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How to Pastor the Elderly

It can baffle our minds as we set care for someone who has lost their soul mate, especially when the person enjoyed that companionship for over 50 years. This is truly a great challenge, but one that God in His grace can equip pastors and the church to do. 

There is no way to fill the void of a life-long companion, but there are ways to soften the sting of loneliness that most who have lost their spouse will always struggle with, regardless of how long ago it happened.

One effective way to care for these dear saints in this way, as well as other elderly members who live alone, is to find something in their life they enjoyed doing with their spouse, offer to go do it with them and enjoy their company.

A widower in our church enjoyed 63 years of marriage with his wife when he was shocked with her sudden diagnoses of advanced cancer. She died six weeks later. Four years later, this man has never stopped grieving her loss.

There are many ways her death radically changed this man’s daily life. One in particular was his pattern of eating meals. He loved going to a restaurant with his wife, but after she died, he stopped going out to eat. Though his love for eating out still remained, he didn’t want to sit and eat by himself, knowing he would be thinking of and missing her the whole time while out.

Once I realized through a conversation with him that this was the reason, I asked if he would be willing to go to a restaurant and eat with me. He was surprised by the offer, but took me up on it. 

We began going to lunch about once every month for the next several years. He beamed every time we went; he loved the company, loved to introduce me to his friends and tell me the same stories. Although I invited him out originally, he never lets me pay. These outings have provided an opportunity to shepherd and care for him spiritually as we eat and visit that I would have never had otherwise. I received regular encouragement from him about how meaningful this time had become for him.

As a result of this fruitful experience, several other church members have pursued lunch with this man, and the spiritual care he has received from the congregation through this medium has been immeasurable! These times of fellowship and care continued until the day he died, eight years after his wife preceded him in death.

Some of the best ways to care for widows/widowers and other elderly members is to simply spend time with them doing the things they enjoy doing. 

Ask about their deceased spouse and the things they did together that meant so much. Then, offer to do those things with them. You will gain insight into those things they loved to do, as well as provide a healthy way for them to continue to grieve their loss.

Make the time. Think creatively. You can have confidence you will be as blessed as they are by your efforts.  

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Brian Croft is senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also the author of "Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness (foreword by Mark Dever) and "Test, Train, Affirm, and Send Into Ministry: Recovering the Local Church’s Responsibility to the External Call" (foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.). Brian blogs regularly at Practical Shepherding.