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Linda Mintle, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author of 16 books, a national expert on family issues and the psychology of food and weight. She's an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School, a national speaker, writer, and news contributor.

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Neglecting the Elderly

What happened to pastoral care?

About three months ago, my 84-year-old mom received a letter from the church she has been a member of for more than 60 years. The letter informed her that she no longer had voting privileges because of her lack of attendance on Sunday morning. Her absence is due her being bound to a wheelchair, which prevents her from being able to attend church on a regular basis. My 89-year-old father is her full-time caretaker. Since July 2009, she has suffered multiple medical problems and been in and out of hospitals. In the past nine months, not one of the five pastors in her church have called or visited. The senior pastor came to the hospital once after my aunt called and begged him to come. This is shameful. My parents' spiritual needs are being completely ignored by the church.

Mom and Dad have faithfully served at the church for decades. Every singing group, evangelist, speaker, and guest was housed by my parents' place. No matter who died, got married, or had a baby, my mom sent meals and food to help with every occasion the church hosted. My dad served as an usher, never missing a Sunday. He and his relatives built the camp grounds and fixed whatever was broken when called upon. For years, my mom baked the pastor’s favorite fruit pies and sent them to his house, per his request. Now, in their twilight years, we never hear from the church. And we aren’t alone.

Many churches have become so focused on numbers and youth, that meeting the needs of their senior members are not even on the radar. My parents’ church has 450 members and five pastors, and not one pastor does pastoral care. There is an older gentleman who gets paid $100 a month to hold a senior service. Other than that, the elderly seem to be forgotten. And during this time in their lives, when a call or visit would mean so much, the pastors are not taking the time to minister to them.

Fortunately for my parents, they have strong friendships and dedicated family members who step in, visit, and bring meals. But, they're mostly elderly and are also in need of a little pastoral care. My 81-year-old aunt who called the pastor to come is now in the hospital and no one from the church staff has visited her either. 

God is meeting the needs of my parents. We know our dependence is on Him and that He is always present. But is it asking too much for a church leaders to call once in awhile and check on these saints and offer to pray with them? Is it too much to expect someone to organize a meal or bring a card of encouragement? What has happened to pastoral care? The church has been the center of my parents’ lives for 60 years and now it saddens me that they are being neglected by the very body they so faithfully served. God is their reward, but the church needs to do a better job of caring for the elderly.

Are the ministry needs of the elderly being neglected in our churches?

~ Dr. Linda

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Thursday, April 08, 2010 4:00 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

I just want to thank CNB an Dr. Mintle for this article. I have worked in Elder Care for over 20 years. Most recently I was working in a lady's home for two years. She had no church minister come to see her. Her son did find a minister who he came in contact with and he did visit once a year. She was a church going Christian as long as she was able. Her children didn't go to church after they grew up.Please pray for John and Dave for salvation.

I can tell you though she and I watched 700 Club every night I was at her home....we read the Bible and I read articles from CBN too. She supported CBN each were her church.

p.s. Tell Gordon he was her favorite ...she loved to hear him pray. She is in Heaven with Jesus now. Blessings !
Left by Gail on Apr 09, 2010 6:46 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

How true this article seems! My 81 year old mother just recently spent almost 2 months in the hospital. It was very sad to see how few ministers or visitors from the church ever stepped through her hospital doorway. Once when 2 elders came to visit her in ICU she was heavily sedated and talking nonsense. As they left one remarked that here was an old lady that was a nut case and they felt sorry for anyone else who had to visit her. Little did they know that my sister was related to my mom and waiting outside the doorway to go in and had heard every word. Where was their compassion and love for one of God's most needy ? I am scared of my future when I read articles like this and witness such events.
Left by Becca on Apr 09, 2010 7:34 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

when I was growing my Father who was a Presbyterian minister not only visited the sick, the elderly, the shut-ins, those going through distress of any kind, the grieving, etc. in his own church but visited those in the community also. I truly believe that this area is sadly lacking in our churches. I thought it was me, that I only knew how to give and not recieve. I have recently found a wonderful church that expresses love in the service and a way to get to know others in the service while preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's time for the church to ask, should we find a way to visit the congregation while they are well as well as sick and find out where our congregation is. there is a strong urgency to reach the young but maybe if they saw the minsters reaching out to the family unit they would be touched more than one more youth group program. I am grateful for this kind of exchange. By the way, my old church was wonderful but I also realized I wanted more "relationship"
Left by TheLordisMyShepherd on Apr 10, 2010 1:37 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

I have to whole-heartedly agree with Pat Robertson on the Neglect of the Elderly. I cared for my aging parents for five years, during that time we had moved and so they weren't directly involved in a church, except through my sister, June. There was a Pastor to the Seniors, Dean, and he was very attentive and spent some time with my parents, and prayed for Mom, but when he moved, there was a big void. We shouldn't have to beg pastors or helpers in that capacity to visit, send a card, organize a meal, how hard is that?
I have an 88 friend, Linda, in town, and her children live a long distance so I take it upon myself to check on her from time to time, visiting her, going to her home to check on her; she has brought much joy into my life, I am the blessed one in this relationship. What has happened to the church in this area, to be so neglectful. RuthAnn Patch
Left by RuthAnn Patch on Apr 12, 2010 1:30 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

It is tragic that so many "ministers" today feel that visiting the elderly ... or others is "old fashioned" and not part of today's world of ministry. Some things should NEVER change, and being a "shepherd" is one of them. People need a caring, pastoral heart when they are facing tough times. I once heard someone say, "if you can't stand the smell of sheep don't be a shepherd." Some people just don't "like" this parts of pastoral ministry ... but that doesn't end the need of people to have it. How we treat the elderly speaks volumes; and these dear saints have often served in our churches for decades; have given their substance for decades ... they don't need to be ignored in the later years.
Left by Dennis Marquardt on Apr 12, 2010 9:45 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

