By / Nov 16

When we moved overseas, we began to taste how generous hospitality can be. Sitting on drab floor cushions in sparsely-furnished homes, we were welcomed into the lives of the Roma of Eastern Europe. Roma live hand-to-mouth, and even then, what they make today is often not enough for their meals tomorrow. Despite our protests and attempts to visit without sharing a meal, they had joy and honor in feeding us as their guests. Their generosity humbled us every time.

Receiving such sacrifices convicted us of our selfishness. I began to see how closely I held what we had. I wasn’t just hoarding the food we had; I was also hoarding our space, our time, and our gifts. God was teaching me that everything I had belonged to him and was not mine to be accumulated for my family alone. 

But more than stirring a desire to imitate the Roma’s welcoming hospitality, I realized how the Christian’s hospitality has a bigger purpose: to preach the gospel of Christ who poured out everything for us. 

I’d love it if I was a natural hostess who always had a clean house, delicious meals, and cooperative children. My husband and I are introverts, our house gets messy more quickly than we can clean it, and it often feels scary to give others an up-close look at our sinful family. Opening our home can take a lot out of not just me but the whole family. If it’s hard, why practice it?

Hospitality is biblical.

We are commanded to practice hospitality. Both Titus and 1 Timothy name hospitality as one of the requirements for a pastor, but elsewhere we see hospitality commanded to others within the body of Christ. Moreover, our hospitality is supposed to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). 

And we should not just offer hospitality to those we know, but also to people we’re unfamiliar with: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Heb. 13:2). Furthermore, the Bible is clear that how we open up our homes matters: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). 

Hospitality gives us opportunities to serve others. 

Service is a tangible way of loving one another. When we serve, we are humbling ourselves and putting the needs and desires of another in front of our own (Phil. 2). Everyone in our family has opportunities to serve when we invite people into our space. My children have learned many lessons about taking care of the needs of others because of guests. 

Jesus, our Creator and Lord, was the perfect example of a servant. He healed the sick, he fed the hungry, he poured himself out until he was exhausted. He “did not come to be served, but to serve,” and his ultimate service was when he gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Serving is a way we can act like Christ and point others to him.

Hospitality helps us prioritize people over stuff. 

It can be hard to let people into our home sometimes. Hospitality can come at a cost. When we have another family over, we often use our resources to feed them. My children have slept on the floor to allow overnight guests to use their beds. We have had messes left by guests that we have to clean up (including the time a toddler dumped out every one of my children’s Legos) and broken toys that we replace with our money or have to do without. 

We have long had a family saying: “People are more important than things.” This is easy to say but hard to actually believe in our hearts because of our selfish flesh. The things we own are temporary, but people have eternal souls and bear God’s image. When we have people in our home, we try to remember the significance of our stuff pales in comparison to the significance of our guests (Luke 12:15; Matt. 625-34). 

Hospitality allows us to deepen discipleship relationships.

Many of the people we have over are members of our church and have covenanted with us to encourage one another in our faith. A different facet of discipleship is caught in our home when people get to watch our family interact with each other, deepening what is taught when we study the Bible and pray together. Real life happens in our home amongst our family, and welcoming people into it is the best way to give insight into how our family functions, in all the messy ways. 

Inviting people into our home means that we cannot so easily hide our lives behind a facade presented on Sunday morning, but rather those close to us can see what we look like throughout the week and how we are trying, even as we stumble and falter, to follow Christ as a family.

Our children are also benefactors of this. Their relationships with people are strengthened when we have them in our home, allowing opportunities for our children to grow and learn from others as well. They also feel more at home within our church family because of how many people they’ve eaten meals and talked with at the dinner table. 

Hospitality provides the time and space to display and preach the gospel.

Hospitality is a means to display the gospel by using your home for the good of others. It is a way we can show what God has done and is doing in our lives. When we welcome others to our home, we have the opportunity to invite them to taste and see how good the Lord is. 

Like most Christians, we thank God before we eat for providing food to enjoy and sustain our bodies. We want to always remember that every good gift comes from him and that he alone is our provider. Remembering that God has provided our daily bread should turn our hearts to his ultimate provision: The broken body and spilled blood of Christ.

