March 27, 2018

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By Michelle Van Loon

I’ve been writing about faith at midlife since…well, since I hit that life stage more than a decade ago. I discovered that when I sought support and encouragement from my local church as I was facing a string of disorienting changes and losses directly tied to this stage of my life, the answer I received (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here) was: “Just keep doing what you’ve always done. Serve your way out of that funk. We always need help in the nursery!”

I recognized that while serving is an essential component of a healthy spiritual and emotional life, my fragile health and family responsibilities combined to mean that working in the nursery was no longer a good fit for me.

But that was about all the church had to offer. I discovered that suburban church was pretty typical in that most of the focus of community life was on families with children under 18. About this time, I started noticing stats that reported that Millennials weren’t the only ones leaving the church; people in my age demographic were, too. The statistics proved what I already knew: many committed Boomer and older Gen X believers were quietly slipping out the doors of their church, never to return. I began asking a lot of questions about the way in which we think about discipleship through every stage of life. I’ve blogged on the topic of midlife spirituality on my own website, on Christianity Today’s blog for women, and now at a website a friend and I launched a year ago, and occasionally, here in this space.

Over the years, many people have talked to me about the challenges and changes they’re facing in their faith journey at midlife – things including ministry burnout (say, from years of serving in the nursery), unhealed wounds from bad congregational politics, health issues, financial worries, sandwich generation caregiving responsibilities, and being neglected or marginalized by their local churches. There are good, if heartbreaking, reasons many are drifting away from congregational life.

During this decade, I’ve sought examples of congregations doing meaningful work to support and challenge those in the second half of their lives. While being involved in church leadership and mentoring younger believers are both tried-and-true ways older members can serve the body, certainly not all are called to these roles. There are many other ways to re-engage and strengthen those at midlife and beyond, though they come with this caveat: Older members chafe at being treated as a project or problem to be fixed. And really, isn’t that true for all of us? People can tell the difference between a church offering that comes from a whole-life discipleship orientation versus being a slot to be filled on someone’s org chart, creating more church-y busywork for everyone.

That said, you may find some inspiration from one or more of the ideas below if you’re a church leader wondering if you’ve neglected outreach to some of your older-but-not-yet-old members.

  • Resource your congregation with names of trained spiritual directors. While spiritual direction has become more mainstream, for some conservative churches, the notion of a spiritual director may be outside their tradition or experience. (If this is you, I commend to you Sharon Garlough Brown’s Sensible Shoes series; her hybrid of fiction and instruction in these books helps de-mystify what a spiritual director does.) Older members may especially benefit from time spent with a trained, trusted spiritual director who can journey with them as individuals or even in some small-group experiences.
  • Create book groups, conversation groups, movie-watching + discussion groups – These offer options for congregants and community members alike to engage ideas. They each require a sensitive leader who is better at asking questions than delivering conclusions (or sermons!); each of these can also be a great intergenerational activity among adults of varying ages.
  • Form groups committed to serving the community outside the church. One church was involved through a local ministry with gathering and delivering fresh food to needy families in a lower-income suburb about 45 minutes away. An older man led the group, and together they worked hard to build mutual friendships with a couple of people living in an apartment complex. Over time, that food delivery came to include a small weekly Bible study led by a couple of members from the church. They worked to connect Bible study members (and others) with a nearby church located nearby, and the kingdom of God grew both numerically and relationally – all because the sending church encouraged this group of older adults to serve beyond its own four walls. Integral to their success was the fact that their home church frequently celebrated the work of this group, soliciting both prayer and funding from the congregation for this ministry. Many older adults who serve ministries outside of their church do so without much attention or prayer from the congregation. This church embraced the work of this group, and the entire congregation benefitted from their example and testimony.
  • Develop instruction that addresses the unique challenges of second-half-of-life faith and experience. Kim Post Watson wrote her master’s thesis on midlife faith formation. That thesis was the foundation for a group she convened last fall at her church. The group is discussing issues of vocation and self-knowledge, learning about classic spiritual disciplines, and will end in a time of retreat and pilgrimage next summer. She wrote a bit about her plans here. When I checked in with her recently, she said the group is going very well. Other congregations are being proactive in helping their members face and plan for end-of-life issues.

