7 essentials for grandparenting to pass on your faithWritten by Larry Fowler
Grandparents can make a difference in the lives of their grandchildren, but intentional Christian grandparents can make an incredible difference. If you desire to impact the lives of your grandkids, there are seven essential principles that must be true of you. These principles are finding a home in the hearts of Christian grandparents who desire to leave a deep spiritual imprint in their families. If you are not already, become intentional – and let them find a home in yours.
1. Understand your impact potential
Grandpa or grandma, you are second only to parents in your potential to influence your grandkids spiritually.
If you haven’t thought about your impact potential before, you’re not alone. Many Christian grandparents are missing important opportunities because they haven’t seen the possibility – nor the responsibility – that grandchildren bring. We rightly see parents as first both in responsibility and potential to impact the spiritual growth of children. Then, we see children’s workers in church as second. But even for church‐going families, children’s workers are not second. Neither are youth pastors, or Christian school teachers. You, grandparents, are second in impact potential.
The influence of these others can be significant, but it is generally short‐lived; yours is for as long as God gives you breath. These others say they love children, but not like you love your grandkids. They have some spiritual wisdom to impart; you have a lifetime to share. They “do church” together with children and youth. You “do life” together with them. Do you see, grandparents? You are ideally positioned for great influence and spiritual impact.
Some Christian grandparents, though, are not the number two spiritual influencer; in reality, they are number one. When grandparents have custody or are the primary caregivers, they’re number one. When parents are cool toward spiritual things or worse, the grandparents are often the only ones in a child’s life committed to faith impact.
Grandparent, you can leave a deep impression on the souls of your grandkids. You are in a unique role – a God‐given role, that he wants you to fulfill. The potential is there: God can use you and he will use you if you make yourself available.
2. Clarify your role
Are you a good grandparent?
Nearly all grandparents would answer “Yes” – but their frame of reference is almost always a cultural definition: a “good grandparent” dotes on the grandchild, helps with care, attends their activities and showers them with love and affection. Those things are great, but there is more to the grandparent role as found in Scripture.
The most concise grandparenting verse in the Bible is Deuteronomy 4:9:
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
We have a clear mandate in this verse: a two‐generation responsibility to pass on faith. Our responsibilities don’t end with our children but extend to our grandchildren as well. If the command in this verse were carried out in a family – picture this – there would be six adults devoted to passing on faith to every child: mom, dad, grandma and grandpa on one side, and nana and papa on the other! Of course, many families have “missing pieces” to that picture: in some situations, there is only one grandparent devoted to passing on faith – the others either are not in the picture at all or don’t fulfill that responsibility.
Whether we are one of six or by ourselves in this spiritual‐impact role, the mandate is clear: passing on faith to our grandkids is our duty before God! He commands us to teach two generations, not just one.
3. Model a life of goodness
Deuteronomy 4:9 (quoted earlier) begins with the exhortation to model a godly walk: “watch yourselves.” Moses reminds us in this passage to make sure we don’t go backwards spiritually as we get older.
If we have been obedient followers of Christ, it only makes sense that in the grandparent years, we are more like him than we have ever been. Rather than becoming more cynical and cranky, we ought to become more gracious and godly. Doing so is vital: our children and grandchildren will largely base their impression of Jesus upon what we show him to be through our daily lives. Don’t ever underestimate the fact that how you live your life will impact your grandkids.
Rob (not his real name) told me that his parents were not believers, but his grandparents were. He only saw them every few years, but one time when he was a young teenager, one visit included a vivid memory. He recalled getting up early, going onto the back porch, and finding his grandfather reading to himself from a Bible. That triggered a curiosity that resulted in his searching for, and his eventual finding of Jesus.
I have heard Rob’s story over and over, but with different details, and with different names attached. They all testify to the truth that just one instance of a Christ‐honouring practice can have a huge influence. If you have limited exposure to your grandkids, take heart from Rob’s story; God might use one instance in your life in the same way. If you have many opportunities to model godliness for your grandkids, think what impact you can make!
4. Create great relationships with the parents
Parents are the doorkeepers of the relationships with the grandkids, as they should be. But that relationship door sometimes slams in the face of grandparents. Divorce slams it. Political differences slam it. So do different spiritual paths. It’s slammed by wrong decisions, unkind words said in anger, or overreactions – sometimes by the parent, sometimes by the grandparent.
It’s a given: grandparents who enjoy a great relationship with the parents do have access to the grandchildren; grandparents who have a broken one usually don’t. It follows, then, that successful grandparents work hard to build and maintain a great relationship with the parents of their grandchildren.
When you can’t talk about Jesus
At a seminar, one Christian grandmother told me that she wasn’t allowed to talk to her grandkids about Jesus, because all three of her adult children had converted to Buddhism. She wanted advice from me, and I’m fearful that what I told her wasn’t all that helpful. A few months later, I related that story to a veteran Christian counsellor. He said, “Do you want to know what I would have told her?” I was all ears – I wanted to give better advice the next time. “Yes,” I responded.
“I would have told her to start learning about Buddha.”
I was immediately impressed with his wisdom: he wasn’t saying “Grandma, you need to convert to Buddhism”, instead, he was saying, “Grandma, you need to try to understand.”
Hope for new open doors
Trying to understand. Listening. Seeing the relationship through their eyes. Showing an interest in their interest. Being the first to ask for forgiveness – or offer it. Loving unconditionally. Those are all important strategies for a great relationship between grandparents and parents!
