3 ways to elevate the dignity of senior adults in our churches

January 19, 2022

“Getting old is not for sissies!” That’s what Charlie, who’s north of 90 years old, tells me just about every time I see him. Despite his infectious smile and magnetic personality, there’s a tenderness in his eyes that says life is hard.

Driving a vehicle is tenuous. Preparing meals is a challenge. Sleeping through the night does not happen. Health challenges layer on top of one another. Tasks that used to be simple now require more effort, and new technology is frustrating.

But getting older doesn’t just come with physical constraints. Charlie and Barbara have been married for over six decades. They’ve reared three children. They were active in their church and community for decades. They traveled and built life-long friendships. Yet now because of health concerns and lack of mobility, being alone is a consistent part of their lives. 

The physical and emotional isolation among the aging can go largely unnoticed and underappreciated by those who are younger and still active in local church life. As we develop programs to engage children and young families and as our ministry efforts feature online or virtual connections, we can miss the opportunity to deepen in fellowship with our more senior brothers and sisters in Christ. As winter sets in and as COVID concerns persist, this reality is only magnified.

The church community simply isn’t as accessible to senior adults, and therefore, isn’t a part of the daily or weekly rhythms of their lives. Yet, a minister’s calling to “shepherd the flock” is a multigenerational calling. It’s also an amazing opportunity to walk with seasoned believers during a spiritually formative time of their lives.

So, as we consider our ministry to senior adults, perhaps these simple practices will help our congregations grow in grace together.

Elevate senior adults by offering visible expressions of honor.

“You are to rise in the presence of the elderly and honor the old. Fear your God; I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32).

We find this verse tucked between the commands, “Don’t turn to spiritual mediums,” and, “Honor the resident alien.” Apparently, honoring senior adults is not a tertiary matter. And the specific command was to stand in their presence. Honoring the elderly isn’t just an attitude of the heart, but it is a visible and public expression of worship to the Lord.

The church exists today because of their sacrifice, so pastors and church leaders should honor seniors in various practical ways. For example, we can ask children to write “thank you” notes, or invite the congregation to rise and pray over senior adults during a morning worship service, or recognize the contribution of a senior adult’s tenured service. 

These visible and public acts of honor not only encourage the senior adults, but they train our hearts to honor our elders and emulate their devotion to the Lord. 

Elevate senior adults by inviting them to serve.

We often think about serving the practical needs of senior adults, and we should. No longer is it assumed that adult children live close enough to provide daily care for their aging parents. So it’s even more incumbent on the church to provide help when necessary.

Many senior adults, however, do not need extra help. What they do need is the opportunity to continue contributing to the kingdom during this season of their lives. The psalmist asked of the Lord, “Don’t discard me in my old age. As my strength fails, do not abandon me” (Psa. 71:9). Likewise, we shouldn’t forget these older saints. Rather than just considering how to serve them, perhaps we ask for their help in planning and executing the ministry of the church. Perhaps we invite seniors to co-labor in the gospel. 

Senior adults who have been walking with Lord for decades offer incredible wisdom. They have seen people and trends come and go. They have experienced God’s faithfulness over time. And while they may not be as active as they once were, their long obedience and proximity to heaven offer a perspective that is not only refreshing, but also extremely helpful as we make disciples of Jesus together.

Elevate senior adults by inspiring greater faith.

Our bodies are fading away, but the limits of our mortality do not limit our faith. The constraints on our physical usefulness do not diminish the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is why Paul was able to write, “Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). 

Imagine the encouragement this letter was to the aging saints of Corinth. These were words of life to those who felt their physical bodies waning. In the same way, church leaders and members alike can infuse senior adults with fresh faith for the challenges they face. One way we do this is by learning to sit together on a front porch or in a living room. We can listen, share stories, discuss hopes and fears, celebrate successes, and grieve losses. And then we remind one another the Lord is near, that his mercies are new, and that he will hold us fast. 

Our presence with our senior brothers and sisters serves as an icon for the abiding presence of God in their lives. 

King Solomon wrote, “Gray hair is a glorious crown; it is found in the ways of righteousness” (Prov. 16:31). The award ceremony need not be delayed until heaven. It begins now in our congregations as we highly esteem the most senior among us. 

Daryl Crouch

Following 28 years in pastoral ministry, Daryl Crouch now leads Everyone’s Wilson, a community transformation initiative that helps churches bring the whole community around every school so that every student, educator, and family can live whole. He’s married to Deborah, and they have four children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24