I’d love to hear from you if you know of a church caring for its second-half-of-life members well. I’m always searching for thoughtful, pastorally-sound, real-world examples.


October 17, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 7.25.08 AMBy Michelle Van Loon

There are a lot of different camps clustered under this big tent known as Evangelical Christianity.The idea of Evangelicalism as a single tent is more a theoretical idea than a practical one, as I suspect there was never a place and time in which we great-great-great grandchildren of the Protestant Reformation when we were ever truly united. At this point in our history, if there ever was a tent, it has stretch to the point it no longer serves as much of a shelter those of us who still bear the uncomfortable identifier “Evangelical”. (Others of you may be reading these words with gladness from a place situated somewhere outside the tent, and may be tempted to say, “Good riddance to that circus tent”.)

There’s no need to go into great detail here about what has become evident about Evangelicalism: in a sort of reverse birth-pangs to its expansion through the 1960’s through the turn of the millennium, it is now contracting and some of its excesses are withering. The decline has exposed the places where we Evangelicals staked our tent pegs on shifting sand instead of solid rock.

So many of us have lived through church splits, been wounded at the hands of abusive leaders or mean-spirited behavior from those who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters, or been shaped by a subculture of cultural and political pugilism, which is an expression of flabby, unhealthy theology. And now, it seems that we may have hit the collective spiritual wall.

The language of hitting the spiritual wall of which is speak is normally used when speaking of the spiritual development of individuals. James Fowler’s book The Stages of Faith and Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich’s The Critical Journey have been very helpful to me in learning to think through what discipleship looks like at different life stages. Below you’ll find a helpful chart that captures the essence of the way The Critical Journey describes spiritual growth and development:

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This framework was helpful to me as I hit my own personal spiritual wall at midlife. As I’ve moved through that transition in my life, I have recognized I left behind my former ways of relating to local congregations that seemed bent on busywork and/or cultivating a reactive way of relating to culture. As a young believer, I thought this was what being a Christian was meant to be, but that thinking is mercifully no longer a part of the way I relate to the local church now that I’m climbing down the other side of the wall.

Recent academic research about the Dones as well as my own informal survey a few years ago of about 500 people at midlife and beyond highlights the reality that many churches are geared toward helping launch people on their journey of faith, and are structured to best build and support people who are in stages 1–3. We are all at different places in our faith journey, which is why the work of writers like Fowler, Hagberg, and Guelich has been so meaningful to me. They’ve given me language to describe how growth works, as well as helping me to recognize the role the Christian community plays in cultivating (or hampering) that growth.

I do wonder if Evangelicalism as a movement has perhaps hit a wall of its own, too. The metaphor doesn’t entirely hold because of the wild diversity of this movement, and because a movement is made up of individuals, each in his or her own particular stage of growth with God. But it occurs to me that the rise of modern Evangelicalism, which really took hold among Boomers, has hit a wall at its own mid-life point. So much of what’s characterized us has been disparaged by those on the outside (and a few on the inside of that giant tent) as “mile-wide, inch-deep” Evangelical faith is another way of saying that we’ve cultivated a youth-oriented approach to faith that seems to flourish only on the beginner side of that wall. Evangelicalism has often celebrated a spirituality that seemed to hope we’d die before we got old, to cop a line from The Who’s anthem My Generation.

The shifts in our culture and the upcoming election have brought Evangelicalism at midlife to a wall of its own. The good news is that what gets deconstructed as we face the disorienting nature of the wall isn’t essential for where we’re going as kingdom people in this culture, anyway. If there was ever a time for us to face the wall and grow up, it is now.

