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Characteristics of a Disciple-Making Grandparent

The Bible has hundreds of references to grandparenting, but these references are often missed because the Bible uses phrases such as children’s children, son’s son, father’s father, or forefather to speak of grandparenting.

One of the most common passages of Scripture utilized for family discipleship is Deuteronomy 6:4–9. The Christian community limits the application of Deuteronomy 6 to parents, but based on the context of Deuteronomy 6:1–2 it has a broader application that includes grandparents.

Moses gave the community a charge to love God and diligently teach young people the commands of God. Moses states the commands of God are for “you and your son and your son’s son” (Deuteronomy 6:1–2). The reference to “son’s son” means that Deuteronomy 6:4–9 is not only for parents, but grandparents.

Almost every grandparent that I’ve met wants to connect deeply with their children and grandchildren and make an eternal difference in their lives. The Bible equips us to do that. We are going to explore a number of biblical principles that will help you disciple future generations.

Here are four characteristics of a disciple-making grandparent:

  1. Disciple-Making Grandparents view grandchildren as a blessing, not a burden.

Do you remember what you felt when you learned that you would be a grandparent? Were you enthusiastic or ambivalent? Excited or anxious? Motivated or mad? Did you view your new grandchild as a blessing or a burden?

This first point deals with our heart. Your attitude about being a grandparent reveals much about your heart and what you believe about grandparenting. We want our attitude toward grandparenting to reflect God’s attitude toward grandparenting. What is God’s attitude toward grandparenting?

The Bible tells us that it is a blessing to know your grandchildren. Psalm 128:6, “May you see your children’s children.” The ministry of Grandparenting is to be received as a blessing not rejected as a burden. The grandparent who has a poor attitude toward grandparenthood in general or a grandchild specifically is at odds with God’s plan.

Every grandchild is created in the image of God and is therefore his sovereign plan for your life. Every grandchild is to be highly valued regardless of gender, race, health, or personality. Every grandchild is to be received with love and embraced as God’s good design for your life.

Grandchildren are a blessing. Do you believe that? Or have you felt resentment because of the cost of grandparenting? By nature, grandparenting requires sacrifice. It requires us to die to ourselves and our wants. Dying to ourselves is the exact opposite message you are fed by culture – you’ve done your time, now go play and travel.

If you’ve ever wished a grandchild wasn’t born or that you never became a grandparent, you’re not alone. I’ve met many grandparents who won’t verbally admit that they view a grandchild as a burden, but harbor these feelings in their heart.

If you struggle to receive a grandchild as a blessing, pray that God would soften your heart and change your attitude. Ask God to give you his love for a grandchild. Some of us need to release our plans to the Lord and choose to trust God’s sovereign plan for our life even when life turns out different than envisioned.

We must allow the Bible to shape our view of grandchildren. The Bible tells us that it is a blessing to have grandchildren. Proverbs 17:6 states, “Grandchildren are a crown of the aged.” That is a significant statement that speaks to the incredible value of grandchildren. Interestingly, it is not wealth, health, career accomplishments, or social status that the Bible says are the crown of your life. That honor goes to grandchildren.

A crown bestows honor and represents a high position in life unmatched through any other source. Your attitude and actions should reflect the value given to grandchildren by God in Scripture. We talk a lot about giving a blessing to grandchildren. Grandchildren are the blessing that God has given you. Have you received each grandchild as a blessing and does your attitude reflect it?

  1. Disciple-making grandparents understand the biblical purpose of grandparenting.

What is the purpose of grandparenting? My research discovered that only about 1 in 4 Christian grandparents have clarity about that question. If you are interested in a deep dive into the biblical role of a grandparent then I want to encourage to get Biblical Grandparenting or Grandparenting, but for now I’ll summarize this by saying that you must have a settled conviction on this truth: God designed grandparenting. He created it. Grandparenting is God’s idea.

Colossians 1:16 states, “All things were created by him and for him.” Grandparenting was created by God and for God. This is an important point for all Christian grandparents to understand because everything God creates, including grandparenting, he creates for a reason. If God created grandparenting, the natural question that arises is, why? God must have a purpose for it. What is grandparenting meant to accomplish?

