With our children and grandchildren headed back to school, now is the perfect time to spend time with our own learning processes, and this reading list is designed to help. There is something for everyone: books about growing old; growing closer to God; growing as a servant or as a volunteer; preparing to better minister to older adults in the church. I have read all these books recently and they immediately come to mind when I am asked: “Which books are must-reads for life-changing inspirational experiences? Here are ten quick-read books I gladly recommend for fall reading.
Longevity and Aging
1. Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying) by Bill Gifford (Grand Central Publishing, 2015) —This book sifts through the latest research, some popular mythology, and ancient wisdom on longevity. Gifford takes a look at scams and hoaxes that promise to extend our years; then delves into real research about what actually contributes to longevity. He chronicles scientific research trying to “hack" the aging process, like purging aging genes to reverse the effects of aging. This book is somewhat similar to the Blue Zones Book by Dan Buettner, chronicled in the last installment of “What Shall I Read?” This is a book for “the Forever Young Generation,” better known as us boomers. It is incomparably funny to confront our human desire for more time here on earth, without ever suggesting we should even desire more time, or that more time is even possible for us. Staff professionals will find it helpful as a way of thinking about wellness ministry for boomers. 384 pages, traditional and eBook, widely available.
Older Adult Ministry
2. A Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors by James M. Houston & Michael Parker (IVP Academic, 2011) —This book has been termed a wake-up call to honor and care for older adults and to value them. In a time of rapidly increasing numbers of older adult church members, this book challenges the church to do ministry with older adults not just to them. It suggests that older adults become faith mentors and leaders of the church. A part of its value as a “nuts and bolts” book on older-adult ministry is its anecdotal information and its best practices list. This book projects what older-adult ministry might look like moving into a new century. It includes a great review of the issues that older adults are crying out for the church to address. 279 pages, traditional and eBook, widely available.
Pastoral Care of Older Adults
3. Please Don't Tell: What to Do with the Secrets People Share by Emma J. Justes (Abingdon Press, 2014) —One of the hardest pastoral care issues that clergy and laity face is helping older adults process burdens of secrecy that have been carried for many years. Secrets are challenging to hear because often they involve complex ethical issues, deep suffering, and power-control issues that must be weighed against confidentiality interests. Many older adults carry secrets to their graves, simply because they have no one with whom to entrust these areas of pain and conflict. This book is a guide to properly listen and to offer caring for those holding secrets. Justes’s book is a manual for preparing for, receiving, and offering support for those who carry these longstanding places of hurt. It is a practical guide of how to receive secrets, how to honor them, and how to relieve the holder of the burden the secrets have become. It helps church leaders create an environment for the hearing and sharing of secrets among their laity, allowing the church to become a supportive community. 198 pages, traditional and eBook, widely available.
End of Life Issues
4. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan Books, 2014) --The author acknowledges that the goals of medicine seem to frequently run counter to the interests of patients and families, so he calls for reform in the medical world and the way it approaches death. Instead of keeping patients alive at all costs, Atul Gawande calls for new models for assisting frail, elderly patients with coming to terms with life and its purpose, death and its inevitability. His words could just as easily be to the church as it seeks to build a path to enable the final moments of life to be among the best. Gawande explores and explains different models of senior living — from multigenerational households to nursing homes and suggests what should be looked at in designing ministry to the dying. This section alone is important for clergy who are trying to support families and caregivers of parishioners who are no longer able to remain safely in their own homes. This book was recommended to me by my mentor Dr. Richard Morgan as an “indictment of our culture’s live-at-all-costs approach to life,” and if I still served a parish, I would use this cultural idea to form a sermon series. 304 pages, traditional and eBook, widely available.
Intergenerational Ministry & Mentoring
5. Silver Threads: Weaving Godly Wisdom into the Lives of Younger Women by Kate Megill. This book is about the role older women could play in the lives of younger women in the church. While the scriptural and theological methodology in the foundation section of this book may be lacking, overall it encourages older women to leave a legacy with younger women. It also provides an avenue for older women to take a fresh look at the gifts they have to offer at a time in life when they might not feel fully appreciated. Its value to older women is its focus on the traits of being a good mentor and what to work on to assume this role. It has loads of practical information about where to start in being a spiritual mentor and how to develop relationships of meaning with those who are younger. 120 pages. This book was independently published at CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, but is also available through Amazon.
6. Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life –by Joan Chittister (Image Books, 2015). If you have not yet discovered Sr. Joan, then you have simply not read enough older adult devotional books. Her books are popular because they always contain pithy quotes that compel people to think more deeply about something already at the back of the mind. I will confess to quoting her in sermons. On the surface, she writes from the perspective of being a Benedictine Nun in Erie, PA, but her writings are really about universal experiences, truths, and struggles of life. If her books did not bear her name, you might swear they were written by classic spiritual writers like Catherine of Siena or Meister Eckhart. Between the Dark and the Daylight is by far her best devotional book, and it reveals the maturing insights of an older-adult sage. As one older-adult friend said about her previous book, The Gift of Years, “she really knows how to speak my language as an older adult.” This book can be a sourcebook to guide not only quick devotions for older adult fellowship gatherings, but a book for discussion in older adult church school classes. 176 pages, traditional and eBook, moderately available, Amazon & from Roman Catholic publisher: Image Books.
7. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life – by Richard Rohr (Jossey-Bass, 2011) -- This is a book I just skimmed after it first came out, but decided to re-read and spend some time with this summer. I am really glad I did! It is similar to Drs. Richard Morgan and Jane Thibault’s Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life (Upper Room Books), which I have previously reviewed. Clergy and laity alike should have knowledge of developmental psychology and lifecycle theory, so they should already understand that retirement and aging present a totally different period of life from what people have experienced before. Sometimes this period of life when compared to the youthful first half seems negative. Rohr rejects this notion and refers to this half of life as the climatic best time of life, because it is a spiritual time of life. He points out that the second half of life is not about decaying, but full living into our potential. It is not about doing, but about becoming; and not about being productive, but about being spiritual. One quote from Rohr sums it up, “We're a culture with many elderly people but not a lot of elders.” This book is about becoming an elder by learning from the sages around us who have successfully fallen not down, but upward toward God, so we can become guides to others entering the second half of life. 240 pages, traditional and eBook, widely available.
Upper Room & Discipleship Resources
8. Each One a Minister: Using God's Gifts for Ministry by William J. Carter (Discipleship Resources, 2002) – This which Discipleship Resources classic is now available in eBook format. This is an appropriate book for the modern church as it seeks to get back to its roots and for the United Methodist Church, which has been a lay driven church. It begins with a study of the Letter to Ephesians, viewed through the practical lens of what in the early church is relevant for today’s world. Four practical ways of discovering our own ministry within the greater ministry of the church are highlighted along with suggestions about how a local congregation can employ its laity in the ministry of the whole church. This book would be especially helpful for older adults to discover their own spiritual gifts and talents. It is a quick read at only 80 pages.
9. The Struggles of Caregiving: 28 Days of Prayer—by Nell E. Noonan (Upper Room Books, 2012) Repeatedly I am asked for resources for caregivers by those who are caregivers and by those who serve them as clergy, volunteers, and staff. When I ask people who perform this role what I can do for them, they usually say simply, “pray for me.” This book is both a resource for ministering to caregivers and also a book that teaches others how to connect with their struggle through prayer. It is centered on daily prayer, so it draws the caregiver into partnership with God in caregiving. It is an excellent book for churches to give to those who are caregivers to help them to care for themselves spiritually. In the struggle to give care to others, sometimes caregivers neglect self-care. Some support groups are now reading and discussing the book together, which is an interesting way to use the book. For professional staff who have never been caregivers, the book is a necessary introduction into what it is like to be a caregiver. This book is not yet available in Kindle edition but is available in electronic format from Upper Room Books. 72 pages.
10. Gen2Gen: Sharing Jesus Across the Generations-- by Craig Kennet Miller et. Al, including Richard H. Gentzler, Jr. Intergenerational Ministry is an important form of older-adult ministry when it uses the gifts and graces of older adults in ministry with other generations or when it builds relationships between older adults and others in ministry. So often, adult ministry is seen as normative, so we judge the gifts of children, youth, and older adults and their insights through the comparative lens of adulthood. This book is great way to stop doing that. Each age group is examined for its specific offerings to the ministry of the whole church, with creative ideas for using the gifts of each age group interspersed with the insights of different experts in those age levels. The material for older adults and baby boomers was written by Richard Gentzler. The book looks at older-adult ministry as a part of family ministry and includes pieces on how intergenerational ministry is done in the modern, diverse, multiethnic world. It was one of the first books I was encouraged to read when I arrived at Discipleship Ministries and one I have continued to refer back to every few months in preparation for training events in older-adult ministry. Many large-church staff persons have multi-age levels in their employment portfolios, and this book lines each age level in context with all the other age levels. 197 pages, traditional print and eBook form, Discipleship Resources and Upper Room Books.
I hope you discovered some of the books highlighted in the spring installment of “What Shall I Read” were practical and helpful. I would enjoy hearing your feedback on the recommended books. I invite you to contact me (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 1-877-899-2780, ext. 7173) for further discussion or if you have suggestions for the next “What Shall I Read” Column.