To better understand Evangelism for the Elderly, Strength 2 Strength (S2S) met with a few Pastors and Ministry Leaders who are involved with ministry to the Elderly to get their views and input in understanding how to ministry to these very special people.
Meet Larry & Opal Winebrenner
Larry has had wide and varied experiences in life that have all worked together to make him uniquely qualified to share with us on ministering to the elderly.
He has retired from the US Navy, is a retired Methodist Pastor, retired college Professor and retired Chaplin to the elderly and presently an avid novelist. (To read about Larry’s book – The Case of the Locked Drawer – click here!).
Larry has worked as a Chaplin for the Epworth Village Retirement Community for over 5 years and shares with us from his wealth of experience working with the Elderly.
S2S: How did you get involved in ministering with the Elderly?
Larry: While I was still a student at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, I learned that the---then, now United---Methodist Church provided opportunities for people to get a License to Preach. College and seminary students with a License to Preach could be assigned to churches as “Student-Pastors.” I got my license, transferred to LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia and was appointed to a three-point charge. That’s a combination of three churches assigned to one pastor.
My ministry to the elderly began there in the churches at Mountville, Big Springs, and Odessadale. To get to know the members I began visiting all the members regularly and found out that many of them were elderly. The elderly just wanted to talk and my very important role was to listen.
S2S: Share with us some of your earlier experiences ministering with the elderly?
Larry: The visits were important to them, especially shut-ins. When I visited I would just talk about any topic they wanted to talk about. I remember one member was almost deaf and I had to talk to him at a scream. Got hoarse by the time the visit ended.
A turning point for me was when a shut-in I visited often (I had developed a very good relationship with him) committed suicide. I felt very badly about that and got little counseling from other Pastors on how to deal with it. In the end I left the ministry.
S2S: How did you move on from there, Larry?
Larry: For a while I did odd jobs but then was persuaded by a Pastor to begin preaching again in the Florida Keys and ended up becoming the Pastor of that church.
S2S: That was quite an experience; some might say “baptism” into ministering to the elderly but you moved on. What are some of the ways God prepared you for this ministry?
Larry: I see the hand of God preparing me for ministry throughout my life, starting with my maternal Grandmother. She was a strong Christian woman who declared from early on, I should be a preacher. I have also always had the influence of elderly folks in my life from a small child even from the days of Sunday School where my teachers were elderly.
Understanding People: Ministry to All Stages of Life
This book by Cheryl Fawcett, is a must read!
The book explores a brief introduction to human development from a Christian perspective. To view people in terms of their physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual characteristics contributes valuable insight for sharing the truths of God. The common stages of development are presented in eleven easy-to-read chapters with practical applications for ministry.
At Strenght2Strength we recommend this book as a tools to prepare you to evangelize. It helps us to understand where people are at and how to met their specifics needs as we minister or evangelize.
Note, I said ministry. I don’t sort my ministry into categories. Different age groups have different needs, I recognize that. But all people need the love and mercy of God. One must always keep that in sight. When folks talked about attracting youth because “they are the future of the church,” I always replied, Elderly people need to “be attracted,” too. They are as much the future of the church as anyone.”
S2S: Who is “the elderly”? What marks their status and what are some of their struggles?
Larry: The “elderly” are not a specific age group. Some people in middle life act out roles commonly associated with the aged. But they do not have the experience, accumulated wisdom, and dedication we often see in “the elderly”. Yes, elders struggle with health issues, debt, family concerns, and approaching demise. But they also have strength, resources, experience and a deep, abiding faith to help them through these struggles.
S2S: How was your ministry focused? What were your goals?
Larry: Generally, my ministry has focused on pastoral care---visitation in the home and hospital, personal counseling, family advisement---but I’ve also always loved to preach.
At Epworth where I last ministered as Chaplin, I was responsible for preaching on Sundays as well as morning devotionals 5 times /week. I counseled on many and varied topics. Simple discussions would often lead to more serious spirituals ones, BUT most of all I did listening more than anything else.
A lot of people are alone and had not made many friends in the community. So I spent some time starting and encouraging groups e.g. for those who had lost their spouses. I also brought in experts in varying areas. Found myself as Recreation Chairman and arranged trips out to visit Key West or dinner trips; birthday parties, concerts etc. As Chaplin I sat on the Board and had opportunity to give spiritual advice.
It did have its challenges and opportunities for learning. For example, one guy dropped out. Found out it was because he could not hear – he wore a hearing aid, and could not hear in the discussions. I did not understand the difference that makes, but I do now! See, I now wear a hearing aid.
Now I know that with a hearing aid, all sounds are magnified equally. So, if you were sitting at a table talking and dropped a spoon, you would hear it clearly, but wouldn't pay much attention, however one wearing hearing-aids notices everything that is magnified, regardless of volume. You may not notice clattering dishes on a table being cleaned across the room from where you speak even though you hear them. Through hearing-aids, they're heard and noticed and the noticed sound interferes with the understanding of the conversation. Just a wee bit of advice if you have to minister to an elderly with hearing aid.
S2S: What is the key to developing a new ministry? Any pitfalls to be aware of?
Larry: The basic key is getting to know the people. I made it my practice to pray for each person daily. Soon after Pastoring a group I had the names of every member memorized. Two pitfalls are inconclusive information about members, and unrecognized vicious gossip. Pastors need to know about family and individual problems faced by members of a congregation. They do not need lies and implications.
In the case of my own early experience, if I were to counsel a young Pastor who had a similar incident e.g. suicide, I know what they need most of all is a listening ear, I can’t make the decisions for them but I can listen and support them through the process.
I would ask them to tell me the whole story, sharing their feelings about what happened and their feelings now. Discuss with them what they want to do, how do they feel about the support they received or did not receive, try to understand why they came to me; what is the underlying question or decision. Encourage them to answer that question or make that decision about their life.
S2S: Is there a difference between ministering to the elderly and evangelising the elderly?
Larry: Always been a puzzle at the difference made. Everyone has basic needs that need to be met as well as spiritual needs.
Every ministering act is an act of evangelism. It is a mistake to believe one can “evangelize” without sharing the loving behaviour considered “ministering,” and to believe that ministry of any kind is void of evangelistic characteristics. After all, evangelism is simply revealing God’s love so abundantly that one wants to be in that God’s circle.
Feed the poor, clothe the naked, befriend the stranger, aid the sick, hug the lonely, visit the imprisoned are just some of the ways our group reaches out to all in the community. It is God who wins one into the Lord’s circle of love---sometimes through us, sometimes without us.
S2S: From your experience, is there a difference between being the one ministering to the elderly and being the elderly ministered to?
Larry: Yes and no. Christian-love ministers to everyone with whom we come into contact. If the person for whom you are ministering is a Christian, their contact is a healing one for the minister. But God’s love is not restricted to those who are Christian. Many a-time I’ve left a counselling session feeling the non-Christian I visited was more Christian in nature than I was.
S2S: From your experience describe an effective senior adult ministry leader.
Larry: First of all we should note that - Our goal is obedience, not success.
A senior-adult ministry leader first and foremost is one grounded in a firm faith in God.
S2S: Thank you so much Larry for taking the time to share your insights with us.
If you have further questions on ministering to the elderly and would like to contact Larry Winebrenner directly you may do so at firstname.lastname@example.org