And that’s one of the sweetest parts of opening up our home: sharing testimonies about the Lord’s saving grace in our lives. We have heard stories about God’s faithfulness countless times while at our dining room table or in our living room. I am reminded that my salvation is a “gift of God, not a result of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). My children have heard how God brought people from all stages and walks of life to him. They’ve also watched us practice evangelism in our house around our normal activities. 

My family has been changed by welcoming others into our home. We’re still having our sin revealed to us and being sanctified through our attempts at hospitality, but we’ve settled into a happy family rhythm that includes people who don’t share our last name. Our kids regularly think of people who we need to have over and how we might serve them. It isn’t always easy, even after having hundreds of people in our home, but it is always worth it. 

By / Sep 13

Fady Al-Hagal was born and raised in Damascus, Syria, mere steps away from the house of Judas where the Apostle Paul came after meeting his Lord on the road to the city (Acts 9). Although Al-Hagal was aware of many things about Christianity in this context, he never experienced a personal relationship with Christ until a pastor in Martin, Tennessee, began to take interest in the young Syrian man who was attending his congregation in 1983. 

Today Al-Hagal serves as the executive director of the International Leadership Coalition, a ministry focused on creating awareness of the international community in Middle Tennessee, supporting international ministers in the United States and creating partnerships between the the international church and local church in the States. 

Over 300,000 internationals live in the area of Middle Tennessee, with 91 people groups represented in Nashville alone. Al-Hagal’s ministry regularly connects him with immigrants and refugees in the state and Christians all over the world. He is currently ministering to local Afghani families that are still trying to help their relatives leave Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as corresponding with Christians leaders who have remained in the embattled nation.

He shared with the ERLC his perspective on the Afghani church, as well as the ways Christians and local churches can serve refugees.

Jill Waggoner: What are you hearing from Afghani believers? What is the ILC doing at this time? 

Fady Al-Hagal: We are trying to provide instant humanitarian support for people who are wanting to come out [of Afghanistan]. We have an active efforts to generate resources and support for things like flights or transportation to nearby nations. 

We are also in communication with several house churches in the underground church of Afghanistan where the believers have decided that it is their mission to stay. According to history, any time there is a shift politically, historically, geographically, there is always a shift spiritually. Just as it was after 9/11, for example, the Holy Spirit brought about an awakening and an awareness, and the underground church was empowered through suffering and endurance to continue the mission. Many believers in Afghanistan and the surrounding nations feel like these coming few months are critical to reimpress the story of the gospel into the hearts of those who are searching. This type of shifting politically creates an opening for the gospel spiritually, and many people will be open to hear where mercy, goodness, purpose and eternity can be found. 

The physical danger is awakening many to the fact that they need to examine their safety and survival eternally. Is it found in the religion they grew up with and had no choice in? The gospel provides them with a will and a choice to follow. Many believe this is our time and what we do today is what will last for generations in Afghanistan and the surrounding nations.

JW: How can American Christians remain involved after the public attention has faded from Afghanistan?

FA: Believers in the West should become involved with refugees in four ways:

1. Practically: We must engage the suffering nations, such as Afghanistan. This is the ‘what’ we need to do. First, we must learn. What is a refugee? What do they go through? Why do they leave? Most people don’t know that a refugee is a person who has been pushed out because of race, religion, nationality, or social affiliation. What do they go through to get to America? What are the stages? What is their experience like? They have tough decisions to make, and they must make them instantly. There is a lot of waiting. And when they do arrive in a new place, a refugee has to live with a new identity, most often in a place where they don’t speak the language. It is good for American believers to know what refugees, as well as immigrants, go through. Then we are able to better relate to them and learn how to assimilate them in a healthy way. 

Secondly, we must practice the goodness of God to refugees. This means you take the fruit of the Holy Spirit and flesh it out: peace, kindness, long-suffering. Practice hospitality in a way that their ethnic community understands. This requires relationships and availability. 