August 28, 2014


I’ve known a small handful of people who’ve had lives remarkably free from trial, reversal or loss. One woman I used to know had her entire life mapped out using the blueprint of the American Dream, Conservative Christian Version, from a very young age. Her life has gone pretty much the way she’d planned it: marriage, two kids, a dog, lovely suburban home, stable career, a bit of travel, a cozy group of friends. It was pretty amazing to witness over the years. If your life unfolds precisely as you’ve determined it would, there are two ways to respond. You either believe that you deserve the life you’re enjoying, or you can be humbled by it.

I haven’t known many who’ve walked through decades of life without picking up a few war wounds, but the ones I have known who have lived inside a blissed, blessed bubble usually carry a sense of entitlement about them by the time they hit midlife. In the case of the woman with the bulletproof plan, as the years went by she grew less and less compassionate toward the struggles of others. Though she said the right things, she’d also mix in enough sugar-covered snark to show her true feelings: If only the poor schmo had followed the proper formula, he or she wouldn’t be suffering now. When the apostle Paul urges his friends in Rome to weep with those who weep, he wasn’t advocating crocodile tears….

As I’ve researched and written about regret during the last year, I’ve heard again and again how meaningful spiritual and emotional growth is a particular challenge when you live your life inside that privileged bubble of blessing. Our faith communities need to remember that we’ll always have a few high performing “A+ student girls and boys” who color in the lines of the bubble. In God’s sovereignty, perhaps some are spared big trials during those years. But surprise! The bubble is not a reward, though it can be a particular temptation to add together a good grade in coloring within those lines with the sovereignty of God and end up with a sense of entitlement.

January 8, 2018

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Tom and Tracy have been involved in church life throughout their long marriage, doing everything from teaching third graders in Sunday School to helping to launch their congregation’s food pantry ministry. As their nest emptied, the couple wondered if God might be calling them to full-time vocational ministry. After graduation, Tom eventually found a position in a faith-based nonprofit, and Tracy continued to volunteer with a parachurch Bible study organization. Their first priority, however, was continued service to their long-time local church.

Though the sixty-something couple served where they could, they struggled to find their fit. They ushered, and one or the other occasionally was called upon to speak in an adult Sunday School class or Bible study. Not long ago, the pair met with an assistant pastor to again remind him they were happy to serve, asking, “Is there a place for us here?”

The pastor paused. “Honestly, I’m not sure.”

Certainly, there was always a need for nursery helpers and parking lot attendants at the large suburban congregation. But it seemed there wasn’t a need for Tom and Tracy’s spiritual gifts, life experience, and theological education, though the pastor quickly affirmed how glad he was for their presence and ongoing generous financial giving. Even as I recount this story, I recognize that there are at least two sides to every story, and these church leaders may have their own perfectly sane reasons for not involving Tom and Tracy beyond their current level.

However, Tom and Tracy’s story is far from unique. A focus of my writing over the last decade has been spiritual formation at midlife and beyond. I’ve talked to dozens and dozens older believers who want to serve, but have been told by church leaders there is no slot for them on the church’s organizational chart unless they want to usher or teach a children’s Sunday School class. Some stay and resign themselves to the sidelines, grateful for the fellowship and comfort of a familiar place to worship. Others untether themselves from regular attendance, finding other avenues for service where they can be seen, known, and their gifts and life experience used.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 25:14-30 about a man who entrusted his finances to three servants, giving each an amount to steward proportionate to his ability. Two of the three doubled their money, investing the funds just as they’d seen their master do. The third man chose to bury the gold he’d been given. When he handed back to his master the money he’d been given, his explanation was that his master’s shrewd business practices sparked a fear response in him. Better, he explained, to simply hide the money so as to guarantee he’d be able to return the full amount to his master upon his return. His master wasn’t buying what the servant was selling. Instead, he told the servant he was both wicked and lazy, calling out the servant’s self-protective motivations.

If an org chart drives your church’s ministries, what happens when someone’s gifts don’t fit neatly into your open slots? Are they simply set aside – buried, so to speak – as in the case of Tom and Tracy?

