Reaching Out to Older Men (part 2)

Continuing on from last week, here is part 2 of a presentation by David Shipley:

Preparing for later life

In order to cope with these changes, as men get older, they need to engage with other interests and other social networks, to re-introduce themselves to their partners and families and to seek new roles – and, thus, new identities – within them.

Although still statistically less likely to out-live their partner, the life expectancy gap between men and women is declining. In 1951 there were 77 men aged 50 and over for every 100 women in the same age range. By 2003, this had increased to 85 men per 100 women and is expected to rise to 90 men per 100 women by 2031.

Older men are therefore living longer with their partners into their later lives, yet, because of the changing nature of their role, they are less likely to be engaged in the same social circles or have as wide a range of interests. Also, in the future there are likely to be more divorced, widowed or never-married men in the older population and lack of social engagement for them will become an ever more acute problem.

Growing older from a Biblical perspective

Fundamentally, retirement is NOT Biblical! For the most part, men in the ancient world worked for as long as they were physically able. When they could no longer work, they often developed other roles as family elders, wise men or teachers, some of which may have formed part of their lives for some time, whilst they were supported by their wider family or community.

Older men were expected to still have a function – “They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.” Psalm 92:14.

Sadly, modern society looks on older age in terms of decline and seeks to cosset older people rather than enable them to maintain any contribution to society. It is this that often makes people fearful of growing older and unwilling to prepare properly for the inevitable changes later life brings.

Engaging with older men: the same perspective for Christian and non Christian

To engage with both older Christian men and older “not yet” Christian men requires the same fundamental strategies:

(a) find a location where they are most comfortable and engage with them there:

(b) find out their interests and seek to develop these areas, rather than prescribe activities for them:

(c) seek to integrate these activity interests into wider social networks:

(d) establish relationships that build trust as well as generate self-worth and new senses of identity.

At this point, a similarity will be seen to the 4-level evangelism recommended by CVM, because at the point of establishing relationships, older men can then be encouraged to consider the person of Jesus or, if they are already Christians, to seek new ways of both expressing their faith and engaging with new roles within their fellowships.

The important issue is that this engagement, though fundamentally the same for all men, needs to be tailored to the unique identities of each age range.

It is equally important that men in the early stages of later life are encouraged to realise and prepare for their older years. Adjusting to changes as a matter of choice can be very empowering to a man, whereas being forced to change at the various transition stages of life can be traumatic. This is not admitting one is old but rather accepting that, as one gets old-er, change that is prepared for can be just as much an opportunity for growth and development as at any other time of life.