2. Ethically: ‘Why’ are we doing this? Our mandate comes from no other place than the Word of God. God cares about the alien and sojourner. He is the provider to those who are vulnerable (See Psa. 9; 146:9; Deut. 10:18; Isa. 25; 58:6-11; Luke 10) Scriptural mandates give us the ethical reasons for why we do what we do. We demonstrate God’s love for those in need. We become God’s ambassadors to fulfill what he desires in people’s lives. We become God’s healing agents for those who have gone through suffering and persecution. We become God’s way of bringing joy and celebration in people’s lives. We become an expression of God’s kingdom to people who have never known there was another. We display God’s peace to people who haven’t had peace. We show God’s sufficiency to those who are without. 

3. Intentionally: Our engagement must become intentional, having direction and goals to accomplish. We should all have the missionary spirit about us. Not everyone is going to another country, but every believer in America should have a missionary spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Great Commission Spirit, making disciples of all nations. The missionary spirit leads us to the ‘where’ we should go and makes us consistently aware that we have a mission to fulfill. This is why some Afghani believers are remaining in the country, but also why others are headed into Pakistan. The missionary spirit is leading them. The church in America needs to come alive to the missionary spirit inside of us so that he can lead us to our neighbors, as well as the refugees in our midst.  

4. Eternally: If things are shifting all around us, they are not shifting in the story of God. In spite of calamities and disasters, the kingdom is the Lord’s, and he rules over the nations (Psa. 22:28). God will give Jesus the nations as his inheritance (Psa. 2). Even if the nations rage against God and his anointed, God’s eternal mission hasn’t changed. He is not willing that any would be lost but that all would come to salvation in Jesus (2 Pet. 3:9).  He desires that all mankind would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). This means we present the gospel to all. The body of Christ needs to stay focused. While we hand [out physical] bread, we remember that the eternal bread is Jesus Christ. While we give clothing and shelter, we remember that eternal shelter is through Jesus. 

We [must be] prepared in prayer and ask God for opportunities to share our story. We are to be prepared by being informed and not just instructed. Take the time to learn and discern what needs to happen—not just instructed by news, but informed by the Holy Spirit. Learn the people groups in your city. Learn how to associate with them and how to help them assimilate. And at some point, we are called to invite them into the hope of Jesus Christ. There are some organizations that will shy away from this point, but this is our mandate. Many people will feel cheated if you do not invite them to follow Christ. They have been longing for the message of freedom all their lives. Let the Holy Spirit guide you.

JW: What can a reader do to become involved in this type of ministry in their city?

FA: Connect with nonprofits with a gospel intention, like ILC, or other resettlement ministries who serve refugees. They have practical programs to help you get started. Look for churches that are actively involved in international communities. Retired missionaries are an amazing resource who can educate us about people groups, as well. 

The most important thing is for every church to make margin in their ministry life to “do international missions” locally, training their people to look for internationals they can serve in their own communities. When the church makes that an intentional purpose, the missionary spirit is developed, and people will create their own mission opportunities. 

By / Jul 27

The economic effects from COVID-19 will reverberate for many years, and communities of color will feel them most powerfully. The Washington Post reports that 20% of Latinos—the highest reported demographic—were furloughed or laid off during the national quarantine. 

The Post also reports that 6 in 10 African American and Latino households said they didn’t have enough savings to cover three months of living. And while the government swiftly implemented the CARES Act to provide immediate economic assistance to American families and small businesses, even a few thousand dollars—the most a family could receive—doesn’t last long in the face of joblessness. Undocumented immigrants—a group of over 10 million people, according to Pew—were not eligible to receive funds at all.

At a time of intense national crisis, faith-based and secular nonprofits alike are demonstrating their value for those with nowhere else to turn. These entities offer Christians a collective way to care for those in need effectively and well. 

The Path Project

The Path Project, a Georgia nonprofit focused on helping children in low-income communities, wanted to help the families of the children they served and began reaching out to parents with obvious financial needs in the midst of COVID-19. 

“It was such an incredible blessing,” said Angelita Salgado, a single mother of five who received financial assistance from the Path Project, in a phone interview. “It’s hard to understand how someone could give so much and not expect anything in return.” 

