By Amy Hanson
VolunteerMatch, an organization that helps to connect people with community groups, commissioned an extensive research study in 2006 and discovered that more than half of adults 55 and older are interested in volunteering. The challenge is that many of them are having difficulty finding the right way to share their skills and experience.
As leaders, what can we do to help people in the second half of life discover their unique place to serve?
Connect people to God so he can lead them. A few years ago I met a man named Hal who was in his late 70s and had been ministering in the Houston prison system for nearly 20 years. He told me about sitting in church on a Sunday morning, listening as the minister taught from Matthew 25. And he heard in a fresh way the words of Jesus, “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36). He said the minister’s words resonated with his own feelings and spurred him to begin visiting, praying, and working weekly with male inmates.
Over the years, he has befriended many of these men, helping them with attorney costs and helping them find jobs when they were released. Hal found a significant ministry he will continue as long as he is physically able . . . and it started because he was listening to God’s voice.
Encourage people to serve in an area of interest. I know of a woman who had always wanted to go on a short-term mission trip, but the opportunity did not present itself until she was 80 years old. Missions had been close to her heart for some time. Fortunately, she did not let her age deter her from participating in a trip with her church to Nicaragua where she was a tremendous blessing to the people who lived there.
Help people tap into their passion. I like the definition Bruce Bugbee uses for passion when he says it is the God-given desire that compels us to make a difference in a particular area of ministry. Dr. James Dobson’s passion for the family resulted in the birth of Focus on the Family. Everett Swanson’s passion for orphaned children became the beginning of Compassion International.
I served in ministry with an energetic 70-year-old man named Joe. He was recently divorced and quickly gravitated to leading a small group with other older single adults. I thought all was well until he confided in me that his heart’s passion was with kids.
One evening, a number of years after I had moved out of state, I was back at this church and happened to walk down the hallway and catch a glimpse of Joe. There he was, high-fiving young boys, hugging them, and expending tons of energy. When I got to him he flashed me the biggest smile and said, “I love this! This is what I was meant to do!”
That’s passion. And people will thrive when they serve in their area of passion.
Show people how they might use their past experiences. For many people the skills they used in their career can now be used in meaningful kingdom work.
My father was a successful accountant for a large oil company before retiring. He now spends 8-10 hours every week as the financial director for the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. His attention to detail and ability to manage multiple projects are assets to the organization.
Older adults are looking for ways to make a lasting impact. The Bible speaks over and over of men and women God used mightily in their later years. Consider Abraham, who fathered a child at the age of 100, or Moses, who at the age of 80 led the Israelites to the edge of the promised land. Age certainly does not have to be a limitation in serving God; rather, it can be a wide-open door of possibility!
For a helpful resource on this topic, see Amy Hanson’s paper, Creating New Opportunities for Older Adults to Serve, at www.leadnet.org/encoregeneration.
Amy Hanson is a speaker, educator, writer, and consultant in older adult ministry and gerontology. She was the active adult (50-plus) ministries director at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas before moving to Nebraska to complete her PhD in human sciences. She teaches college-level courses on aging and is writing a book on the church’s response to the aging baby boomer. Amy lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, Jon, and their 5-year old daughter, Ella. Find out more about Amy’s ministry at www.amyhanson.net.