Longtime Texas layman, pastors share lessons learned in senior adult ministry
Melissa Deming, TEXAN Correspondent
Change. It’s the dreaded thing many pastors hope to avoid in ministering to senior adults. How does a pastor balance the needs and preferences of senior church members with the call to reach the lost in a changing society?
Longtime Southern Baptist leaders and Texas pastors John Bisagno, Jimmy Draper, Casey Perry, George Harris, and Harold O’Chester lent their voices to this issue, sharing insight, regrets, and some lessons learned in ministering to senior adults in interviews with the TEXAN.
“My perspective as I’ve gotten older and have become a senior adult has changed,” said George Harris, a former SBTC president who pastored Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio for 28 years, before answering the call to lead First Baptist Church of Kerrville last year.
“I have more of a concern for senior adults now. When I was a young pastor, I didn’t know how to relate to the problems or needs of senior adults,” Harris explained. “There is great emphasis placed on youth and young adults, but the greatest resources in our churches, both in terms of money and talent, are in senior adults. They’ve had the experiences, and they have a great deal of wisdom.”
John Bisagno, pastor emeritus of Houston’s First Baptist Church, said he has learned to accommodate the feelings of seniors in his church. “Senior adults find a great security in the fact that some things are like they used to be in a fast-changing world. We need some emotional, spiritual ties to the past,” he said.
Looking back on his 30 years of service at the 22,000-member Houston congregation, Bisagno emphasized the need for balance in all areas of church life. “We must do what it takes to reach this generation while continuing to respect the older people and the way they like to do things,” he added.
Yet as a segment of the local church and a growing population demographic, senior adults are themselves changing, transitioning to retirement earlier, wealthier, and in better health than previous generations.
Over the course of a 50-year ministry at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Harold O’Chester has watched senior adults grow younger.
“When I started my ministry a person who was 60 years old was considered old and not living beyond 65,” said O’Chester, who currently serves as pastor emeritus. “But when I ended my ministry, I found that a person of 65 has 20-25 years of ministry ahead of them. They don’t consider themselves old, and they are in much better health and attitude. That is the biggest change that the pastor today has to take into consideration.”
After decades of service to the Southern Baptist Convention, Jimmy Draper said he has felt the change in age perception first-hand.
“I think the greatest perspective as I grow older is how young older people are,” said the former LifeWay Christian Resources president. “When my dad died he was 52. I laughed the whole year I was 52, because [I realized he] was a young man.”
Draper, who pastored eight churches including First Baptist Church of Euless for 16 years, said despite growing older he still feels God’s call to minister.
“Inside you feel the same. I still feel all the passion and energy and