Salgado is back to work part-time now, but covering the costs required for a family of six is substantial. In addition to the financial aid, she is grateful to the Path Project for offering her children laptops to finish out the school year with e-learning and providing educational resources and support for her family for the past seven years.

Ninety-five percent of nonprofits worldwide say they were affected negatively by COVID-19, but charities like the Path Project continue to work tirelessly with the resources they do have. Regardless of plunging contributions, nonprofits are less limited than government in their ability to help those locally in need, by raising money for specific needs quickly if necessary. 

Acts Housing

Acts Housing, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, launched into action as COVID-19 hit the nation, helping clients and community members maintain their homes in the face of job loss and economic stress. 

Angel Reyes, an immigrant from Veracruz, Mexico, has been out of work since his job at a catering business was suspended in March. He’s one of multiple families who received financial assistance from Acts in the form of a deferred mortgage payment. 

“I feel a lot more secure, and less stressed, because of the help I’ve received,” said Reyes, who lives with his wife, in a phone interview.

Even those who didn’t lose jobs are suffering from cut hours and economic uncertainty. According to Pew, 40% of Latinos—as opposed to 27% of the American population—were forced to take a pay cut at minimum, and 86% of Latino small business owners report significant negative impact on their businesses by the pandemic.

United Against Poverty

In Florida, where 4.5 million immigrants comprise 21% of the population, United Against Poverty (UAP) has been helping people in need through their emergency food assistance program and Member Share Grocery Center, which allows qualified families to select nutritious food and necessary household items free of charge. 

UAP reports that 58.4% of Florida students normally receive free or reduced meal programs, so their commitment to providing food assistance in the face of forced e-learning and summer break remains high. 

“People everywhere are stressed about being able to purchase groceries for their families,” reads a recent email newsletter, encouraging donors to keep contributions coming. 

UAP also hosts job training courses, a Crisis Care Management program, educational resources, and offers referrals to partner organizations when necessary. 

World Relief

On a larger scale, World Relief has been organizing wide-reaching outreach programs, partnering with churches and local food banks. They are providing legal aid over virtual platforms and helping with translation for information about disease prevention and providing financial aid for immigrant families, specifically those who are undocumented or recently immigrated without a recent tax filing status that would make them eligible for the CARES Act. 

Nonprofits like these offer stability for vulnerable families, even during an unprecedented scenario like the present worldwide pandemic. 

With an unsteady market and personal economic uncertainty, it can be easy to chop regular donations out of one’s budget, but think twice before slashing these kinds of line items. It’s important to remember how we, as Christians, can love our neighbors well through the organizations that are intimately aware of specific community and individual needs. The choices we make today will have long-term effects on families for years to come. 

By / Mar 27
By / Jun 8

Facing mental illness is not an easy process. Regardless of how informed we are, this process is not easy. Trying to walk this difficult journey by yourself only makes it harder. Often, in the arena of mental illness, what the church has to offer are not superior answers—if the problem is biological or environmental, the church should provide very similar advice as our secular friends in the mental health field.

While the initial guidance the church provides would, in many cases, be the same, the church should always provide a superior context of living out those answers—a sphere of relationships where everyone acknowledges we are broken people in need of redemption, thereby, negating the stigma that makes overcoming these struggles so painfully isolating. Counseling is never merely principles and suggestions; it is also a context that facilitates a journey.

That is the ideal; a stigma-free, redemptive community. But the question remains, “How do we produce more of that reality in our churches?” Unfortunately, as Amy Simpson says in her book Troubled Minds, mental illness is often the “no-casserole illness” in Christian circles; a form of suffering from which the church, uncharacteristically, moves away from suffering people instead of towards them.

One of the reasons we move away instead of towards people is confusion and uncertainty about what we should do. When we don't have good answers, it is often easier to just avoid the people who generate the questions. It is unlikely the church will offer the unique care of a redemptive community if its people are uninformed about and intimidated by mental illness.

