Five Characteristics of a Disciple-Making Grandparent
Christian grandparents need to take a few moments to ask “What does the Bible say about grandparenting?” “What is the goal?” “What am I trying to accomplish in the lives of my children and grandchildren?” For many Christian grandparents, the answer is to be a loving friend, an encouraging voice, or a supportive help. These are all good things, but they are not the primary goal that God provides in the Bible.
What we desperately need is an understanding of the biblical principles of grandparenting and a commitment to obey God’s Word in this area of life. If Christian grandparents consistently applied a few simple principles that are clearly communicated in God’s Word, it would yield a far greater return for Christian grandparents than any revolutionary model or trendy method.
I have written extensively about the biblical principles of grandparenting in the books Grandparenting and Biblical Grandparenting, but I will provide a few principles here to provide a foundation for the ideas in this book and commend those books to you for additional reading.
The most common passage of Scripture utilized for family discipleship is Deuteronomy 6:4–9. The Christian community often 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 the Lord 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, emphasis added). The reference to “son’s son” means that Deuteronomy 6:4–9 is not only for parents, but for grandparents. From a biblical perspective, grandparents have a critical role with the next generation that is centered around the transmission of faith.
Deuteronomy 6 helps us remember that discipleship is not one more thing to add to an already busy schedule. Discipleship is not a separate activity we do with a child. It is integrated into all of life. Discipleship can happen while playing catch, cooking dinner, watching a movie, driving in the car, reading the Bible, or working in the garden. According to Deuteronomy 6:7, the following portions of each day present great opportunities to disciple children:
- Mealtime: “when you sit in your house”
- Travel time: “when you walk by the way”
- Bedtime: “when you lie down”
- Morning time: “when you rise”
Discipleship is what we do as we go through our day. The biblical pattern is for the truth of the Bible to be transferred through everyday activity when we get ready for bed, eat a meal together, ride in the car, fold laundry together, engage in late-night talks, and have fun together. Grandparents who think that they can compartmentalize life by assigning a certain number of hours per week to spend on grandparenting have a philosophy that is contrary to the spirit of Deuteronomy 6. It is also a recipe to become a distant or disengaged grandparent. Most Christian grandparents I’ve met want to make an eternal difference in the lives of their children and grandchildren. The Bible tells us how to do that. Before we provide ideas to help you implement Deuteronomy 6 and disciple your grandchildren, let’s examine a few biblical characteristics that lay the foundation to be a disciple-making grandparent.
Disciple-Making Grandparents View Grandchildren as a Blessing
The Bible clearly teaches that grandchildren are a blessing to be embraced, not a burden to be avoided. The Bible tells us that it is a blessing to know our grandchildren. Psalm 128:6 states, “May you see your children’s children.” The ministry of grandparenting is to be received as a blessing. 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. 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 differently 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 the crown of the aged.” That significant statement 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. Your attitude and actions should reflect the value given to grandchildren by God in Scripture. Grandchildren are the blessing God has given you. Grandparenting gives life meaning. One sure way to experience misery is to neglect a blessing that God has given us. Grandchildren are a good gift from a good God who are to be embraced.
Disciple-Making Grandparents Understand the Biblical Purpose of Grandparenting
My research discovered that only about one in four Christian grandparents have clarity about the purpose of grandparenting. Many Christian grandparents operate as companions who emphasize emotional support or provide a helping hand but have a limited spiritual impact on family. A high percentage of Christian grandparents have unintentionally adopted an unbiblical role due to strong cultural messages, and the result is a disconnected family, loneliness, and overburdened children. If cultural messages are absorbed, then grandparents are placed at the periphery of family life where it is difficult to maintain close family relationships and significant discipleship of children and grandchildren. It is important to recognize and reject the cultural messages that encourage grandparents to live an independent life from family through noninterference and emotional autonomy as well as focus on indulgence of grandchildren by spoiling them and being their playmate. Discipleship is very difficult if independence and indulgence are central to one’s grandparenting philosophy.
The Bible teaches that God designed grandparenting for the purpose of multigenerational family discipleship. Colossians 1:16 states, “All things were created through 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.
God designed the family as the first and most important means of discipling children. God created a multigenerational approach to discipleship, which includes two parents (man and woman) and four grandparents, as well as the church family. Due to divorce on demand, death, single-parent homes, and the sexual revolution, this picture is increasingly uncommon. Grandparents are God-designed teachers, models, mentors, shepherds, and sometimes surrogate parents who fill the gap created when brokenness touches our home. God gave you grandchildren so that you can make disciples of all nations, beginning with your family. Discipleship is not easy work, but it is your purpose, and it is more satisfying than anything retirement can offer.
God created parents and grandparents as partners working toward the same goal, with different but complementary roles. Grandparents have been given a sacred trust in grandchildren, who are to be shepherded with care. Biblically, grandparents are disciple-makers who are to pass on a heritage of faith in Christ to future generations. Grandparents are fellow laborers created to point grandchildren to Christ and help raise them to spiritual maturity.
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 child and 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. Parents 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.
