Secret weapon. Unrealized potential.
By Michael Crosley
A secret weapon—does your church have one? Recently Jeff Faull, our senior minister at Mt. Gilead Church in Mooresville, Indiana, said in a sermon, “We are unleashing a secret weapon . . . grandparents.” He was inviting all grandparents to attend a seminar on the biblical mandate to teach God’s Word “to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
We were astounded by the response. Four weeks later, more than 90 grandparents of 325 grandchildren participated in a Saturday morning vision-casting seminar that launched a grandparenting ministry at Mt. Gilead. The enthusiastic response to the seminar showed the interest of Christian grandparents in being actively engaged in the spiritual development of their grandchildren.
What is grandparenting ministry?
Grandparenting ministry is a clarion call for grandparents to rise up and assume their God-ordained roles as heritage builders and faith preservers for the generations that follow them.
Grandparenting ministry is not just another program to be added to the plethora of church activities. Rather, it’s a movement to alter traditional views about grandparenting. Too often families and churches see grandparents as honored bystanders or babysitters. Some grandparents say things like, “We’ve done our job, raised our kids, and now it’s time to retire and just enjoy life.” But such an attitude is neither biblical nor productive. Our hope is to start seeing families adopt multigenerational strategies for the spiritual development of children and youth.
Mt. Gilead’s grandparenting ministry is about inspiring, encouraging, equipping, and empowering grandparents to be intentionally involved in the spiritual formation of their children’s children. We are helping grandparents find ways to pass on their faith to the younger generations.
The ministry is not a part of a “senior saints” ministry. (Studies show the average age at which people become grandparents is 47.) Instead, this ministry has a mutigenerational flavor. The primary targets for participation are people between the ages of 45 and 70, since they are most likely to have grandchildren who are forming their core beliefs and spiritual priorities.
Why should a church emphasize grandparenting?
It’s based on scriptural mandates. Scripture tells grandparents to pass on their spiritual heritage to the generations that follow them.
In his excellent book Biblical Grandparenting, Josh Mulvihill writes,
There are hundreds of references to grandparents or grandparenting in the Bible. The central thrust of these Scripture passages is that God designed grandparents to be key disciple-making influences in the lives of children. God has a plan and a purpose for grandparents, which focuses on the transmission of faith in Christ to future generations.
There are many Scripture references that make God’s mandate to grandparents clear. Here are two:
“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” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done, . . . so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:4-7).
God’s Word emphasizes the need to pass our faith on to our children and our children’s children. The logic and potential of that is clear. When faith is effectively passed on to new generations, the people tend to remember God’s deeds and keep his commands. Can you think of a better way to invest the “grand” season of your life?
It has a receptive constituency. Mt. Gilead is seeing, even in the early stages of the ministry, that Christian grandparents are a very receptive constituency. Statistics about youth abandoning their faith are very worrisome to these folks. Grandparents are often worried about the impact of negative cultural changes and eroding values and want to do something to stem the tide. That’s where the ministry will be most helpful by providing ideas, resources, and encouragement.
It unleashes the power of grandparent influence. A Barna study found
the top five influencers in the lives of young people are (1) parents, (2) grandparents, (3) teachers and coaches, (4) friends, and (5) pastors or religious leaders. Think for a moment about how many grandparents you have in your church. What would happen if your church would help them become spiritual influencers and active partners in the disciple-making process with parents, youth ministers, and church leaders? The grandparents of your church can possibly impact many more generations—even children yet unborn.
Mt. Gilead is just beginning this effort, so outcomes are yet to be assessed, but I can attest that intentional grandparenting works.
My wife, Joy, and I are the grandparents of eight who range in age from 8 to 17. About 10 years ago we began to evaluate our approach to grandparenting by asking questions like, “What are we doing to help them grow spiritually and what are we giving them that will really last?” We concluded we needed to change the way we approached grandparenting by developing strategies to help disciple our grands. Some examples of those strategies include:
Girls Rock Camp—This is a weeklong retreat where we have fun and creative activities, but our main focus is to pour our faith and Christian values into our granddaughters.
Ten-Year-Old Trips—We have visited wonderful places and had enormous amounts of fun, but the deeper purpose of these trips has been to share our faith by telling our grandchildren “God stories” and our family’s stories.
Generosity Projects—We have sought to teach our grands the joy of generosity. For example, we have given each grandchild money with a note that says, “This is your money to use as you choose, but we would be pleased if you use some or all of it to bless other people.”
One year the kids decided to add their own money, which more than doubled our gifts. They used the money to buy fabric to make more than 100 blankets. On a subzero night in January, the kids distributed the blankets to homeless people at a soup kitchen. It was a powerful lesson. Since we started doing that, the children have, on their own, initiated several other projects.
We recognize that every grandparenting situation is unique and what we have done will not work for everyone. We hope the examples provided will serve to stimulate creative thinking and help others in their quest to be more intentional in their grandparenting.
Since changing our approach to grandparenting, our favorite Bible verse has become, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
Michael Crosley retired after serving 10 years as founder and executive director of LifeBridge Community in Indianapolis, Indiana, an organization that provides services to at-risk children and families.
Read the sidebar, “Our Grandparenting Ministry—and Yours.”