3 ways we can bring the gospel to the elderly

February 7, 2019

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there will be more people over age 65 than children by 2035. This swell in the aging population is what some are calling the “grey tsunami.” But I think Jesus would call it the white harvest. In the coming years, onr in every five residents in the U.S. will be elderly. Our neighborhoods, churches, and hospitals are filling with the boomers of the 1940s to 1960s. But is the church looking to reach them?

I have had a general malaise brewing in me the last year about the overwhelming need of the rapidly growing elderly population in the U. S., both as a nurse and a Christian. I work as a nurse in a hospital in Sun City West, Ariz., where the mean patient age is 72. Every day I’m overwhelmed by the needs of our elderly population. Stroke, heart disease, infection, diabetes and disability leave almost all of my elderly patients in need of 24-hour care when they discharge from the hospital.

Most of my patients do not have younger family members available to help them. Many are being cared for by their elderly spouses because their adult children don’t live in the same state. Many are without financial resources to pay for the care they  need. These long-retired citizens, moms, dads, teachers, service men and women, nurses, secretaries, engineers, and more all find themselves in need of help with no one to give it.

I often hear from these elders, “Why is this happening to me?” and, “Don’t get old!”  Many have a history of going to church and might even call themselves Christians, but is the gospel of Christ giving them hope as they face the rapid decay of their bodies?

There is a mission field surrounding the church in America. Many of them will not enter our gatherings because they can’t. They fill long-term care facilities, group homes, rehab facilities, skilled nursing facilities, memory care facilities, hospitals, and, if they are wealthy, 55+ resident communities. The poor often live in trailer parks on the fringes of our towns and in homes with their relatives who are tired and weary of the constant care they require.

So what can we do? Where should we start? I suggest at least three avenues we should take to work at harvesting souls among the elderly in the U.S.

1. Christian healthcare workers, use your gifts to heal and serve the elderly

I wanted to be a midwife when I went into nursing 18 years ago. I worked in a labor and delivery unit for several years and couldn’t bear the thought of doing anything else in nursing. When I began working in Arizona at my local hospital, I kept wanting to go back to women and infant nursing. Babies are cute. Old people aren’t always cute. But the draw of the Holy Spirit on my heart to serve these bent and broken, infirm and often bitter elderly image-bearers overwhelmed me.

Yes, there is a need for healthcare workers in serving women and babies, but there is an even greater need for healthcare workers to serve the old, the least glamorous part of healthcare. Caring for the needs of a human body decaying from age, disease, and memory loss is undignified and laborious.

When Jesus set out to preach the coming of the kingdom in Matthew 9, he went about healing and addressing physical needs. Seeing the lack of help and guidance the people had, he called for his disciples to see the harvest of souls surrounding them and pray for workers to go there. I pray God will call your attention,Christian doctors, nurses, therapists, assistants, to the lost and helpless elderly and send you to work in that harvest.

2. Repent of not sharing the gospel with the elderly just because they’re advanced in years

I lived for awhile with the subconscious idea that when you’re old you don’t sin anymore. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I don’t think I’m the only one who falsely—or subconsciously—assumed the elderly aren’t in need of the gospel. But working in the hospital with the elderly, I see a prevailing sin among many: pride. There is pride about being old, having paid their dues, and now expecting life and people to treat them well. They can be bitter, entitled, and angry.

While complaining about the ugliness of the sin I was seeing in my elderly patients, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I was assuming they shouldn’t be sinners just because they’re old. The truth is, sin doesn’t go away with age; it sometimes gets more entrenched. The elderly, as a result, need the gospel just as much as anyone; they need their sin to be exposed and forgiven.

One centurian patient I had was so angry that she was still alive in her fractured body that we had to put her on a suicide precautions. As I assessed her, asking the standard questions we healthcare professionals ask to screen for suicidal thoughts, she expressed her anger: “What’s the point of being here? I don’t want anyone to take care of me!” At that moment I got on my knees beside her bed and asked if she’d heard the story about Jesus. “Have you ever thought about the fact that God chose to send his son as an infant, totally dependent on others to care for him?” I asked. “Have you thought that maybe it is God’s will for you to be dependent on others now?” A little light flickered in her clouding eyes, and she thanked me for making her think about something she hadn’t thought of before.

3. Connect your church’s kids ministry to the elderly  

This serves a dual purpose: it renews the vitality of the old and brings hope to the young. Psalm 71 is a psalm I call “The Heart of the Silver-Headed Saints.” The psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness to him from childhood and expresses his desire to keep living by that faithfulness even into his elderly years:

“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. . . . But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more . . . So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psa. 71:9, 14, 18)

I serve as the leader of our kids ministry at my local church. We are a growing church plant and have lots of young families, but we have a handful of healthy retired folks, and our building is next door to a retirement facility that includes a locked memory care facility. In general, connecting the kids and young families to the elderly, even those with dementia, is not the first step in getting your members involved in kids ministry. It should be, though.

In Titus, Paul teaches the older women and men to turn from their retirement mentality and invest their lives in those young families that are always marching noisily back to their classrooms on Sunday morning. We need elderly saints to proclaim the power of God to us. Mothers and fathers with toddlers need to hear of the faithfulness of God from aged lips. They need to be reminded that God is working all things together for their good to conform them to the image of his son.  

Young church, go to the elderly ones who are confused, infirm, and shut-in. Sit with them. Listen to their stories. Read the Psalms to them. Pray with them. Sing with them. Give them the opportunity to remember the hope of the resurrection of Christ our Lord! Surely we are closer than we were before to the day of our Lord’s return. Pray that the Lord of this harvest would send his workers to bring his older children home.

“. . . even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isa. 46:4).

Sheila Dougal

Sheila Dougal lives in Surprise, Arizona, with her husband and two sons. She serves as the kids ministry director at her local church and is a registered nurse, soapmaker, and lover of naps. She writes about her hope, marriage, depression, nursing, and publishes poetry at her blog Sojourning Sheila. Read More

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