God created grandparents to partner with parents to raise the next generation to know, love, and serve Jesus. Grandparents and parents are teammates working toward the same biblical goals. We are fellow laborers created to point grandchildren to Christ and raise help raise them to spiritual maturity.

Grandparents are the adjunct servant of the godly parent and the spiritual surrogate of the ungodly parent.

What do I mean by that? God designed parents as the primary disciple-makers in a child’s life and he created grandparents as a secondary, but important influence. If parents are raising children in the Lord then grandparents support and encourage parents to fulfill the task God has given them and reinforce the work of the parent by investing directly into the spiritual life of a grandchild. In this case, you are discipling the disciple-makers. If parents are not raising children in the Lord then grandparents need to lovingly encourage parents to take seriously the responsibility God has given them. Children who are not actively discipling present an opportunity for grandparents to invest more heavily by stepping into a more prominent disciple-making role in the life of a grandchild.

Family discipleship is one of the critical reasons grandparents are needed. You are in an excellent position to encourage an adult child to prioritize the discipleship of children.

God created grandparents with a unique role and a specific function and your job is to enthusiastically embrace God’s design. When we reject the design, we reject the designer. Grandparenting is not a take-it or leave-it cultural creation whose purpose and meaning change with each new generation. God did not create grandparents as an unnecessary, optional appendage to the family. God created grandparents to play a crucial role in the spiritual development of grandchildren by linking arms with parents to work toward the same goals of raising future generations to know, love, and serve Jesus.

Every grandparent needs clarity on an important question. How much discipleship is happening in your child’s home? You need clarity so that you know how best to spiritually invest as a grandparent.

  1. Disciple-Making grandparents are actively involved with family.

Research reveals that the quality of a grandparent and grandchild relationship is based on the frequency of interaction. Not surprisingly, it is difficult to develop a deep and intimate relationship with limited contact, which reduces the spiritual impact of grandparents.

Researchers Cherlin and Fustenberg researched the amount of time grandparents spend with grandchildren and found three categories of relational involvement:

  • Detached: 26% of grandparents. Detached grandparents often urge children to be self-sufficient and independent which creates an emotional distance between family members, resulting in grandparents being remote figures in their family’s life.
  • Passive: 29% of grandparents. Passive grandparents are careful to keep their distance, do not press for additional time with family, often feel burdened by the responsibility of being a grandparent, and are sometimes ambivalent but still feel the role of grandparenthood is rewarding. Detached and passive grandparents tend to interact with grandchildren less than once or twice a month.
  • Active: 46% of grandparents. Active grandparents spend a lot of time with grandchildren, have a positive view of being a grandparent, regularly share their opinions, and gently tell grandchildren when they disprove of a choice or behavior. Active grandparents tend to interact with grandchildren at least once a week or more.

How often do you interact with each grandchild? Children and grandchildren spell love T.I.M.E. If your interaction is infrequent, a simple way to increase your impact is to increase your frequency of interaction. Texting, letter writing, phone calls, and face-to-face visits are all tools grandparents can use to increase interaction. Whether you live close or far from family, the smart phone is an essential grandparenting tool.

Psalm 92:12-15 provides a picture of active grandparents. The psalmist uses the picture of a palm tree to make his point; “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our Lord. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him’” (Psalm 92:12–15).

Date palm trees bear hundreds of pounds of fruit well past 150 years of age and are a picture of what God expects from grandparents in the later third of their life. The psalmist teaches that righteousness in old age results in the continued production of spiritual fruit.

Psalm 92 shouts a truth that all grandparents need to hear: age does not impair fruit-bearing capabilities. It enhances them. Psalm 92 reminds grandparents that the latter years of life ought to be spiritually productive years for the purpose of declaring the nature of God to others. American culture attempts to convince grandparents that they have little to offer. Nothing is further from the truth. This passage speaks against the American ethos of retirement and reminds grandparents to be fruitful disciple-makers to their dying day.

Grandparents need to reject the narrative that the purpose of old age is a life of leisure and self-indulgence. The example of the palm tree suggests that a fruitless existence is not a category the Bible recognizes. God’s expectation for palm trees is also true for grandparents: to live is to bear fruit, even in one’s old age.

