Hanson, Amy. Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults Over Fifty. Jossey-Bass, 2010.
”Let no one look down on you for your being an older adult, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12, modified).
Amy Hanson suggests that Paul might in this way counsel the church today to reconsider its ministry to and with Baby Boomers. Her brief yet comprehensive book is part of the Jossey-Bass Leadership Series and is “for senior pastors, leaders, and primary influencers in the church who desire to be equipped for the biggest demographic reality shaping our culture.” It presents a realistic approach to a Baby-Boomer ministry that includes useful how-to and discussion along with thoughtful analysis informed by but not lost in data and research.
In nine readable chapters, Hanson moves among three key topics: understanding the over-50 crowd, preparing leaders for ministry with older adults, and lots of practical ideas for doing that ministry. Hanson points out that the cultural perspective on older adults has changed at least three times in the last century, from shorter life spans and growing old quickly, to post-WW II leisure retirement, to now what she calls the “leading-edge Boomers” characterized by a more cyclical retirement of moving in and out of employment, interests, education, leisure, and service. This pattern, along with the growing demographic of Boomers, presents the church with new opportunities for ministry to and from this generation. Or, in her words, “creating a new story for the new old.”
Among its discussions of myths and facts about the Boomer generation, the book dispels the assumption that older means religious. While that may have been a reasonable approximation for the “builder generation” of post-war older adults, the Boomers who came of age in the 1960s and into the ‘70s may or may not be religiously oriented and are not especially inclined toward institutional religion. Hanson does well in exploring this mixed characterization and includes a chapter on their receptiveness to the Gospel. Three factors will facilitate outreach: “Help dealing with life’s changes, a search for purpose, and a desire for meaningful relationships can powerfully work together in drawing older adults to Christ’s saving grace” (p. 151).
Without being pedantic, Hanson offers guidance for those who work with this age group, both when discipling within the church and through outreach. She alerts us to the euphemistic treadmill of labels, reminding us that Boomers don’t respond well to being identified as “senior citizens” (the 1930s), “golden agers” (the 1950s), or retirees (the 1960s). And they’re certainly not “elderly.” At a deeper level, the book examines this time of life not as a stage but as a set of overlapping phases that are not fixed, often overlap, and may be cyclic. We may find those over the age of 50 in transitions such as pre-retirement and anticipating important changes in family, employment, and health. Or we may find them attempting or feeling expected to pursue rest and relaxation after experiencing such changes. Hanson suggests that an important opportunity for our ministry is the reorientation phase when those who have made such changes are now reconsidering what their future should really look like. Here is the time to help them understand their present life, abilities, and opportunities in terms of responding to God’s gifts and using them to serve others.
And, according to Hanson, the linchpin of effective ministry with Boomers is service—not service to them but inducting them into Christ-like service. Doing this requires more than a spiritual gifts inventory (although she does include such tools) and loading people into task slots. Among many recommendations: exploring areas where they’ve always had an interest; providing a variety of exposures to opportunities from short term missions to jail ministry; assembling groups of three to work with a spiritual director to help guide their aims and efforts; and creating unpaid but formal or semi-formal positions or offices that echo their work or professional experience, thus concretizing the role.
The book is written in the style and tone of American evangelicalism. It does not use the Reformation language of vocation or priesthood of all believers. Its spirituality is informed by Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God (p. 95), not by Adolph Koberle’s The Quest for Holiness. The reader who allows Hanson this frame of reference will find much of biblical value and useful application. The writing is not academic but is written instead to assist a wide range of readers. Along with helpful research references, the book is built around examples, stories, and personal accounts—relevant and often prompting ideas for the reader.
One critique is that the book is plainly “middle class.” One 200-page book cannot address everything about its topic, and Hanson has focused on the churches she has worked with, mainly suburban congregations that are community or non-denominational churches. Her treatment of employment, finances, and opportunities considers the over-50 but not the under-50-thousand-a-year population. Perhaps this additional area of ministry might be addressed in a later book about drawing her target group into the ministry she expresses so well.
Meanwhile, interested readers here can further review Amy Hanson’s worthwhile efforts at her website, http://amyhanson.org
Dr. Russ Moulds
Professor of Psychology
Concordia University, Nebraska