Though I see this happening a lot with older members, they aren’t alone. There is a lot of buried treasure sitting in the pews of our churches, including singles who attend family-centric churches, artists and musicians whose style doesn’t always match the style of the worship team, and people with disabilities who are branded as projects instead of as contributing members to a local body.

There are a lot of ways for the eye to say to the hand, “I don’t need you”. But I suspect that one way in which this happens a lot is when our org charts and open slots drive the way in which we do ministry in the local church, instead of seeking ways to invest the treasure God has placed in our midst.

August 15, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 7.25.08 AMUnintended Consequences of the Jesus Movement: The Big Decision By Michelle Van Loon,,

Earlier this year, I launched an occasional series on my blog looking back on the unintended consequences of the Jesus Movement. I’ve explored topics including our hand-clappin’ praise songs, the Rapture, our voting habits, and our worship services.

Today, I’m picking up where I left off by talking about something that’s not a news flash to most reading these words: the Evangelical focus on decisions for Christ, often at the expense of discipleship. This impulse wasn’t new to Evangelicalism. Charles Finney to Billy Sunday to that other famous Billy were visible leaders in the subculture long before the Jesus Movement hit. But the urge for simplicity coupled with the urge to celebrate the dramatic testimony cultivated an unhealthy focus in our subculture on the “just pray this prayer” decision-making process.

We celebrated news of conversions of famous people as though we were cheering for a number one draft pick being drafted onto our team. (Anyone remember the excitement when Bob Dylan prayed the prayer and became an instant Christian celebrity in 1979?) On a local level, people with dramatic stories of how they “accepted Jesus as their personal Savior” were often given a bit of red carpet treatment in congregations, conferences, and meetings. While there has been a slow-growing pushback in some quarters of Evangelicalism over the “just pray this prayer” model, it is still central to the way most of us Jesus Freaks found out how to talk about faith. (Scot’s post last week entitled Rethinking: Evangelism offers a helpful way out of our “just pray this prayer” model.)

By putting these repentance stories at the front and center of our subculture, we communicated that the moment of decision matters more than anything else in the Christian life. Or at least serves as the proverbial Get Out Of Hell Free card.

Much of the writing and reading I’ve done about second half of life spirituality, coupled with the phenomenon of the Dones, highlights for me a thin understanding of discipleship in many corners of Evangelicalism. Our focus on “all eyes closed…all heads bowed…yes, I see that hand, and that one” decision has cultivated a culture celebrating spiritual sprinters crossing a finish line. Treating a decision (which might be more accurately understood as a response to God’s calling), as the pinnacle moment in a person’s spiritual life diminishes the beauty and eternal value of the mission Jesus gave us.

That finish line is the beginning of the marathon for those of us with a moment of decision story. Others in the Church have grown gently into runners, and can’t point to a day and date at which they crossed the line into faith. In every case, we haven’t been so great on the whole about honoring and celebrating endurance in the Christian life. Our real celebrities aren’t those who can describe the starting blocks of the race, but those who can teach us to finish it. The Jesus Movement made an art out of the beginning of the race in ways that haven’t always taught us to keep running when we hit Mile 21.

When a renewal like the Jesus Movement hits the church, things are bound to get messy. Some of the mess is the work of the Holy Spirit as he reanimates dry bones. Some of the mess comes when a bunch of broken human beings try to touch, help, hinder, or profit from the beautiful chaos. Most of us recognize the Church is in a state of transition in the West, though in the global South and East, she is growing like fruit-bearing kudzu. This transition is an opportunity for a bit of spiritual housecleaning in the wake of the hippie-flavored chaos of a generation ago. Part of that housecleaning might perhaps create some space for reflection on the unintended consequences of some of our choices and desires. We reap what we sow.

What we hoped for a generation ago when we focused on encouraging others to just pray that prayer:

  • Individual responsibility for faith – Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus called individual people to follow him. A “Get Out Of Hell Free” card inked with infant baptism or childhood church attendance was not the way Jesus changed lives.
  • Simplicity – We could talk about faith in an easily understandable way. You didn’t need to be a theologian or a pastor to understand the message in the Four Spiritual Laws.
  • Marketability – Too many of us downplayed what discipleship might cost in our excitement to invite others to join our team. (See Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23.) We may have done so because we ourselves simply didn’t understand the cost.