  1. Disciple-making grandparents make themselves available to help.

Today’s parents feel overwhelmed and grandparents can help. Huffington Post declared that overwhelmed parents are so common that it is a “national crisis.” Parents are overworked, family life is overscheduled, and your adult children often feel overwhelmed. The result is high levels of stress that leads to irritability, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Paul states, “Older women, train the younger women…older men, train the younger men” manage the home and character training (Titus 2:3-6). God’s design for the family is for the older to help and train the younger. Many of your adult children need help and are looking for a mentor. When I was a pastor in Rochester, MN my wives parents moved one mile from us. We did life together. They helped us in tangible ways – parenting guidance, home repairs, and took our kids twice a week. It was a blessing.

Today’s parents often struggle under the weight of child-rearing and the endless tasks that come with parenting. Here are a couple examples from young parents:

“Now that I am back to work full time, I get up at 5:00 a.m. to get the kid’s lunches ready. I often find myself doing laundry at 10:00 p.m. Last week I was picking up groceries at the supermarket at 11:00 p.m. I’m so exhausted at night when I got to bed, I can hardly talk to my husband, much less make love with him. I don’t like living this way, but I’m not seeing a way out.”

“When it comes to parenting, our work is never done. Things shout at us from every direction, making it easy to get perpetually stuck in doing mode. Help Sammy with his spelling words! Take the splinter out of Shannon’s finger! Do the dishes…feed the dog…sign the permission slip…get the boys in their bath…!”

“It doesn’t matter what causes us to be overwhelmed. Sometimes it can be a culmination of little stressors – orange peels left on the floor, peanut butter on the stairs, sassing back by the eight year old, kids that don’t want to go to bed, bills piling on the counter – or it can be just that life is deciding that at this moment it’s simply going to be hard. Money stuff. Relationship issues. Sickness. Death. Kid issues.”

Parents aren’t just overwhelmed by endless tasks, they are also overwhelmed by the volume of opinions about how to parent. Facebook feeds are full of opinions about nutrition, education, health care, and athletics. Academic research presents compelling arguments from different perspectives on media consumption, brain development, vaccinations, and a long list of topics parents should consider. Family and friends offer varied philosophical approaches with strong views about sleep training and discipline. Parents are increasingly taking their parenting cues from sources other than the Bible and are unsure how to raise children to love and follow Jesus. Many parents have quiet fears about messing up their child and are unsure what to do.

Parents often need help with day-to-day tasks of managing a home, a break from children, and parenting guidance from the Bible. God created grandparents to help. My encouragement is to ask how are you doing? How’s your marriage? How can we help? If your adult child does not provide anything, that’s okay, ask again at a later time.

My research revealed that only 1 in 10 Christian grandparents are directly involved with the youngest generation of their church in any meaningful way. The majority of grandparents have limited interaction with the young people of their congregation that amounts to a passing greeting in the hall and results in limited spiritual investment in their lives. Grandparents told me that they no longer disciple the younger generation of their church because they do not think they are wanted, needed, or no longer able to offer something of value to young people. Other Christian grandparents told me they served and now it is someone else’s turn.

In Titus 2, Paul gives an important leadership responsibility to the older generation, which centers on the discipleship of younger Christians. Biblical grandparents are models of the Christian life and teachers of younger generations. The church is in need of godly, mature Christians who will pour themselves into the lives of younger Christians.

Grandparents have a golden opportunity. Who are the children in your church that would benefit from an adoptive grandparent? What help do your children need? There will be times when your adult children feel overwhelmed by life and unsure how to parent. God never intended parents to raise children alone. Instead, God gave families the gift of grandparents to share burdens, to distribute the weight of child rearing, and as a means to provide multiple influences to raise children in the Lord.

Each of these areas, attitude, purpose, time, help have the potential to strengthen relationships and increase disciple-making impact. Which one or two resonated with where you are at today?

The Tale of Two Lumberjacks: A Meditation on Eccl. 10:10

There were two lumberjacks cutting wood. One said, “Before I start, I’m going to sharpen my blade.” The other said, “I have a lot of work to do. I don’t have time to waste.” He went straight into the forest and began chopping. The first lumberjack waited patiently while the blacksmith sharpened his axe. By the end of the day he had chopped down significantly more than the man with the dull axe.