If you are a grandparent with a closed door, have hope – that door can open back up. It may take some time, a lot of effort, and plenty of prayer, but God can open it for you. It may not be until the grandchild becomes a young adult and out from under their parents’ authority. But it may happen quickly if you implement a new strategy of listening, trying to understand or initiating an honest conversation.
Make a great relationship with your adult children and their spouses a priority. Develop a strategy to improve it. When you are successful in that, the door to your grandchildren will open wide.
5. Balance grace and truth
We best represent Jesus to our families when we balance grace and truth. John 1:14 describes him as “full of grace and truth.” It really means “full of grace and full of truth;” he was the complete embodiment of both.
In my circle of Christian friends and peers, we have always championed truth – biblical truth. We have also valued grace – when we are the recipients. But I believe I have not extended grace as well as I have proclaimed truth. I’ve chosen a church because they “preach the Word,” I‘ve gone to Bible conferences, and done dozens of Bible studies in my lifetime. As a result, I tend to lean toward “truth telling” even with my grandchildren, rather than “grace giving.” Most Christian grandparents in my generation have done the same. We deal with family problems by sharing our advice or our opinions (our “truth”) but fail to consider if giving grace is a better strategy.
Jesus often led with grace
Though he equally embodied grace and truth, Jesus often led with grace. The woman caught in adultery is a prime example: the men that brought her to Jesus wanted him to pronounce truth, and he refused. His silence, then his writing in the sand, and finally, his gentle response, were all actions of grace toward her. He ended with speaking truth (“Go and sin no more”), but grace had prepared her heart to hear it.
I’ve been challenged to follow Jesus’ strategy, and I pass that challenge on to you. Are you a “truth teller” or a “grace giver”? Do you just automatically respond to your family members with your advice and opinions? Or could you better “prepare the soil” by leading with grace? When we lead with grace, our family members will be more likely to want to hear truth from us. Grandparents, we ought to mirror Christ in this way. We need to be the personification of grace – and truth – in our families.
6. Adapt to your grandkid’s world
The host of our small group of grandparents was talking with the other grandmas about her ten‐year‐old granddaughter:
“She is always playing a game on her phone. Last week when she came to visit, I told her, ‘If you can’t put your phone down, I’m taking you home!’ And a few minutes later, I caught her playing again – so I took her home.”
That grandma thought she was doing a good thing by being strict with her granddaughter, but I’m pretty certain she injured the relationship instead. You see, she wanted the little girl to enter “grandma world” – sit at the kitchen table and talk over tea. What if she would have said instead, “Help me learn about this game that you like to play so much on your phone, and then afterward, let’s sit at the table and just talk?” The granddaughter would have felt honoured, the relationship preserved, and the two of them would have enjoyed tea together.
As they grow older, adapting to your grandchild’s world gets increasingly more difficult. But you can do it. Start with thinking, “What are my grandkid’s interests?” and then be interested yourself. Do you have a grandson who is really into video games? Sit with him and ask him to explain the game to you, rather than scolding him for doing it. What are their emotional and spiritual needs? Do they need comfort? Calm? Encouragement? Advice?
If you don’t know what their needs are, then change your approach, and you might find out: go from being an Advice‐Giver (most of us grandparents are really good at that) to being a Question‐Asker. Take them out for ice cream, ask questions to get them talking, and then listen. Listen. Hold your tongue. And here’s a great rule: don’t give more pieces of advice than there are flavours in the ice cream.
7. Find your greatest life purpose
Life’s greatest purpose is simple: to see our descendants in heaven. There is no greater focus for the second half of life than that!
Psalm 78:5-6 gives us a guide for thinking this through. It says, “. . . he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
We are to think four generations, as this verse mentions: (1) ancestors (God’s command was directed to them); (2) children, (3) next generation (not born), and (4) their children. In other words, we are to have a vision for perpetuating our faith to two generations who are not yet born.
If heaven is really eternal as we believe it is, then having children, grandchildren and the generations that are not yet born join us there ought to be life’s greatest purpose. Yet grandparents often fill their days with work, hobbies, trips, recreation – good things, but not the best thing.
You play a vital role in God’s plan
A friend has been a senior pastor of a large church for over 30 years. He is a recent “convert” to the importance of grandparenting, and now loves to say, “I find such satisfaction in the title, ‘Senior Pastor.’ But there is a title that is much more important to me. It is ‘grandpa.’ ”
There simply is no greater focus for the grandparenting years than that of doing all you can to see your descendants join you in heaven. C. S. Lewis said, “Children are not a distraction from the most important work; they are the most important work.” Might I modify that and say grandchildren are the most important work? Do you agree? Do your intentional actions show it?
Grandparents, take heart. Never forget: you play a vital part in God’s plan to reach emerging generations with the gospel. As you become more purposeful, your grandkids – and the generations beyond them – will benefit greatly!
The Legacy Coalition is an organization dedicated to helping grandparents have a greater spiritual impact on their families. Visit the website to learn more and find great resources for grandparents.
Larry Fowler is the founder of the Legacy Coalition, a former executive director of global training for Awana Clubs International and the author of Overcoming Grandparenting Barriers.
© 2020 Larry Fowler. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.Our recommended resources
Free advice on marriage, parenting and Christian living delivered straight to your inbox