What we’re reaping today:

  • Confusion – Stories abound of kids who’ve prayed that prayer dozens of times, insecure about whether they’re “in” or “out”. Others rest in the notion that they just prayed that prayer at some point, and can tuck that salvation card in their back pocket and go on with their regularly-scheduled program. A prayer of repentance is one step in the marathon. It is not the entire race.
  • Frustration – Simplicity in presenting the decision was a bait-and-switch for the Christian life. “Just pray this prayer and you’ll be saved” was a gateway drug to “Just send the televangelist your paycheck and you’ll be blessed” for some. Others discovered that praying a short prayer had little to do with the challenges of lifelong fidelity to Jesus. We don’t live it alone, because God himself is with us, but neither is it easy – and may cost us our lives.
  • Abandoning of the faith – Shallow roots don’t grow healthy plants. A measure of the statistical numerical decline in Christianity in recent years comes from those who once prayed a prayer and were taught this was the most important thing they could do to sew up their eternity.

What would you add to either of these lists?



June 13, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 7.25.08 AMHow I’m Learning To Love God With My Mind, By Michelle Van Loon

My Jewish parents used to tell me that the one thing “they” couldn’t take from me was an education. As I grew older, I learned that the “they” to whom my mom and dad referred were the various Gentile groups who’d persecuted the Jewish people for millennia. Though they were in no way academics, my hard-working parents did teach me that there was immeasurable value, if not virtue, in the act of learning.

I was a bookish kid, and after I came to faith in Jesus in my mid-teens, I brought my hunger for learning to my newfound faith. I devoured pop Christian titles and theology books alike. As I moved into adulthood, I discovered there wasn’t a ready spot for women who liked to read theology and ask questions in the conservative non-denominational and Charismatic congregations my husband and I attended. The other women at church seemed content with teas and pre-packaged Bible studies. If I wanted to have friends, I thought I needed to stifle my mind a bit so I could find friends.

I went to teas, filled in the blanks of the Bible study guides, made casseroles, and ran VBS programs. I was not entirely successful at hiding my intellectual curiosity under the proverbial bushel basket, as I would receive backhanded non-compliments from some of my leaders in these churches, telling me I was “quirky”, “too smart”, and “too opinionated”.

My bright husband found teaching and leadership in these congregations gave him a measure of what his intellect longed for, but found groups tasked on running churches tended to focus on uniformity of thought, doctrine, and lifestyle rather than cultivating spiritual growth that included learning to love God with his mind. As a result, my husband eventually made his way to seminary where he found in some of his classes safe spaces to explore his questions and nourish his soul. What he was learning, I was learning, as his books and lectures became a part of my own learning as we talked about his classes, I proofed his papers, and read his books.

For too long, I labored under the mistaken notion that loving God with my mind was either making sure I had a non-stop soundtrack of Bible verses running through my head or being diligent to take notes during the sermon. The churches we attended emphasized other parts of Jesus’ command to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength, encouraging us to love God with our emotions, our evangelism to those outside the church, and our service to the local body of believers. We heard too often in these congregations that “too much head knowledge” was a threat to our souls.

I’ve discovered there are many versions of the “they” against whom my parents once cautioned me, including who stifle the joy of loving God with our minds. Certainly, the pursuit of knowledge can fuel pride and self-sufficiency. But it can also make mature worshippers out of us, and might be one of the gifts we give in humility and gratitude to the Church.

