God calls grandparents to nurture the spiritual lives of their children and grandchildren, but it’s not always easy. Here are three common hurdles to faithful grandparenting and ways your church can help grandparents overcome them.
The restricted grandparent
Many Christian grandparents have absorbed society’s message not to interfere and thus remain on the periphery of family life. Some Christian grandparents believe they have nothing to offer spiritually. Pastors can challenge that thinking with biblical teaching, both from the pulpit and one-on-one, and remind grandparents that they have a God-given calling to pass on their faith to future generations. You can prepare the grandparents in your church with a lofty vision and practical resources to help them.
Adult children are the gatekeepers to grandchildren, and sometimes they restrict grandparents from spiritually engaging with grandchildren. Adult children need to understand that God has given grandparents a role with grandchildren, and to purposely hinder grandparents from fulfilling their role is not pleasing to the Lord. When you encourage grandparents to be involved, you’ll also need to remind the adult children to open the gates for their parents’ involvement. It’s helpful when adult children invite grandparents in, since adult children have heard from the culture that grandparents shouldn’t interfere or meddle. Adult children can counter that misperception by saying, “We want you to be involved in our lives. We want you to influence our family for Christ.”
When adult children give permission, it’s wise for all parties to discuss and clarify expectations and reach a consensus regarding what spiritual involvement looks like for their family. Some examples of areas grandparents can be engaged spiritually include worshipping at church together, Bible memorization, family meals, family devotions, rites of passage, correction of grandchildren, and family traditions. If expectations are clearly communicated, typically good things happen. When expectations aren’t communicated, families experience problems.
The prodigal child
When an adult child walks away from Christ, grandparents are eager to provide a spiritual foundation for grandkids but face significant barriers. How should a pastor advise these grandparents?
Pastors can encourage grandparents to prayerfully consider whether or not they bear some responsibility for their adult child’s spiritual state. Some grandparents need to be called to repentance for the part they played in an adult child’s departure from the Lord. They may need to confess their sins to the Lord and to the adult child. In addition, they may need to ask for forgiveness. Your opportunities for pastoral ministry are significant here. Many of the multigenerational issues that families face are the result of long-standing conflict that has not been dealt with, and God may be calling you to help them work through these problems.
Pastors must also recognize that there are grandparents who, to the best of their understanding, did all they could to raise their child in the Lord, yet the adult child still walked away from Christ. In such a case, my encouragement to the grandparents is: don’t give up. It often takes a long time for somebody to return to the Lord, so I would counsel them to continue to pray fervently and to find as many individuals as possible to join in prayer for that prodigal child. We can’t change someone else’s heart—only God can do that—so prayer is key.
Grandparents in this situation can get discouraged over time. They are sometimes tempted to pull back and give up on their relationship with a prodigal adult child. You can urge grieving grandparents not to give in to that temptation. Encourage them to persevere with a long-term mind-set even when adult children hurt them emotionally or when the situation is exceptionally difficult.
God the Father provides examples how to interact with prodigals. If grandparents ever wonder what they should do, point them to the gospel. The gospel is the governor dictating decisions. The gospel calls us to love unconditionally, admonish graciously, forgive endlessly, and refuse to abandon the rebellious person. In Scripture, the gospel is communicated within relationships; when relationships are abandoned, it impacts the flow of the gospel into that prodigal’s life. Obviously, God works through any and every means, and He is not limited to the grandparent–adult child relationship. But it’s still good to remind the grandparents that they can say “I love you” even if they don’t approve of a child’s choices. Barnabas Piper’s article 12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child offers excellent practical advice for anyone in this situation.
When there is a prodigal child, grandparents need to view themselves as the spiritual surrogates for the grandchild. Grandparents are the God-designed last line of defense for the family, and they can have a significant impact on a grandchild’s faith, just as Lois did with Timothy in the Bible. If their prodigal child will allow them, grandparents should step into the role of the grandchild’s primary spiritual caregiver. If parents aren’t taking their children to church or having regular devotions with them, but they’ll let a grandparent do so, encourage the grandparents to step into this role.
If that’s not an option, encourage grandparents to be creative. Adult prodigals may not let grandparents give Bibles or Christian books, but they may allow Christian music or movies. My two favorite sources are rootedkids.com and Seeds Family Worship.
For about 75 percent of grandparents, most of their grandchildren live one hundred miles or more away. They may ask you how they can invest spiritually in grandchildren who are so far away. I have two words you can share with them: technology and intentionality.
Pastors can encourage grandparents to take advantage of the technology available today instead of being intimidated by it, whether it’s video calls on FaceTime or Skype, texting, email, or whatever comes next. You may need to remind them that if they are reluctant to try doing this, they may have a hard time connecting in this digital age with digital grandchildren. Encourage grandparents in your church to start investing time to learn to use these tools, because it will be hard to maintain long-distance relationships without them.
Long-distance grandparents must also be intentional. Advise them to be proactive in putting family times on the calendar and to be willing to be the ones doing the traveling. Suggest that grandparents in your church share their creative solutions with each other. Some grandparents take grandchildren on trips; others do some kind of “Camp Grammy and Grandpa,” where the grandkids come to stay for a few days or a week. By being intentional with the calendar, giving family the first and the best time they have, and being willing to make the trips is to accept the reality of life today. If grandparents can get technology and intentionality down, long-distance challenges are not insurmountable. Grandparents can have deep relationships with their grandchildren and do what God is calling them to do.
In For the Next Generation: Engaging Grandparents for Powerful Impact, Dr. Mulvihill shares, “As a pastor to young people, I feel it is strategic to invest time and energy in helping grandparents spiritually influence children’s lives.” Find out how to make that investment in the seniors in your church! We also recommend Mark Holmen’s Inspiring and Involving Grandparents Who Lack Purpose.