The rural and small-town churches in America are poised to become the spiritual renewal center for older adult ministries. How’s that for a challenging goal and opportunity for each of us in the years ahead? Jeremiah 29:11 says it so well: “For I know the plans I have for you … plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
The reality is that the Lord is allowing us to live longer in order to bring His hope of love, peace and forgiveness in Christ to more people! There are more people over 65 years old on this earth now than ever before. Over 10,000 of us are turning 65 today, and this includes many of us in rural and small communities. Rural and small-town congregations are in the position to be leaders to help people of all ages celebrate God’s gift of aging, if — and this is the challenge — if our congregations are willing to change the climate of how our society perceives growing older.
It is time that we, the Church, become more intentional about enabling people to see aging as a blessing to celebrate rather than a burden to endure! God’s people do not need to “get over it.” We need to “get on with it” as we celebrate and serve people of all ages! The new frontier for the Church is longevity, and longevity is getting longer all the time. Where else but in rural America is the best place to make this statement to the whole Church, as the rural/small-town churches around us become a spiritual renewal center for older adults, and at the same time, for those of all ages as well?
Rural and small communities are aging. Metropolitan areas are generally getting younger. Rural and small-town congregations are being positioned by the Lord to serve as renewal centers as they equip and model how God’s people of all ages care for people, love people, serve people and pray for people throughout the U.S. and the world! Pastor Brad Roth, author of God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church says, “Leaders in the early monastic movement envisioned their monasteries as special houses of prayer sustaining the global church. They went out into the country not as a flight but as a vocation — to pray on behalf of the city.”
Our rural and small-town churches can be laboratories for all generations by teaching and modeling what the Church is all about! They can model preaching, teaching, serving and relating to people of all ages, at home, school and in the community. They can teach parents to teach their children the Word of the Lord. They can unite people, young and old, as people of all ages worship and receive the Sacraments together. They can model that families are called to care for one another and to bring generations together again in the common bond of unity in Christ Jesus. They can once again connect people of all ages to come together and complete the ministry God has created for them to do!
Are we ready, rural and small-town congregations? Are we ready to reunite God’s people of all ages as we serve, care and celebrate together? Are we ready to see aging as a “natural resource” that is a gift from God instead of a tsunami ravaging the countryside?
Maybe, just maybe, becoming a spiritual renewal center of prayer and teaching for the younger and for the older, locally and throughout the world, is our hope and our future in the Lord!
Contributed through the LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission monthly newsletter by Dr. Rich Bimler. Dr. Rich Bimler serves as the Ambassador of Health, Hope and Aging! (AH-HA!) for Lutheran Life Communities, and as a ministry consultant for Lutheran Church Charities.
LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission supports and encourages rural and small-town congregations in engaging their communities and growing together in Christ through Word and Sacrament. Learn more about RSTM at lcms.org/rstm or by calling 888-463-5127. “Like” us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/lcmsrstm