Friend, which of these lumberjacks are you most like?

The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed” (Eccl. 10:10). The truth presented in this passage is that dull axes don’t cut well. They require more time and energy to get the job done. 

The fact is, many of us ignore the Bible’s advice. We are doing our work with a dull blade. The point of Ecclesiastes 10:10 is clear: Wise people sharpen their edge. Sharp edges cut faster and deeper. They are more efficient and effective. Applied to our spiritual life, a sharp edge leads to fruitfulness.

According to the Bible, there are numerous ways to sharpen our spiritual edge. Maybe the best know passage is Proverbs 27:17, which tells us that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Brothers and sisters in Christ are essential for our growth. Psalm 1 provides the most important way to be sharpened: delighting and meditating daily on God’s Word.

Meditating daily on God’s Word

Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who…delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:3 provides three illustrations, or outcomes, of being sharpened by God’s Word. The Psalmist states that the person who delights in the Word of God and meditates on it day and night will be “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season,” will be like a tree whose “leaf does not wither,” and “will prosper in all that he does.”

I summarize the three outcomes using the words fruitful, strength, and prosperous. Let’s consider each briefly.

  1. Fruitful

First, you will be a fruitful person when you delight in the Word of God. God’s Word is alive and active and it refines us into Jesus’ image. We are sharpened when we spend time in God’s Word. You know when you have been around these kinds of people because they are encouraging, refreshing, and nourishing. They help us grow. Their words are life giving. Their life is a model of Christian character. Spending time with them awakens, restores, and even convicts us. If you spend time in God’s Word, you will yield fruit. May there be more fruitful people!

  1. Strong

Second, you will be a strong person if you delight and meditate on God’s Word day and night. The Psalmist says, “Your leaf will not wither.” Leaves wither because of a lack of water. When there is a drought, if a tree is not planted by a stream, it will wither and possibly die. At a minimum, a tree without water will not produce fruit. Your leaf will remain evergreen, in spite of heat and drought, if you meditate on God’s Word daily. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you can sharpen your skills, increase your abilities, or develop your gifts and talents through your own effort. Transformation is the work of God, which is why change happens when we spend time in God’s Word. The Spirit of God works through the Word of God to transform us. If you draw your strength from God in His Word, then difficult seasons will not limit your fruit bearing capacity because your roots will run deep. May we find our strength and nourishment from God in His Word.

  1. Prosperous

The Psalmist tells us that “whatever he does, he prospers.” The prosperity Gospel uses this verse to suggest that if we do certain things, our marriage will be healthy, our business will produce great profits, and life will be good. This passage is not God’s version of habits for highly effective people. Psalm 1:4-5 makes a reference to eternity and says that wicked people will be blown away like chaff and unable to stand in judgment. God’s view of prosperity is an eternal view, not a materialistic view. While there may be prosperity in this life, God’s true measuring stick is what happens at the judgment and what lasts for eternity. The Psalmist tells us that the words and deeds of the wicked will be swept away. They are like chaff. They may have accumulated much wealth and fame, but from an eternal perspective their accomplishments are not considered prosperous. These people will stand before Jesus in judgment and learn that they wasted their life. On the other hand, those who delight in God’s Word will flourish and the fruit they bear will make a difference eternally. 

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” If you want to build a home, strengthen a marriage, restore a relationship, or make an eternal impact then sharpen your spiritual edge by spending time in God’s Word. 

Christian, if you are not spending time daily in God’s Word, then you are like the first lumberjack who gets up, goes about his business, and heads straight to the woods with a dull axe. We tell ourselves that we are busy and that we have a lot of work to do. While we punch a few things off our to-do list quickly, in the long run, our spiritual impact will be limited and suffer.

I’m impact hungry and my guess is that you are as well. No one wants to waste his or her life. I want to make a difference in my home and in this world for Christ. Ecclesiastes reminds us that before we start chopping, our edge needs sharpening. That happens as we spend time in God’s Word. May you sharpen your axe today.

A Family-Equipping Vision for Your Church

I’m often asked to help a church implement a family-equipping strategy. Pastors often ask how to present the vision to church leadership. A number of years ago I presented a family-equipping vision to my church and I am providing that for you to utilize with your church.