Disciple-Making Grandparents Bear Spiritual Fruit
Psalm 92:12–15 paints the picture that we are to produce spiritual fruit for all of life, the psalmist using the image 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’”).
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 you 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 old age.
Grandparenting fruit, in part, is measured by faithfulness to God’s commands. If we measure success based on what grandchildren do or become, we have set ourselves up for disappointment. We can only control ourselves, not how our children or grandchildren respond. Sometimes children or grandchildren who grow up in good Christian homes abandon Christ. Other times, God graciously transforms the lives of grandchildren whose families were a mess and parents were failures. In general, grandparents who follow biblical principles will see a positive effect on their family. God uses faithful grandparents as instruments in the salvation and sanctification of family members’ lives. However, a grandchild’s salvation is a matter that is settled between them and God, so we must diligently commit to praying for and impressing the truths of the Bible on a grandchild’s heart.
Disciple-Making Grandparents Focus on Their Own Spiritual Life
The Bible teaches that the first priority for a grandparent is who before what. God tells grandparents, “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 their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9). In Grandparenting, the following point is made:
What we do is a result of who we are. The condition of your heart determines every aspect of your life, including what you do as a grandparent. That is why it is safe to say that grandparenting is a matter of the heart. Most writing on grandparenting focuses on methods. The idea is that if you aren’t getting the right results, you must be doing the wrong things. But family literature that focuses on the external will never bring about lasting change. The starting place must be on your inner life—your thoughts, your motives, your values, and your beliefs.
The Bible teaches that the real issues of life are spiritual and are matters of the heart. That’s why God is concerned with who a grandparent is before what a grandparent does. Disciple-making grandparents, the ones who make an eternal difference, are those who are serious about their own spiritual condition by grieving over their own sin, hungering for Christ, and continuing to grow in spiritual maturity. Grandparents who passionately pursue Christ and live a God-honoring life present a strong apologetic that will not go unnoticed and will become a powerful instrument that God can use for the salvation of a grandchild.
God’s command to watch ourselves closely has many implications. It is a call to be holy and live in obedience to God’s commands. It suggests that our walk with Christ is the most important aspect of grandparenting. It is a reminder that no matter our age, our heart can grow cold and our affections can be misplaced. It is a warning not to make the same mistake as the Israelites, who forgot the work of God. It is an exhortation to fight the good fight of faith and finish the race strong.
Disciple-Making Grandparents Teach the Bible to Grandchildren
The Bible prioritizes teaching as the primary method of helping future generations know Christ and grow in maturity. Let’s explore a few passages that command grandparents to teach the truth of God’s Word to young people:
- “Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
- “Fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your sons’ son. . . . You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk about them when you sit . . . walk . . . lie down . . . rise” (Deuteronomy 6:2, 7).
- “He commanded our [fore] fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children” (Psalm 78:5–6).
- “Older women . . . are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands . . .” Older men, “urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:3–6).
Grandparents are to use the Bible to shape who a child becomes and how the child lives. This is the pattern and command of Scripture. Grandparents in Deuteronomy were commanded to teach the law of God (Ten Commandments) to children so that future generations develop an understanding of right and wrong. Grandparents in the Psalms were given a mandate to tell future generations about God’s character and His work, and to teach God’s laws so that children would not rebel against God. The grandparents of Titus 2 shape future generations by providing character training and guidance about how to be a godly mother and wife.
There is no substitute for living in a manner worthy of the Gospel, but also let us commit to verbally teaching biblical truths to the next generation so that they may develop a deep, lasting, Scripture-rooted faith that makes a difference for Christ in the world.
Discipleship is a slow process of small interactions over the course of a long time. It doesn’t feel spectacular to read the Bible for ten minutes with a grandchild or discuss matters of faith spontaneously for a few minutes, but over time the collective impact is significant. If you invest a mere thirty minutes a week to disciple a grandchild and do this from birth through eighteen years old, you will have invested 28,080 minutes (468 hours) discipling a grandchild.
God’s method for growth is spectacularly slow. The massive oak tree in my yard has been growing for more than 150 years. It grows at a rate that is slow and indiscernible. The God who slowly grows a strong, beautiful oak tree is the same God who grows a child’s faith. It is the ordinary opportunities and the biblical conversations, ten minutes at a time, week after week, that God uses to shape the hearts and minds of children. We may not see immediate results, but we can pray that God would use the moments to help a grandchild know, love, and serve Christ.
Let us avoid the temptation of instant discipleship or thinking that everything we do with a grandchild needs to be momentous and memorable. Some things will be. There should be some “wow” moments! But there will be many more mundane encounters. There is beauty in both. Whether momentous or mundane, I encourage a commitment to a long habit of reading the Bible, discussing it with a child, integrating God’s Word into daily activities and interactions that you will find in this book, and intentionally capitalizing on the opportunities we have—of whatever frequency that may be. Spiritual maturity is fueled by everyday interactions with godly people. Some are planned and some are spontaneous. This book will help you capture those everyday opportunities to intentionally disciple your children and grandchildren.