A particular individual or church does not have to be able to do everything in order to do some very significant things powerfully well. Consider the example of someone in need of knee surgery. There is a surgeon who repairs the ligament; a physical therapist who helps the individual regain a full range of motion; family and friends who care for day-to-day needs and provide encouragement; and a physician who oversees the pain medicine management. A similar set of roles can exist in the struggle with mental illness.

This metaphor is not meant to imply that the church only plays the “friends and family” role. A given church, pastor or friend may be well-equipped to provide various levels of intensive soul care. But it is their responsibility to know the limits of their ability to help and be willing to invite other members on the care team with needed, supplemental expertise.

With that in mind, let’s consider many things that the church—as a corporate entity or through its personal relationships—is uniquely equipped to do. Many of these functions have little-to-no secular alternative; ongoing gatherings of adults for mutual encouragement and instruction are rare in our culture.

The church, corporately or through individuals, can:

1. Teach a balanced view of mental illness as a part of an ongoing education process. A church has many venues through which this education can occur. Mental health does not need to be the “focal point of the church” in order for the church to effectively disciple people in the care of their interconnected mind, soul, and body.

  • Sermon Illustrations: Speaking of depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, and other struggles in an informed, unstigmatized way will go a long way toward giving people the emotional freedom to talk about their struggle with friends and seek the help they need.
  • Testimonies: Someone sharing their story has a powerful influence on any group’s culture. As someone tells their story of wrestling with mental illness they should (a) speak of how personal faith, a community of care, wise care of their body, and counseling played a role in their recovery; and (b) clarify that this is their personal story and not necessarily the map of how God guides every person with a similar struggle in their pursuit of hope and wholeness.
  • Follow Up Blogs: A blog that follows up on a sermon or testimony can be a great way to connect people who still prefer to remain anonymous with helpful resources. The ultimate goal is to create an open community of care, but the process may involve facilitating many smaller steps in that direction. Here’s an example.
  • Adult Education Classes or Conferences: There are a growing number of excellent Christian books on various types of mental illness. These classes or events can simultaneously comfort and equip. Having classes like this communicates that your church is a “safe place” for these conversations and that these topics are a relevant part of living a God-honoring life.
  • Support Groups: While a class or event is educational (over-viewing a subject), a support group is therapeutic (taking someone on a journey). While support groups can create cliques within a church, they can also provide a context for a greater transparency as a next step toward more general authenticity. When starting these groups, a church would want to think through how to prevent a support group from becoming someone’s long-term community and, thereby, inadvertently reinforcing their struggle as their identity.

As you can see in the examples above, a church is a unique context for allowing people to become progressively known, instructed, and loved. Where else in our culture could each of these levels of education and connection be provided within a context of ongoing community?

2. Befriend those who are struggling with mental illness with multiple people so no one person carries the full weight of responsibility. We often fail to realize that no professional qualifications are required to be a friend. As Amy Simpson in Trouble Minds wrote, “When churches have antibiotic-like expectations for mental health treatment, they communicate, ‘go get treated, then you can come back and you can be a growing Christian with us.’”

3. Have a relationship that includes but transcends the struggle with mental illness. In a purely professional setting, a struggle with mental illness is why an individual is known and cared for. This adds to the stigma and results in a mindset that says I have to be “all better” to be known authentically. With a professional counselor or recovery group if you get better, you “graduate” from having people who know and care for you.

4. Help people sort their struggles into categories of sin, suffering, and identity which can be caused by biology, environment, or choice. Emotional unrest and embarrassment make it difficult to sort out how to best categorize struggles. One of the main goals for this presentation is to equip people for these conversations. The more these conversations can be had effectively in natural relationships the earlier people will receive care, the longer they will stick with their care, and less ashamed they will be to embrace the care God wants for them.

5. Attend a counseling session with your friend, take notes, gain an understanding of their struggle, and serve as an echo of key truths or practices recommended by the counselor. This would require the permission of your friend and the cooperation of the counselor. But many counselors are willing to cooperate with this kind of counseling-advocate model, and it can greatly enhance both the short-term and long-term effectiveness of counseling.

This list is not exhaustive. Instead, it is meant to be the beginning of a brainstorming exercise. But there is a danger in thinking through what the church could do: our personal initiative gets lost in the corporate possibilities. For instance, we think “the church ought to mentor underprivileged students,” but we don’t take the step of volunteering at the nearest school.