For the most part, it hasn’t been a local congregation that’s helped me learn to love God with my mind, and exercise that love in service to others. It’s come from the broader Christian community:

  • Online: Blogs (like this one!), websites, and a couple of Facebook groups have been places where I could listen to many viewpoints, and learn to use my own voice.
  • A Bible study comprised of women from a variety of churches: The diversity of Christian faith traditions in the group keeps our study, prayer, and service majoring on the essentials of the faith, and the intelligence and devotion of the study’s leader pushes our group to dig deep.
  • A discussion group: Twice a month, a small group of us gather to discuss articles and questions we’ve sent to one another in advance of our meeting. We’ve discussed everything from immigration policy to ageism to family traditions. We don’t always agree with one another, but we honor one another’s point of view.
  • Seminary classes: I’ve had the privilege of studying at Northern Seminary. The classroom experience has enriched me more than I can express. It has celebrated what I’ve learned through my own Yentl-like study over the years, challenged some of my cherished pre-existing assumptions, and led me into worship in ways I never could have imagined.
  • Books: The written word formed me as a believer four decades ago, and it is still one of the primary ways in which I’m formed and re-formed as a follower of Jesus.

What say you? What communities or practices have helped you learn to love God with you mind?









October 29, 2013

What have you done to sleep through the whole night? Kris is now trying tart cherry juice, something she read about and it seems to help a bit. When I awake and know “I’m not going back to sleep real soon,” my trick is to stand near a favorite green on a golf course and grab the wedge and imagine chipping onto the green. When I can’t keep my mind on the chipping I’m in trouble and will be awake a while.

Michelle van Loon playfully talks about her relationship with Geraci, a tax lawyer whose TV program she watches in the wee hours:

True confession: I have a slight case of bigamy going.

Relax. I’ve never actually met my other “husband” in person. Though I have been married to the same man since 1979, I have logged quite a few hours over the years—usually between midnight and 5 a.m.—with my other “husband”, Peter Francis Geraci.

Mr. Geraci is a Midwestern bankruptcy lawyer who runs TV commercials in the long hours between midnight and dawn. Let’s be honest. Our one-way relationship (he talks and I listen) would never work in real life….

I was first introduced to Mr. Geraci when I was a new mom, and visited with him over the years when anxiety over this or that shook me awake in the wee hours. At midlife, I am meeting up with Mr. Geraci once again. He hasn’t aged a bit, and he always says the same calming words every time I see him: “Do you feel trapped by credit cards? Twenty-five thousand on cards now means your minimum is a thousand dollars a month.”

Good to know, Mr. Geraci. But really, I just want a good night’s sleep.

September 20, 2013

Michelle Van Loon‘s “confession” and lessons:

For several years, I served as the Communications Director for a ministry that networked Evangelical and a few Mainline congregations for purposes of service/outreach, learning, fellowship, and prayer. Someone once asked me what it was like to interact with people of so many different doctrinal convictions and practices. I told the person I felt as though my life had uniquely prepared me for the job because my husband and I (and our kids, when they were still living at home) had been a part of many different kinds of congregations over the years.

I used to feel a little defensive about this*, but have come to realize that this journey has brought some incredible gifts into my life. It has given me a fuller understanding of the diversity that exists within the Body of Christ. It has pushed me to think in terms of kingdom, not congregation or denomination. I’ve worshipped and learned and made new friends in a variety of places. I’ve learned to decipher the dizzying array of local church “dialects”. My faith has been sharpened and stretched. And these experiences have tuned my ears to hear the longing Jesus has for all of us who call on his name in his final prayer following his final Passover meal with his disciples.

Though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this particular journey, I’ve come to honor what God has taught me through it. Perhaps it is a mark of the second adulthood midlife maturation process that I’ve come to a place of acceptance about most of our wanderings. These are the gifts the wandering-with-a-purpose has given me:

– The Evangelical Free denomination helped me discover that I needed to be an open-hearted learner about what the Bible says.

– The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) showed me how a local congregation could feel like a family.

– The Plymouth Brethren helped me see how a congregation could be led cooperatively by a group of elders instead of a single pastor.

– The Messianic movement connected my faith to my Jewish identity and experience.

– The second-wave Charismatic and Pentecostal churches taught me thatcessationism was not for today.

– The IFCA Bible churches showed me fear is a terrible thing to waste.

– The third-wave Charismatic movement helped me think about the value of learning to listen for and respond to God’s voice.

