The Forgotten Ministry: The Influence of Our Grandparents
As Christian leaders, we are often made painfully aware of the culture’s drift away from the church Christ came to build. Not only the culture as a whole, but even our own younger generations have become known as the “nones” —those who claim no affiliation with God’s family. How did this happen, with all the faithful preaching, vast resources, seminars, and conferences available? It happened when we forgot the ministry of passing on our faith from one generation to the next; this is not new. We all remember the sad passage “… another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judg 2:10).
According to 2 Tim. 2:2 we are to be equipped to pass on our faith; however, I want to focus on one very important yet forgotten ministry: the ministry of grandparents. They are the last line of ministry to the next generation. Grandparents play a strategic role that parents cannot, one that is assumed in God’s command, “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” (Deut 4:9). Notice the command is not just to your children but to your grandchildren.
Recently, at a pastors meeting, my wife and I heard about the significance of equipping grandparents. We pondered about the power of being an “intentional Christian grandparent.” I am a grandparent, and I am a Christian. I want to influence my grandchildren for Christ, but I realized how ill-equipped I was at being an intentional Christian grandparent. Why? Because I allowed the culture to divert my focus; I also discovered I was not alone.
Research shows that three out of four Christian grandparents believe something other than disciplining their grandchildren is more important. Dr. Josh Mulvihill (author of Biblical Grandparenting) says the message of culture today is that the priority of grandparents is to encourage, support, and be friends with their grandchildren. They do not consider themselves as significant spiritual influencers in their grandchildren’s lives. Mulvihill says Christian grandparents fall into four types:
Cultural: doting, supportive
Blocked: discouraged, frustrated
Unequipped: unsure how, unaware of tools
My wife and I have nineteen grandchildren. We are in a second marriage after losing our first mates, so we brought together five daughters and sons-in-law with their children. We are experiencing many circumstances, such as distance grandparenting, blended family grandparenting (a remarriage), and age range grandparenting, nine to twenty-one. Intentional Christian grandparenting is not a one-size-fits-all process.
You must understand your role, how to work with different personalities, and especially how to use your time purposefully. Loving and supporting our grandkids comes easy, but touching their hearts is a challenge. It is much more than taking them to church or saying grace at the table. You need two kinds of wisdom; wisdom that God gives in His Word and wisdom we have gained by living with and without His Word. The wisdom God provides comes from reading and reflecting on His truth (Ps 77:11–12). It also comes from praying and asking (Jas 1:5). Wisdom from life takes thought and prayer as well. When we stand before God one day, He will ask us what wisdom did you gain as you walked on earth (Ps 90:12). It is this wisdom we are to pass on to our children and children’s children. It is when a grandfather says, “Let me tell you where I made a mistake or wished I had done differently.” that little ear perks up, questions get asked, and the truth gets embedded.
As grandparents, we have a unique position of influence in our families. We are only one step removed from the parents’ role of authority and respect, which makes us one step closer to safety for questions and influence. A simple first step is to share our faith story.
Yet there is an even wider position of influence and ministry for the kingdom of God. It is estimated there are approximately seventy-five million grandparents in America. Research enables us to estimate there are about thirty million Christian grandparents. If there is an average of 4 grandchildren per grandparent, that means we have the potential of influencing one-hundred and twenty million children for Christ! That is enough to change the next generation completely. Church leaders need to capitalize on this resource. Yet few if any, churches have a focus on that incredible potential. It is a forgotten ministry opportunity.
All churches have the stair-step ministries: children, youth, college/career, marriage, and families, then something for the elderly. Yet this is where it stops. There is little offered for those 60–80, and this is often when they step out of leadership. They have money and time, but we as the church have not given them a vision for their stage in life. A grandparent ministry could totally revitalize some churches (Ps 71:18). There is much to gain from generational teaching (Ps 78:3–8).
I wasn’t aware of many resources and platforms that addressed this niche ministry. Recently I learned about Legacy Coalition. I believe it is a God-ordained ministry purposed to answer this question: How do we reimagine the forgotten ministry of our grandparents? Legacy Coalition offers seminars and resources to help jump-start such ministries. Reigniting passion for the biblical mandate to be intentional Christian grandparents is their goal. If you are interested in more information and resources, contact: legacycoalition.com and/or Pete Deison at [email protected]
About the Contributors
Dr. Pete Deison, ( ThM, 1978) served as an assistant professor in the Hendricks Leadership Center (1988-1994). Currently, he serves as associate pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church and is president of the church’s Foundation.