Retirement Ministry

What one should call an “older adult ministry” in a local church has always been a challenge because society views the terms describing later life as negative. In the past I have utilized the name “senior adult ministry” because it received the least negative responses. James Knapp, in his book, Understanding the Generations, reveals the folly of such nomenclature. We have tied this ministry to an AGING GENERATION, instead of a STAGE OF LIFE through which all of us hopefully will move. Instead of “senior adult ministry,” perhaps “retirement ministry” is a more positive and accurate description of what follows.

The ministry for “senior citizens” at the Skillman Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas, began in the 1970’s as an effort to meet the nutritional needs of some of their home-bound members and to provide meals for funerals. Two social activities for retirees also began about that time—namely, monthly potluck dinners followed by entertainment plus several bus trips a year. Those active in this group were called “Thirty-Niners.”A new paradigm of how to work with retirees began in 1992, when we received the blessing of the elders to begin a ministry not only TO older adults but also WITH them. The focus is now on those who are well and can serve, in addition to the infirmed. Healthy older members are encouraged to minister to their peers who are frail, to serve intergenerationally as mentors to persons who are younger and less experienced, and through a variety of ways be a blessing to the neighborhood. Thus, the ministry is primarily other-person-centered, and volunteerism becomes the center of this new approach.Many people in our country assume that older adults have less value than others in society because they are judged to be beyond their productive years. The Church’s message to mature adults, while spoken in softer tones, is all too often much the same. We as church leaders have not been taught about this subject and thus have allowed the testimony of the world to become the norm for Christians by default. When we expect little from those in their retirement years, they usually live up to the expectations of their church leaders.In Skillman’s retirement ministry all activities arise from three component parts—social, service, and spiritual. As these areas are developed in various ways, we end up fulfilling the Great Commandments of loving God and our fellow man, as well as the Great Commission of making disciples for Christ. The point, of course, is that retirement ministry IS the church at work; that is, re-engaging older members back into the live and functioning body of Christ.Social activities of Christian senior adults are both with their peers and with those in other age groups. Intergenerational activities include events like our yearly Sweetheart Banquet, where teens host a dinner for the older brothers and sisters and entertain them with a skit or some other presentation. Thursday Night Live is an activity for all ages where every-other-month a dinner and a performer highlight the evening. Older members schedule the show, prepare the main entrée, and host the gathering. Social activities with peers include events like Senior Game Day, which is a weekly bridge party and lunch at the Church, van or bus trips to interesting local and distant locations, and a monthly visitation of our members who now reside at Christian Care Center, which is twelve miles away in Mesquite.Service activities include ministry to older members by the church as well as senior adults serving others. Care Partners is a major ministry to our more than forty shut-ins. The goal here is to establish a relationship between our home-bound members and some of our more mobile church people. In addition, we have a retired physician and an experienced care-giver who serve shut-ins whose needs are greater. We encourage a wellness mentality among our older members by means of a number of events and activities. We have a three-times-a-week morning exercise program and a corresponding Parkinson’s class. Skillman also hosts a yearly wellness seminar and health fair and bi-monthly Sandwich Generation Luncheons that brings education to those who need it most.

The spiritual side of the ministry includes age related Sunday morning Bible classes, a Monday Bible study in a nearby retirement center, and a Thursday breakfast devotional in a restaurant. We make certain that home-bound members get Sunday worship audio tapes and the Lord’s Supper, if they desire. Currently, we are learning how to put the worship assembly on DVDs for distribution among retirement communities and the shut-ins. Several have made foreign mission trips to Romania, Eastern Europe, and Austria. Hospital visitation and funerals are seen as opportunities to deepen relationships and meet important needs. Relationships are being made with neighborhood people and organizations in hope of serving and sharing Christ. Some of our ministries are even targeted toward non-members. By meeting needs and demonstrating our love for others through these actions, we believe the gospel will be more readily received.

When we encourage people to be volunteers, we are not taking something from them; instead, we are giving something to them. In short, it is good for the Good Samaritan to be good. When people serve others as a lifestyle, it literally lengthens their lives, makes them hurt less, raises their spirits, and gives them a needed purpose in life. It also blesses the individuals they serve, the church family, and the community at large. Finally, it brings glory to our Heavenly Father. Imagine the sense of well being and the energy a congregation will receive if many of its older members develop close relationships as they serve one another and those in the neighborhood.

One last point—we have learned to network with others outside the local church and look for the triple win. For example, we network with a nearby retirement community.

  1. I recruit older people from our congregation to live there, and they receive a substantial discount each month.
  2. The retirement center has a never ending supply of residents.
  3. With twenty-plus members in one facility, they help each other, making my ministry with them easier.

Similarly, we network with a neighborhood senior health medical center to obtain personal trainers to teach an inexpensive exercise program, and the Emeritus Program at a local college provides our older members with computer training. We do the same with a home health agency, a sitter service, and area churches who have similar ministries. Networking broadens the base of services Skillman people receive. When these relationships are developed and trust established, it functions very much like a ministry of the Church, except non-members are doing the serving to our people and their friends.

The ultimate goal of retirement ministry is to stop functioning as a parallel older church and mainstream the work. In this manner all activities become a part of the local church’s ministry, with all generations working together for the common good and to the glory of God.

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