As you brainstorm possibilities, I would encourage you not to begin with programs your church could run or staff position that could be filled. Instead, begin with, “What conversations could I have about this material with someone I care about?” It may be as simple as following up on something they shared with you or seeking their help in sorting through a struggle you’ve not talked about.

Undoubtedly, mental illness is a difficult subject to address because of its complexity and highly personal nature. Everyone is affected by mental illness; either personally or someone they love. As a result, it is a subject that must be discussed and addressed in the church. Let’s not let our silence hurt people by leaving them to struggle in isolation.

This post is an edited excerpt from “Towards a Christian Perspective of Mental Illness,” which available for free in its entirety in both video presentation and PDF article formats.

By / Apr 10

Autism. It’s not an issue on your heart unless it strikes your family or someone you love. It’s not a topic on your radar unless you live with it day in and day out. It’s probably not something you think of in terms of ministry in your local church unless it affects those in your membership.

This month is Autism Awareness month, and it is an issue that every church should be aware of. 

Autism and its prevalence

Autism as a diagnosis has undergone some changes in the past year or so. In the most recent release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the name and criteria for diagnosis of autism was changed. Classical autism, Pervasive Development Disorder NOS and Asperger’s Syndrome are now included together under the same class, called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD is defined as a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors. It includes symptoms on a spectrum ranging from mild social challenges to that of more severe autistic symptoms, such as having a complete lack of speech. Its typical onset occurs around age three and continues throughout a person’s life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 68 children in multiple communities in the United States have been identified with (ASD). It is five times more common in boys than girls.

Autism and church ministry

With numbers like that it seems as though our churches should be bursting with children affected by ASD. Mine isn’t. Is your's?

Perhaps it’s because families who walk through the church door on Sunday morning with a child with ASD have different concerns. If their autistic child is highly sensitive to sounds, their child may struggle to sit in a sanctuary filled with the loud sounds of singing and musical instruments. If their child does not speak, they may be hesitant to send them to your children’s program. And if they tend to have tantrums in response to new environments and situations, this family may not walk through your doors to begin with.

But families who have children with ASD need the church. They need the support of the body of believers. They need gospel encouragement. They need to hear the preached word and be fed spiritually. They need the peace and rest that comes from being united to Christ.

So how can we serve such families?

  1. Educate Yourself: The best teachers about the issue of ASD are the parents themselves. Parents of children with ASD are used to advocating for their children. They are used to standing up for them and getting their needs met within the educational system. Ask them to teach you about ASD and what their child needs. Include them on decision making in developing programs, services and classes to meet those needs.
  2. Care for their children: The service and care that a church can offer depends greatly on its size and resources. For small churches, providing a class/nursery solely for a child with ASD may be the best option. I have attended churches where a nursery is provided for an autistic child. Trained volunteers stay with the child so their parents can attend the worship service. In larger churches, you may be able to provide an entire class for special needs children. If you have higher functioning children with ASD who are able to participate in a children’s church or Sunday school class, consider developing a “buddy system” where another helpful and responsible child is assigned to help them feel at ease and learn the ways of the classroom.
  3. Provide Respite: Parents of ASD children are tired. They are always on guard and always alert to their children’s needs. They are constantly advocating for their children. They are weary and worn and it impacts other areas of their life. Consider ways you can provide respite for these families so that the parents can go out on dates or go to needed appointments for their own needs or simply get needed rest.
  4. Consider it a ministry to your community: With the number of families impacted by ASD, it is a huge need in our communities. Consider specific ways your church can minister to those in your community. You can start by offering space for a parent support group. Make it known that you desire to help and serve such families. Parents who have children with ASD are more likely to attend a church that is aware and sensitive to the needs of their children.  

One in 68 children is a large number. Many families affected by ASD have to live life in isolation, apart from the church community. Take time today to consider how your church can create a safe and welcome relief to these families and show them that the hope and peace they have longed for and need is found in Christ.  

