Chris Holck, my parents’ pastor, has a lot of ideas about reaching retired baby boomers. But one piece of advice is at the top of his list: Don’t call it seniors’ ministry. They might be over 65, but boomers think seniors means their parents, not themselves. While you’re at it, he suggests, don’t call them retirees, either. (He prefers the “encore generation.”)
Holck knows of what he speaks—he’s both a boomer and the pastor of Live Oaks Community Church in The Villages, Florida, where most residents must be 55 or older. The congregation—whose motto is “Play hard! Pray hard! Finish well!”—is only slightly less eccentric than the famously eccentric city. One of the church’s biggest draws is its golf cart service, a “drive-in outdoor worship experience.” Yes, it’s a throwback to Robert Schuller’s drive-in church of the 1950s. Then again, it seems like everything in The Villages is a 1950s throwback. Holck says boomers often struggle through a “middlescence” looking for meaning—a second adolescence as restless as the first. Indeed, driving past parking lots full of baton twirlers, tribute bands, and classic car collectors, it’s clear that many in The Villages are spending their second adolescence replaying their first.
That kind of weird denial is intentionally and literally stamped into the core of The Villages: Plaques throughout the town squares describe old buildings, personalities, and events that never existed. A boat tour offers a town history more fictional than Disney World’s Jungle Cruise. My folks and the other 125,000 residents are all in on the joke, thinking it’s both weird and delightful.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents’ new hometown as we put together this issue. Liuan Huska’s article on radical life extension resonates—it’s not dying that people are running away from so much as getting older and weaker. That belief that aging’s weaknesses are avoidable appears in the “resist retirement” perspective Jeff Haanen argues against in “Saving Retirement.” (Can’t we just work at full speed—in our careers and in our ministries—until we drop dead at a ripe old age?) Meanwhile, denial, nostalgia, and constructed history are major themes in Kathryn Long’s look at one of the defining events of many boomer Christians’ spiritual formation: the 1956 deaths of American missionaries in Ecuador.
So in some ways this is our most boomer-centric issue in a while. But then again, I’m a Gen Xer with a nearly empty retirement account who just had a cardiac stent put in at age 44: I’m getting in plenty of practice trying not to think about death, weakness, and getting older. Denial sure makes it easier to think about these articles as not about me. I’ll re-read them for the benefit of those seniors, whomever they are.
Ted Olsen is editorial director of Christianity Today.