Biblical Foundation: The family is one of two great commission institutions that God created for evangelism and discipleship.

  • What is: “The promise is for you…and for all who are far off.” What’s missing from this Gospel progression?
  • What should be: “The promise is for you and for your household and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:39). God’s pattern for discipleship begins at home, moves across the street, and then around the world.

Psalm 78 is an entire chapter devoted to family discipleship and captures God’s vision for parenting and grandparenting: “so that they should set their hope in God (evangelism) and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (discipleship); and they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation.”

Problem: 168 hours in a week. For kids, media gets 28+. Education gets 30+. The church gets 1-2. Combine that with parents and grandparents doing little and we get Judges 2:10.

  • No family worship, intentional plan, or training by church. “A majority of parents do not spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials with their children…parents typically have no plan for the spiritual development of their children; do not consider it a priority, have little or no training in how to nurture a child’s faith.”[1]
  • Infrequent church attendance. “The average child attends an evangelical megachurch less than two times per month.”[2]
  • Strong media and educational influence. The average young person logs 4 hours of TV, video, internet per day and 16,000 educational hours between K-12. “Children will be in school 60 times as much as in church.”[3]

Our parents are relying on this pattern for the spiritual training of their children and the results are not good.

Four primary spiritual influences of young people: (1) parents, (2) grandparents, (3) teachers and coaches, and (4) religious leaders.[4]

  • What is: Church-based with home support.
  • What should be: Home-based with church support.

Problem: Philosophically, for the past 50 years, the evangelical church has operated as if #4 was #1, done little to equip parents, and ignored #2 and #3.

  • “Many of the church leaders talk about the importance of the family, but in practice they have written off the family as an agency of spiritual influence. Their assumption is that if the family is going to be influenced, it is the organized church that will do the influencing, primarily through its events–worship services, classes, special events, etc. This philosophy causes the impetus behind youth (and children’s) ministry to be fixing what is broken–that is, to substitute the efforts of the church for those of parents since most of the latter do not provide the spiritual direction and accountability that their children need. But there is a procedural problem here: kids take their cues from their family, not from their youth ministers. God’s plan was for the church to support the family, and for the family to be the front-line of ministry within the home.”[5]
  • Churches have said to families, “Bring your children to us. Let us teach them about Christ and we will include you in the process. Help us develop Sunday school, small groups, retreats, and vacation bible school. The message we are communicating to families is that the church should be the focal point for nurturing faith in their children.”[6]

Biblical Pattern: Timothy provides an example of discipleship in Scripture combining the influences of parent (Lois), grandparent (Eunice), and spiritual mentor (Paul). When a child has all three spiritual influences there is a greater chance for lifelong faith.

Proposal:

  • Write a philosophy of family ministry that will determine how we equip families.
  • Discuss how we can utilize the pulpit, resources, and equipping opportunities (small groups, classes, conferences) to train parents and grandparents. Create a scope and sequence of topics and resources.
  • Update mission statement to align with Scripture. We exist to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus Christ at home, across the street, and around the world.
  • Begin campaign: Every Family Worshipping Together. The goal is to equip every family to lead worship at home (read and discuss Bible, prayer, praise) and families worshipping together one hour on Sunday morning.

[1]George, Barna, “Parents Accept Responsibility for their Child’s Spiritual Development but Struggle with Effectiveness,” accessed October 11, 2016, https://www.barna.com/research/parents-accept-responsibility-for-their-childs-spiritual-development-but-struggle-with-effectiveness/.

[2]Larry Fowler, The Question Nobody Asks About our Children (Steamwood, IL: Awana, 2014), 11.

[3]Ibid., 18.

[4]George Barna, “Teen Role Models: Who They Are, Why They Matter,” accessed October 11, 2016, https://www.barna.com/research/teen-role-models-who-they-are-why-they-matter/#.V_K9ZrTKPFI.

[5]George Barna, Third Millennium Teens: Research on the Minds, Hearts, and Souls of American’s Teenagers (Ventura, CA: Barna Research Group, 1999), 66-67.

[6]Ben Freudenberg, The Family Friendly Church (Loveland, CO: Group Publisher, 1988), 28.