the future of retirement?
When I was growing
up I didn’t know a lot of “old” people, although
I considered my parents, already in their 40s when I was born,
fairly ancient. Three of my four grandparents died before my birth,
and my only surviving grandmother died when I was 8. People in
their 60s seemed positively antediluvian. The few living grandparents
of my friends and relatives didn’t hold jobs anymore. Some
could barely move.
But a great demographic
shift has occurred during my lifetime. Americans are living a
lot longer. They are eating better, exercising more, receiving
improved medical care and remaining sharp mentally.
Certainly our bodies
slow down as we age, but 65 isn’t necessarily a date with
the Grim Reaper anymore. My dad continued preaching weekly until
age 84. My mom, at 85, drives to church every week and leads a
weekly Bible study in the assisted living facility where she resides.
And that isn’t
unusual. This generation of senior citizens has been blessed with
more years — and more opportunities. The most content seniors
are those who attend church regularly and are involved in church
programs. In November 2003, Newsweek reported the latest
in a string of studies connecting church activity with physical
well-being. People who don’t attend church die at the average
age of 75; those who attend more than once a week live the longest,
to an average of 83 years, according to research.
While there are millions
of infirm aged people in the nation today, as never before there
are millions who retire and enjoy another 10, 20 or even 30 productive
years that can be devoted to Christian service. And multitudes
keep right on working, even as octogenarians.
century ago only 4 percent of the U.S. population even reached
age 65. Now 12.4 percent of Americans are 65 and older. Life expectancy
jumped to 78 at the end of the 20th century compared to 47 years
at the beginning.
According to the U.S.
Census Bureau, only 12.3 million Americans older than 65 existed
in 1950. Now there are 35.6 million who are 65 and older, with
4.6 million of them 85 and older.
show that America will continue to age. By 2020, the government
projects 16.3 percent of us will be 65 and older and by 2030 the
figure mushrooms to 19.4 percent, or 71.5 million people.
In addition, more senior
citizens are able to care for themselves. According to a Duke
University study, two decades ago 26.2 percent of those 65 and
older had a disability that kept them from daily activities such
as cooking, cleaning or shopping. That percentage dropped to 19.7
percent by the turn of the century. In the same span, research
indicates the number of elderly in nursing homes fell to 3.4 percent
from 6.2 percent.
In response to the
extension of life, 3,500 Assemblies of God congregations have
specific senior adult ministries, and the number is growing steadily.
With changes in the
aging process, only those now older than 80 are considered “elderly”
by the A/G Senior Adult Ministries Department. Those in their
70s are called “seniors,” while those in their 50s
and 60s are designated as “middle adults.”
“The whole country
views aging in a totally different way than the generations that
preceded,” says Stephen Sparks, national director of A/G
Senior Adult Ministries. “Older is younger.”
Sparks, 52, wants to
see seniors refocus their energies. He notes Paul’s commitment
to “finish the race well” (Acts 20:24) and points
out there is no biblical advice to retire from the Lord’s
had to basically work until they couldn’t anymore, then
they were cared for by their family and then they died,”
says Harold Koenig, who in 1995 founded the Center for the Study
of Religion, Spirituality & Health at Duke University in Durham,
N.C. “This generation, however, is retiring at a younger
age and living longer after they retire,” Koenig told Today’s
It’s an unprecedented
phenomenon: older adults in fairly good health with time on their
hands. Because of pension plans and government assistance programs
many are doing well financially.
Some who protested
the Vietnam War and burned their draft cards are now rebelling
against a new cause: being labeled old. “The baby boomers
are getting older and they don’t like the idea of retirement,”
says David Yannatone, 54, adult ministries director at First Assembly
of God in Fort Myers, Fla. “When they get the AARP card
in the mail they burn it.”
Yannatone, who began
as a youth minister 32 years ago, foresees a time in the near
future when young people will be trained as “senior adult
interns.” Because this will be the largest age group, it
will be a population ripe for the gospel and in need of ministry,
much the way high schools and college campuses today are targets
for Youth Alive and Chi Alpha.