By / Jan 14

I attended a funeral for my great aunt this past summer.  She celebrated her ninety-eighth birthday right before she passed. Sitting there listening to one person after another share the story of how she impacted their life, I was surprised to see so many from her church in attendance.

Though she had been a member of a little Baptist church on the east side of Baltimore for decades, it had been many years since she was able to leave home for a service. I wondered how some of the younger church members even knew her. Yet, as I heard testimony after testimony of what my great aunt meant to them, I realized that the reason they knew her so well was because they had worshipped with her in her home.

According to the CDC, the elderly population in our nation is expected to increase over the next decade. “Two factors—longer life spans and aging baby boomers—will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years to about 72 million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 [percent] of the U.S. population.”

These population statistics have an impact on the Church as well. As the number of persons 65 years and older grows, the Church needs to be prepared to serve the increasing needs of its elderly members. In a mobile society that is no longer family centric, many of the elderly live far away from their children and support systems. This means that the Church has an important role in caring for the varying needs of the elderly, including, not only spiritual concerns, but health and mobility issues, emotional needs, and other practical concerns of daily life.

In a culture that values youth and vitality, the Church can reflect this priority as well. To be honest, the elderly are often unnoticed and overlooked. Those who are less active and mobile won’t be included in church functions. Those who struggle with chronic illnesses may be unnoticed when they miss church.  But the truth is, no matter a person’s age, each member of the Church is a part of Christ’s Body, and as such, all serve an important function (1 Cor. 12:27). Each member needs to hear the word preached, participate in the Lord’s Supper, use their gifts and receive help and encouragement from others in the Body.

This article seeks to address the question, how can we, as the Church, prepare for the needs of a growing elderly population? What are some of those needs? And what are some practical ways we can address those needs?

1. Engaging: While those who are elderly may not be able to serve in the same way that they once did, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be useful to the Body. We need to think of creative ways to engage our aging church members. Perhaps they can no longer sing in the church choir or teach preschoolers but maybe they can pass out bulletins or greet visitors. They can also be an active participant in praying for the needs of church members. Even those who are homebound can be given a weekly list of prayer concerns to pray through at home. Some might also be able to serve the church by writing welcome notes to mail to new visitors or birthday cards to send to children in the church.

We can also draw from the years of wisdom our elderly brothers and sisters have gained in their life. We can seek their wisdom in matters related to the church, the ministry, and Christian living. In my own church, we have a number of retired pastors in our membership who use their wisdom and experience in leading small groups and Bible studies. And in the case of my great aunt, even the homebound can be an encouragement to others. As members in her church came to visit her, they were encouraged by her faith and joy, even as she struggled with chronic health problems.

2. Connecting: Depression is a serious concern for the elderly, particularly for those with chronic health conditions, those with limited mobility, and those who can no longer live at home. Loneliness, isolation, and feelings of uselessness can make the days long and hard for them. In a conversation with a homebound brother in Christ, he shared how hard it was to be unable to get around. “I’m just waiting to die,” he said.

As the Church, we need to be present, active, and connected in the lives our elderly church members.  Often, as people age and face chronic illnesses, they can’t leave home. This means that we need to reach out to them and visit them in their homes. Elders can bring them communion, provide them copies of sermons to listen to and sing hymns with them. Youth groups can come and help with needs around their home. Other volunteers can take them to doctor’s appointments or run errands for them.

3. Encouraging: As a person ages, the realities of death are more present than ever before. Pastors, elders, and other church leaders need to be intentional in ministering to the spiritual needs of the elderly, particularly when it comes to the topic of death and eternity. We need to reach out to them and have gospel conversations about the glories that lie ahead for them.  No matter how long someone has been a believer, there can still be an element of fear and uncertainty about the future. Knowing that your body is failing and that you can do nothing to stop it is humbling. We need to pray with and for our elderly brothers and sisters—that they would remain steadfast in their faith and that the gospel would encourage them.

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more of our population will face the challenges that come with getting older. The Church needs to be prepared to minister to and serve these challenges. We need to engage, connect and encourage our aging brothers and sisters in Christ until they cross the finish line and see their Savior face to face.