My wife, Karen, and I have a small decorative pillow in our living room embroidered with the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Grandchildren furnish me great resources of happiness.” It’s true, our 12 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren are one of the great joys of our lives.
When people ask how we grew our family so large, so quickly, we tell them mergers and acquisitions! Each of our three children got married in their 30’s to spouses who had children from a previous marriage (a sign of the times). Then they had their own children – yours, mine, and ours. Hence, the mergers and acquisitions. It truly is one of our favorite seasons of life, attending an unending stream of their sporting events, concerts, recitals, birthday celebrations, weddings, etc.
I’ve also been a passionate disciple-maker for over 50 years of ministry working with college students, professional athletes, businessmen, and planting churches and currently training other pastors and Christian leaders in my role with The Bonhoeffer Project (TBP).
So, you can imagine my excitement a few years ago when I discovered that two of my great joys in life had a deep biblical connection. Grandparenting is not just a fun season of life, it’s a sacred calling! It’s an opportunity to make disciples with some of the people you love the most.
Christian grandparenting is also a growing movement throughout our country with an explosion of grandparenting conferences, Grand Camps, books, video resources, and small group curriculums. When I discovered this movement I was reminded of the advice of Henry Blackabee, “Don’t just look for something to do, look for what God is already doing and get in on it.”
Christian grandparenting is one of the most natural and effective arenas there is for disciple-making and a fertile training ground for developing skills that will serve you well in disciple-making outside your family. Generational influence has a broad application that extends far beyond the family but I have found the immediate context of family to be a helpful starting point.
Let me give you a brief overview of this biblical teaching. In Deuteronomy 4:1 we see the phrase “the God of your fathers” (sometimes translated ancestors or forefathers). That is one of many ways the Bible talks about grandfathers. You see a similar idea in Exodus 3:6 when God introduces himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” For the Israelites, this is comparable to saying, “I am the God of your great great grandfather, great grandfather, and grandfather.” Notice too, the multi-generational language that is used in Deuteronomy 4:9.
“Impress these commands…make them known to your children and your children’s children.”
We tend to put a period after children, but there isn’t a period after children. It goes on to talk about “children’s children.” Those are called grandchildren! We tend to think in nuclear terms, but the Bible thinks in generational, extended family terms.
Look, too, at Deuteronomy 5:1:
“Moses summoned all Israel and said to them…”
In the larger context, it is clear that the word all is directed not just to the parents (although that’s the way we think of it). The context here is the Ten Commandments and the transmission of God’s truth is envisioned as taking place in the gathered intergenerational community of everyone from the little ones to the older ones – all together.
I just introduced you in three chapters, Deuteronomy 4-6, to three different ways Scripture talks about grandparenting. As you start reading through Scripture, recognizing how those terms point to grandparenting, you’ll go “Wow, it’s all over the place!”
Perhaps my favorite passages on grandparenting are in the Psalms.
“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”
Notice, not just the next generation (our children), but to all who are to come (our children’s children).
Again, in Psalm 78:5-6,
“He decreed statues for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which 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.”
Notice that generational influence is envisioned to the third and fourth generation. We in the West tend to think in individualistic terms, but God sees a bigger picture and thinks in multi-generational terms…
There are literally hundreds of subtle references and many explicit references to the biblical role of grandparenting. And if grandparenting is important to God it should be important to us. Since God designed grandparenting, He gets to define grandparenting, not what the culture says.
What the culture says goes something like this;
“You did your time, so now go live your autonomous lives without intruding into your kids’ lives. Don’t burden them, don’t meddle in their business. Be a playmate or a babysitter. Spend money on them. Sugar them up and send them home.” 1
As one resident of a well-known senior retirement village said;
“I raised my children and I didn’t want to raise anyone else’s. The only thing I worry about these days is my golf game.”2
How sad. If you are a grandparent, God has sustained your life for a much higher purpose! It’s a chance to come alongside your own kids, cheer them on, assist them and help make some significant investments in the next generation.
Let’s look at one more passage that provides some practical insight on how we disciple our grandchildren.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
Lesson 1: Intentionally Engage Grandparents
We need to intentionally leverage the extended family (especially grandparents) and the larger intergenerational community.
Notice how Moses addresses his audience, “Hear O Israel.” Clearly he has in mind more than immediate parents, (i.e., you, your children and their children after them. cf 6:2)
Studies show that next to parents, the greatest influence on teenage development are not peers, pastors, coaches or teachers, but grandparents!
Lesson 2: Model Personal Discipleship
As one of my favorite professors used to say, “You cannot impart what you do not possess.” Disciple-making is not just about doctrine to be believed (i.e., monotheism, “the Lord is one”) it is more a relationship to be nurtured (i.e., Love the Lord with all your heart…soul…and strength).
Lesson 3: Leverage the Natural Flow of Day-to-Day Life
Moses is clearly not envisioning a classroom setting, but rather the normal flow of daily life, “When you sit at home…when you walk…when you lie down…when you get up” (i.e., look for teachable moments when you…watch tv, drive kids to practice, at meal time and bedtime).
Just last week, after church, my oldest daughter invited Karen and I to have lunch with her and our two teenage granddaughters at a nearby restaurant. One of them was enjoying a summer work experience and making money, which was very exciting to her. The conversation moved very naturally to a simple practice we had taught their mom when it came to money – save some, give some and spend some. We shared stories of their older siblings and family friends who had demonstrated remarkable generosity in their own lives. Stories are more powerful than propositional statements because we learn best by imitation not instruction.
Our other granddaughter had just returned from a great experience at Surf City, a summer camp for middle schoolers on Lake Michigan, where dozens of churches and hundreds of kids spent a week at camp. The discussion turned to the racial diversity represented at the camp and flowed naturally into the challenges and benefits of that experience. What a beautiful opportunity to talk about some of the hot topic issues our country is wrestling with in a biblical framework.
All in all, our lunch, with all three generations present, was a wonderful experience of relational disciple-making with our grandkids in a natural, informal setting where faith is “more caught than taught.”
Let me conclude this column with one of my favorite stories of generational legacy which goes back to the Bolshevik Revolution. Professor Gordon Rupp, a British historian, was asked, “How did the church in Russia survive decades of persecution and communist propaganda?” His answer, “It was largely due to the grandparents!”
The Communists made the big mistake of thinking that because the church was full of old people it had no future. But they failed to realize that grandparents have a significant impact on their grandchildren. The old Russian grandparents passed on their faith. They captured the vision of being champions and custodians of a spiritual legacy!
[*For more information and resources on biblical grandparenting check out www.legacycoalition.com]
This post originally appeared at: Putting the Grand Back In Grandparenting — The Bonhoeffer Project
 Cited inn Leisureville, by Andrew Bleckman
 Cited in Leisureville, by Andrew Bleckman