On a table cloth, old hands rest on a black book with the word "Biblia" in gold lettering

Ministry to and With People in the Third Third of Life

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In response to the declining attendance of young people, many churches are doing the important and necessary work of reaching out to Millennials and Gen Zs. But there are three trends accompanying the outward migration of younger generations that ministry leaders should also pay attention to: 

  1. Some of the parents of our emerging adults are also migrating away. 
  2. Many of those who remain are expressing deep dissatisfaction with the current state of their faith formation growth. 
  3. Aging congregations often experience a loss of missional focus when their largest ministry focus—children’s ministry and youth ministry—begins shrinking.

Here are three resources that can help congregations rethink fruitful faith formation for both the empty nester crowd, who find themselves with increasing freedom, and those in their late adulthood who still have much to contribute to the life of the church.

Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons by Kathleen A. Cahalan and Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore brings a new and remarkably helpful set of perspectives to vocation embedded in an intergenerational context. By discussing the relationship to God’s calling us at different ages, we can better understand the gifts and challenges each group faces. The sections on late adulthood and older adulthood are particularly helpful for a study of the third third of life.

Creative Aging: Rethinking Retirement and Non-Retirement in a Changing World by Marjory Zoet Bankson explores the spiritual dimensions of retirement and aging. She offers creative ways for folks to share their gifts and experience, particularly when retirement leaves them questioning who they are when they are no longer defined by a career. Drawing on stories of people who have reinvented their lives in their later years, Bankson explores the issues to address as one moves into this generative period of life.

To Plant a Walnut Tree: How to Create a Fruitful Legacy by Trevor Waldock describes Waldock’s journey to find what elders can learn and discover about themselves in order to help others. 

Faith Formation Regional Catalyzers have produced a workshop filled with robust ways to support the faith formation of those in the Third Third. It can be done both virtually and in person. Contact [email protected] for more information.

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One significant way to bless people in the "third third" of their lives is to promote and provide spiritual direction.  I have been deeply blessed as I meet with a spiritual director on a regular basis!

Another suggestion is  The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future by Walter Wright (2012) as he draws on, among others, wisdom from his mentor Max dePree.  We gathered a group for conversation around this book well before we were into our third, as it is defined, and it was very helpful as we began to imagine.  I appreciate that two of the suggestions above are written by women. 

 

 

Participant

I didn't realize this was a problem! I am in mid sixties with a chronic illness that keeps me pretty much house bound and in constant discomfort. However, I feel more spiritual than at anytime in my life even though I can't sit through a church service. I wish the church would contact me for service that I can do and have learned through the Grace of God during my life journey. We in last third of life have a lot to offer but people assume because your not capable of most things, you can't contribute.You still have a lot to offer for those who are younger and rarely think about end of life!Thx

"Falling Upward" by Richard Rohr is another great resource for thriving in the third-third of life.