– Home churching encouraged full participation from every person in the room.

– The Anglicans and Lutherans showed me the beauty of sacramental liturgy.

– The Big Box megachurches demonstrated intentionality in platform programming and activism in responding to community needs.

– The independent non-denominational churches taught me that theology gets worked out in practice in the trenches of congregational life.

What gifts has your former church left behind in your life?  

September 17, 2013

By Michelle Van Loon (now a Northern student!)

Since I started writing and speaking about midlifers’ changing relationship with the local church, various friends have pointed me toward a few churches who are making some sort of attempt to minister to their older congregants. As I learned when I offered my survey on the subject earlier this summer, many congregations don’t know what to do to nurture spiritual maturity in their “second adulthood” members beyond asking them to fill slots on the church org chart. This energizes some, but leaves others feeling patronized or used.

Some congregations recognize that older members present a different set of needs. Any time a person mentioned a church that’s doing something to provide care for their older members, I asked a few questions about the nature of the ministry or headed to the church website to have a peek.

Many of these ministries to mature adults are focused primarily on offering a menu of social activities for its “seasoned saints”. I have nothing against going to plays, concerts, museums, Mag Mile shopping outings, or even overnight trips to see the leaves changing color. In fact, I imagine it might be a lot of fun to do some of these things with a group of others. However, the people who seem to be involved in these groups tend to be mid-60′s and beyond. People who are 44 or 57 aren’t typically participating. They’re too young.

And they’re the ones who are currently downshifting from active participation in their churches. Some of the 40+ church downshifters from whom I heard earlier this summer are loathe to imagine their legacy-creating years spent doing church stuff that doesn’t have much meaning beyond filling an empty calendar date with some pleasant activity and light conversation.

My first response when looking at these ministries was to chalk them up to recreational busywork. A good friend of mine majored in recreation therapy in college, and spent most of her adult life working in the field. Her stories about her work often reminded me that recreation is a Sabbath-themed discipline (even if participants are ziplining or bowling or going shopping for Yankee Candles in some charming antique-ish village somewhere). Good re-creation restores, refreshes and reconnects us with God, ourselves and others.

In some of these recreation-themed ministries, I’d imagine that relationships do move beyond surface participation toward true Biblical koinonia (fellowship, sharing, participation in the life of Christ together). Well they should. This is the one thing we in the church are uniquely able to share with one another.

I wonder if some churches offering activity-based ministries for older members are aiming too low if the primary goal is simply to keep the aging folks busy and entertained.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. – 1 John 1:3

So please weigh in: What are your thoughts on the subject of what ministry to older adults in a church should look like? Does your church offer an activity-based ministry for older adults?  

Do you know of a congregation that is doing something beyond senior luncheons and garden tours for all of its members 40 and beyond? Pleasecontact me with details if you do! I’d love to profile the ministry in an upcoming blog post. 

July 5, 2013

From Michelle van Loon:

Does your church provide grace for those in middle life who find grace through regret?

Regret may be the gateway into midlife for some of us. It has to do with consequences of our actions. At midlife, the consequences are more pressing and inescapable. Our souls recognize that there is no do-over when it comes to our life choices, and we must find a way to reconcile with that reality.

Regret and remorse are two different things. Regret is based in the loss we experience in the wake of our poor or painful choice(s) as we realize what has followed in the wake of our decision: “I wish I wouldn’t have eaten that cold pizza out of the office refrigerator for breakfast because I felt like puking for the rest of the day.”

Remorse is regret’s kissin’ cousin, but has to do with sorrow over the choice itself, rather than the consequences: “I shouldn’t have stolen that cold pizza out of the office refrigerator and eaten it for breakfast because it didn’t belong to me.” Remorse and regret often bleed into each other in the same way blue and violet bleed into one another on a rainbow. If it is God’s purpose to grow us into the image of Christ, it may be that regret can be used by him to move us toward maturity. It readies us for his pruning shears that can rid us of deadwood as he prepares us to live a parable, bearing fruit from places made barren by regret.

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