Grandparents have potential for powerful influence
I was dead wrong.
My first staff position in a small church was as a youth/children’s pastor. To be transparent, I was afflicted with a young man’s ego, and saw myself as the be-all and end-all to discipling the kids in my group. It never occurred to me that the parents might be better positioned to influence them. God did use me, but I was so wrong to not consider the parents. SO wrong.
I eventually saw the error of my own ego, and moved into a role of training others, but my approach still put the responsibility for discipling children on workers in the church. I trained them with fervor. And I still didn’t really consider the role of parents. Still wrong.
Then, I saw with new eyes the commandment of Ephesians 6:4, and like many, many others in the early 2000s, became convicted that I had ignored the truth revealed in that verse: Parents are to be the primary spiritual trainers of their children. My approach was forever changed. Got that part right.
At the same time, I became a grandfather, and that changed my perspective. After three little ones, my daughter’s marriage failed. They moved in with us, and I became both dad and grandpa. I began to have a new fervor—to influence my grandkids. But I was neither the children’s worker in the church nor the parent, and I still never thought beyond those grandchildren to a broader ministry implication. More perspective change, but still more learning to come.
I was like my friend Wayne Rice, the co-founder of Youth Specialties and one of youth ministry’s most respected voices (children’s ministry people know him as Mary Rice Hopkins’ brother). Wayne told me recently, “For decades, I taught youth pastors that parents had the most influence; grandparents were second, and youth workers were third. It just occurred to me that in all those years, I talked about the first and the third, but never once talked about the second.”
Then another verse—that I had read so many times—became new to me: Deuteronomy 4:9, “… make them [the things of God] known to your sons and your grandsons.” The ”and” riveted my attention. I began to study the “generation-to-generation” passages in the Bible, and I became passionate about the truth that I had a two-generation responsibility to influence my family. And my desire to be an intentional Christian grandparent grew.
I observed that my peers—other grandparents—often lacked this vision. I looked for books on the subject and found very few. I tried to find videos, and found only two series. I work with lots of large churches, and began asking, “Do you have a grandparenting ministry?” None that I asked said yes. (I later found one.) A new calling began to become clearer.
Now I’m on a mission—to help the church, and the grandparents in it, see the model that is in Scripture: that while parents are primarily responsible for the spiritual training of children, grandparents have a secondary responsibility that is nearly as powerful as that of the parents.
I want to see my peers go from being Christian grandparents to being intentional Christian grandparents. I want to see churches recognize this potential for discipleship and begin to equip it. I want to see resource providers develop studies and materials that will encourage and equip grandparents for their role in discipling children.
Here are three reasons why.
- Grandparents are second only to parents in their potential to influence children spiritually. They have way more potential than the average children’s worker in the church because they have the child’s heart, and they usually have way more time with them.
- Grandparents are usually highly motivated to influence their grandchildren for Christ. Sometimes it’s because of their own failures, sometimes because of the widening chasm between culture and biblical truth, and sometimes because of the lack of interest in spiritual things by their adult kids. They are often more passionate than parents about the spiritual development of the grandkids. Children’s pastors tell me that at least ten percent of the children in their ministry are brought by grandparents—some because they have custody, and some because they simply care more than the parents.
- Intentional involvement of grandparents in their grandchildren’s spiritual development is congruent with the family patterns that are revealed in Scripture. In other words, it is biblical.
On the other hand …
- The role of grandparents is given little attention in churches. Most church leaders have never thought about such a ministry; they properly have a focus on parenting and minister to senior saints, but overlook the group in between—younger grandparents.
- There are simply too few resources. For the nearly 30 million Christian grandparents in America, there are very few books, videos, blogs, or seminars that address their potential for influence. We can do better.
What must churches do?
- Redefine what they mean by “family ministry.” Most churches target the nuclear family, but don’t think of the exceptions (i.e., grandparents raising kids) or the extended family including grandparents.
- Recognize their mental image of a “grandparent” may be wrong. Too many think “senior saints” when they hear the word, but the average age for becoming a grandparent is 47. The emerging grandparent is who we can and must target.
- Recognize the passion of this group. They are called “empty nesters” or named by their age group; how much better to name them after their greatest passion (their grandkids)!
- Envision them for being intentional. I have not found a more eager audience than grandparents when you start talking about their grandkids and how to help them grow spiritually. They are typically much more receptive than parents.
- Equip them for ministry. There are many barriers, like uncooperative adult children or their spouses, broken relationships, and distance. They need to know of tools they can use and resources they can find.
- Create a core group of impassioned grandparents and launch something—a seminar, a small group, or a class. Just get it going!
How does this impact children’s ministry?
If you want it to do that, I suggest you take a new approach to engaging grandparents. Usually we try to guilt grandparents into staying involved, and we get the answer back, “Well, I did my time.”
Try the side door since the front one isn’t working so well. Get them passionate about ministering to their own grandchildren, and then ask, “If your grandchild was in another city (of course, many are), wouldn’t you want a grandparent there to be an influence on your grandkids? So how about you return the favor by being an influence to the kids we have in our church whose grandparents live in another city?
Then, create a position that better allows them to be who they are. One of our best Awana ministries has created an option for game time that is called Grandpa and Grandma Time, where kids who don’t want to play can just go sit and talk one-on-one with a grandparent. The kids love it and so do the grandparents.
There is simply incredible potential for grandparents to influence our youngest generation, and we’ve overlooked that potential too long. Now is the time to harness the wisdom, the resources, the energy, the savvy, and the passion of millions of Christians in America—grandparents.
It’s for this cause that I am part of a group launching a new organization—the Legacy Coalition. It will be a coalition of family resource providers that will begin to equip churches to minister to grandparents, and a coalition of churches that will commit to launching and sustaining ministry that envisions and equips the second most powerful influence in the lives of our children.
Watch for it. Join us. Together, let’s tap this incredible resource.
After 40 years in children’s ministry, Larry Fowler isn’t sleeping well at night because God is stirring his soul with the need to engage 30 million potential children’s workers in a new way: getting the Christian grandparents in America to be intentional in influencing their grandchildren! He is now Chief Catalyst of the Legacy Coalition, a new national ministry devoted to envisioning and equipping grandkids. legacygrandparents.org