Living near Branson, Missouri has made me keenly aware of life in the 50s and 60s.
Most entertainment venues in the Branson area are designed to help people relive the wonder years of their lives. Andy Williams, The Platters, Bobby Vinton, and The Welks help hundreds of thousands of individuals each year recapture a piece of their pasts. Among those thousands are many older adults enjoying the memories stirred by the music and sights. The merchants of Branson understand the importance of reaching out to the older crowd in an attempt to make them feel at home.
The church has not always been so responsive to its older members.
Older adults must be seen as a crucial segment of the body of Christ who provide perspective, wisdom, and testimony to the faithfulness of God. As Sunday school teachers, we must seek ways to include seniors and to draw from their spiritual reservoirs. Here are just a few ways to accomplish this.
Listen To Older Adults
Branson, Missouri could be called the survey capital of the world. No matter where you go, people are there to ask you a few questions that will help them make their product better. They don't focus on any one age group because they understand that they must sell their product to a wide range of individuals. They value the input of young and old alike. Once they receive the information, they carefully evaluate it and implement changes to better serve people.
Sunday school teachers need to learn from the example of these survey takers. It is not enough to listen to one segment of your class at the expense of another. It is easy to listen to those who agree with us or who are like us in age and background. Unfortunately, when we do this we miss out on a great deal of valuable insight and information.
I will never forget the day I was asked to substitute for the teacher of the seniors' Sunday school class. The quick minds, spiritual insights, and sound advice transformed me from teacher to student in a matter of minutes. I learned more in the next few weeks listening to those saints than I would have learned in a lifetime listening to people my own age.
When you allow older adults to share their insights and you really listen, you too will gain a great deal both spiritually and intellectually. Never think the views of older adults are irrelevant for today. The principles they have learned in life will enrich the classroom experience for all involved.
Care For Older Adults
Millions of dollars have been spent in Branson to make older adults feel welcomed. Walkways are designed to make walking easier, wheelchairs are provided in every venue, and discounted tours cater to the older adult audience. When a senior arrives in this town, they feel that somebody cares enough to prepare for them.
How do you prepare and care for the seniors that walk through your classroom door? Do they feel welcomed or do they feel like an outsider just waiting to go home? One way to care for older adults is to provide ministry to them. At one time older adults were surrounded by family members who would care for their day-to-day needs; this is no longer the norm. Doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and simply being there when older people are lonely provide opportunities for class members to "love one another." Obviously not all seniors need this type of assistance, but there are many other ways you and your class can show that you care.
Equally important to the process of caring for older adults is providing them with practical opportunities to be active in ministry. Older adults can do more than serve in the nursery. They can be used in ministries such as counseling, hospitality, teaching, and mentoring. Clearly declare that older adults have a place and purpose in the ministry of your classroom.
Respect Older Adults
There have been many times that I have observed the smile on an older person's face in Branson when an actor or attendant went out of his or her way to help an older person get into or out of a place of entertainment. Repeated requests and on-going reminiscing is not a bother to these people, but an opportunity to accommodate a customer.
When older adults lose their train of thought, stumble over their words, or continually draw examples from a time experienced by few others in the class, the tendency is to wish they would simply be quiet. In extreme cases some younger students will laugh or act rude toward them. This should never happen and if it does it must be corrected immediately. When older adults stumble, you should be prepared to assist and affirm them. Never let an older adult experience dishonor in your classroom.
If you are fortunate enough to have older adults in your class, recognize the blessing God has granted you. Listen to them and gain from their wisdom and experience. Care for them as an act of ministry to Christ. Respect them in all things. When you do this, you and your class will be richer as a result. Just ask those wise people in Branson.
Written by Clancy Hayes
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