My mother-in-law attended a church for the past 50 or so years. She was sunday school teacher, usher, any functions that was at the church she would attend she was very active in the church and she got sick in 2008 and my husband and I have been taking care of her and we have not seen one of her church sisters or brothers visit her not once I am so disappointed in thechurch i told my husband that back home in jamaica the pastors and church sisters would be at her house praying for her regularly. The church needs to be aware of their elderly members needs. I am so disappointed in this church i refuse to go there.
Left by christine on Apr 13, 2010 9:16 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

My friend is 75, lost her husband 2 years ago. She is unable to drive and doesn't have a church home any more. My friend and her husband served their church faithfully for their entire lives. They had to move from this church years ago. She no longer has a church home and now is unable to drive, so going to church has become even more difficult. I am trying to encourage her to come to my church, but she is devasted by the loss of her husband. So I have been trying to find out if there is any Christian groups in my area that would bring a little church and fellowship to her in the home. There isn't any Christian Elder Care in this area. This is shocking to learn. Back in the seventies my grandmother's pastor and church members would go to my grandmother's home and make sure her needs were met. Our family lived hours away from my her. It was always a relief for me to hear her talk about these wonderful people who visited her. Where is that today? It scares me to go old.
Left by hope4all on Apr 20, 2010 3:39 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

It is a suprised to me. A shock really to me. GOD loves us. And HE wants us to be in really healthy shape. Those of us who are healthy should be a help to the people who are goint through really bad times. GOD will bless You.She can Listen to BIBLE Tapes it will help you. GOD will give you strength,and help. GOD bless You.
Left by SISSY on Jun 02, 2010 7:40 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

While I agree that the church must have a role in the lives of the elderly and those with disabilities, I am saddened that every response places blame on the organized church.

It is the responsibility of the people, not the pastors.

Ephesians 4:11-12 reads, "It was he who gave some to be. apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."

Likewise 1 Timothy 5 identifies the responsibility of caring for the elderly with us.

"Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God."

"If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
Left by ProudBeliever on Jun 06, 2010 9:54 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

First let me say that I am in total agreement that the elderly in our congregations are not being spiritually cared for, but I do have to add a "however" ....

It lightens my heart to see the response from Proud Believer, as I too feel that it's not solely the "job" of the pastor. Many clergy in small church's have only one pastor and they are expected to do "it all".

Private home, nursing home, and hospital visits. They spend time with members of their church family who just "drop in" to chat as they have something on their mind and from strangers who are truly in need of spiritual guidance.

Some do their own administrative task; bulletins, phones, etc.

They attend meetings (ohhh the meetings) that are scheduled in the evening as committee members work during the day.

There are special Sundays and holidays that require extra attention.

Then there are funerals to prepare messages for, weddings to officiate.

We have 2 services on Sunday. There
Left by OHGrammy on Jun 28, 2010 1:34 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

We have 2 services on Sunday. There needs to be time for reflection, preparing messages, and somewhere in all this, finding time to feed his own soul.

Days off, aren't. Deaths and crises have their own schedules.

This I know, as I am the wife of such a pastor. He never complains, but folks, whatever happened to the members of a congregation stepping up to the plate and being "ministers" for Christ? One does not need to ordained, have a college degree. There are absolutely no requirements to "ministering" to those around us, especially the elderly, other then to have a love for Christ.

Far to often, if one belongs to a church that has a pastor, this somehow in the minds of many in the congregation, excuses them from taking any responsibility.

The biggest excuse that I hear when folks are asked to help carry the load - "I don't have time" ... please folks think about this the next time you're asked to help with a ministry in your church. Your pastor has the same n
Left by OHGrammy on Jun 28, 2010 1:37 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

Thank you for this article! I worked as a church administrator and it was simply heartbreaking to take calls from many beloved elder members who begged for the pastor to come or at least call for prayer during a health emergency. I would pray with many of them on the phone in addition to going to visit after their messages went unanswered by the pastoral staff.

While this was appreciated, the hurt and pain of not being valued by the pastor never went away for many of our elder members!

For those pastors and wives who feel someone else should be doing this, I would beg you to take a hard look at your priorities as caregivers of the soul. Are all those meetings and other pressing issues feeding your sheep? Of course deacons and ministry teams should be formed to help with the load of ministry to elderly, but when the pastor is specifically requested, and even when he is not--he should go.

Left by lexi on Jul 02, 2010 8:40 PM

# RE: Neglecting the Elderly

I feel like once I leave the church doors I fall off the face of the earth to them.I ask for rides,as my car broke down,sometimes call for help if there is something I can't fix,can't do without.I had 2 months of cold baths waiting for someone to install my hot water heater.My family is 1200 miles away and busy.Grandchildren don't respond.I feel like a beggar when I ask for help.I'm just a nice old lady who takes care of the church nursery,sometimes needs help;like a beggar.Parents tell me how wonderful I am and their children love me.I know how busy young parents are.Have never had had a visitor.I do pretty well physically until close to time for my shots.I don't miss church often.Most of my fellowship is on Facebook,teachings on Youtube No longer a working mother raising 4 kids, wife rodeo worker runner.Love research,keep up with what's happening in the world,share online about how little time is left.I do things in the community where poss.If useless,rather go Home.Lord DOES comfort
Left by iMinvisible on Feb 01, 2016 9:48 AM