There is not much concern shown for the elderly in the preaching that I have heard in the last few years. At one time the elderly in our midst were considered valuable and important members whose wisdom was sought, cherished and followed and whose presence was an honor. Now, all too often, in our society which glorifies youth, they are looked upon as a burden. Frequently, that same attitude, unconsciously adopted, is extended to preaching.
Concerns of all of the members of the congregation should be mentioned in preaching. Just as Paul frequently speaks in categories of young men, young women, old men and old women, addressing those belonging to each according to their peculiar circumstances, so too should we be aware of the particular needs, problems and responsibilities of each (in his first letter John also makes such distinctions.) And we should be sure that what we preach is adapted just as regularly to the old as to the young.
What are some of the concerns of older persons to which we ought to direct our attention in preaching? Here is a list with which you may begin:
- Death—the fear of it, the biblical facts about it, the certainty of eternal life and eternal damnation, etc.
- Grief—proper and improper ways of grieving.
- Work—how to be useful in doing non-remunerative things for Christ.
- Pain and suffering—its meaning, how to endure it, etc.
- Sickness—why it comes, what can be done about it, the relationship of attitudes to sickness, etc.
- Wisdom—how it may be shared with others, especially the young.
- Grandchildren—what can be done to become a powerful influence for good in their lives.
- Time—how to use it wisely rather than frittering it away before the TV.
- Attitude—the importance of this, especially in relationship to children, in-laws and others.
- Weariness—how to avoid and how to handle it when it comes.
- Growth—how to keep from drying up in old age.
These are simply a few suggestions about the sorts of things that concern older persons and ought to concern others who must care for them. You may wish to preach some entire sermons on the biblical teaching concerning one or more of these areas, and in considering other topics, you might touch on any one of these areas illustratively. You do not always have to single out the elderly by name, but you must deal with their interests (obviously, their interests also are interests to others.) Yet, it is wise at times to speak to them directly. That is true especially when they are likely to plead age as an excuse to call what you have said generally, “not applicable to older persons.” Should you suspect the possibility of such a response, you might anticipate it and cut it off at the gate by saying something like this:
Now I know that there may be some of you more elderly folk out there who are saying to yourselves ‘Well, that’s fine for the young folk, but I’ve served my time. I just don’t have the gumption to get up and do things that I once did …’ Let me tell you that there is a place for every person in this congregation to serve Christ. We’re not planning to wear you out—we need you older members for a lot of projects around here—no, you’re too valuable to us for that. But, we do have some tasks that are suited to you and that I am certain you will be excited to do for Christ. Let me tell you about some of them . . .
You see, preaching like that holds the elderly in respect. They are noted as persons of value to the congregation (they are so long as Christ gives them life); they are considered when allocating tasks for congregational projects; their tasks are suited to their age and they are not allowed to use age as an excuse for not serving Christ. All of these factors—but especially the last—are of importance in conserving and utilizing the wisdom and energy of older Christians in the church.
But while there is also need to preach to them directly about their ills and ailments, etc., perhaps it is even more powerful to use exemplary and illustrative material about older persons incidentally. Pleasant incidents about the joy that an aged saint gave to those who were with her on a hospital ward might be mentioned illustratively. The witness of an older person that led a youth to Christ may be held up as an example. How an older person adapted to a very difficult change with Christian flexibility might be used powerfully for the benefit of all. (“If he, at his age, in his circumstances could do that, what of some of the rest of you younger members who are complaining that your lives are too routinized to alter? Once again it seems that it is our older people who are setting the pace for the rest of us.”)
And, it certainly wouldn’t do any harm when preaching about Abraham to point out incidentally how much God expected of a very old man, and how—by the grace of God—Abraham was enabled to do everything that was expected of him. That God expects much of older persons today ought to be emphasized.
When preaching to older persons there is wisdom in using illustrative material from the days when they were young. You will capture their attention and hold it raptly if you do. You don’t have to preach it as “the good old days,” but you certainly should learn something from such an expression about the interest that older persons have in times past.
One final suggestion: you ought always to be concerned about the hearing of the older members of your congregation and you should be sure that they can hear what you say. Don’t assume that they can hear because they don’t complain; they maybe too embarrassed by their hearing impairments to do so. Ask them. There is no excuse for people failing to hear because of poor acoustics, faulty sound systems, etc. Today, all such problems can be solved easily. Be sure they are. And, when you have something in a sermon that is especially for them, it is good to speak loudly, slowly, distinctly and in a low pitch. I stress the latter because the ability to hear sound at a high pitch usually disappears first in the elderly.
So, what am I saying? Simply this: keep older persons in mind as you prepare your sermons. It is all too easy to focus on the young as the rest of our worldly society has been doing. But the church, and (especially) its minister, ought to know better.