Grandparents Discipling Grandchildren

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The two of them were sharing comments and giggling through my entire sermon, the 70-year-old woman and the teenager. I wasn’t offended (their demeanor seemed warm and friendly, as far as I could tell from the pulpit), but I was curious.

And my curiosity was soon satisfied.

Worship done, shaking hands at the door, the older one said, “Hi, I’m Jeannette Winter and this is my grandson, Carson. We both loved your message and couldn’t stop reflecting on it together as you were preaching. You probably noticed” (eyes twinkling).

After the hand-shaking line was done, Jeanette returned to continue the conversation.

“My daughter and her husband have left the faith, and I’ve been coming to church with Carson for many years. His engagement varies quite a bit from week to week, but I’m so thankful that he is happy to worship with me. It’s a long drive to pick him up, but it’s worth it.”

Later Carson joined our conversation too. After three minutes I realized that he was a wonderful young man working through some adolescent confusions, and I felt very thankful that he had a grandma like Jeannette.

There are many thousands of Jeannette/Carson relationships in the CRC, and their numbers will increase in the years ahead.

How might we support the strengthening of Jeannette/Carson type relationships, of grandparents discipling grandchildren? Here are a few ideas.

Acknowledge that it’s a common reality that needs our support.

Are you a grandparent whose children have wandered from the Lord? Look for support. Are there similar grandparent/grandchildren relationships in your church community? Find appropriate ways to surround them with encouragement. Form a relationship with the child or teen, remembering that we all need 5-6 adults who encourage us in our walk with the Lord. Gently reflect with the grandparent on what such discipling is like, and be a loving, prayerful supporter.

Help grandparents develop a “discipler’s mindset.”

All believers are also disciplers, but we often feel inadequate, especially when our own married children have left the faith. “What did we do wrong?” we ask ourselves, and we lose the confidence to disciple our grandchildren. Churches can form short-term small groups for grandparents and go through a book such as Ralph Milton’s The Spirituality of Grandparenting or Elsie Rempel’s Please Pass the Faith: The Art of Spiritual Grandparenting. Such small groups yield two rich benefits: they develop a discipler’s mindset, and they become a support group as each grandparent experiments his or her way into discipling relationships.

As a grandparent, cultivate simple longterm discipling practices.

A grandmother of 13 told me she sends every one of her grandchildren a card once a month, and she’s done it since each one was two years old. Each card is simple: a tiny glimpse into her own life, an acknowledgement of recent or upcoming special events in the child’s life, a reminder that her love and prayers for each one continue. By the age of 21, each one will have received 228 cards, a cumulative reflection of the Lord’s faithfulness, grace, and care!

What simple longterm practices fit your character and situation? Gently winsome ways of sharing glimpses of your faith story (see the Faith Storytelling Toolkit for ideas), engaging mealtime or bedtime devotions during visits, praying together by Skype or FaceTime, going on a mission trip or other kind of trip that has a discipling component.

Appoint a congregational “grandparent-as-discipler coach.”

In every congregation there is one person who will read a blog like this and hear God’s call:  “The need is great, the opportunities are plentiful. I’d love to be the person who equips and encourages grandparents as grandchild-disciplers.”

Who is waiting to hear that call in your church? Who is going to nudge that person? Our team at Faith Formation Ministries would love to support that person, and we can be reached at [email protected].

Dear Grandparent: find one or two supportive resources that suit your style best.

Here’s a tiny sampling to get you started:

Each of the following resources are helpful tools for encouraging faith-nurturing conversations and are wonderful for grandparents to have on hand in their homes for when they are caring for or visiting with their grandchildren:

  • God Loves Me Storybooks are a wonderful way for grandparents to tell God’s stories to the little ones in their care. They are sold in a set of 52 books or individually.
  • Each of the 152 cards in a set of God’s Big Story Cards includes questions which connect with a Bible story and which invite users to ‘Wonder’ aloud and ‘Share’ their thoughts and stories.  
  • Faith Talk with Children (ages 3-11) and Faith Talk Conversations cards are available for purchase from FaithWellMT.
  • Faith5 (Faith Acts in The Home) provides a simple pattern for devotions which encourage faith forming conversations.

Just imagine the Lord working through 10,000 grandparents like Jeannette and many more thousands of grandchildren like Carson. An encouraging verse comes to mind: “Sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening do not let your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well” (Eccl. 11:6).

If all or part of this post will bless grandparents in your congregation, share it freely!

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As a parent who has left the CRC, I find this article and the included reference material troubling. The implied assumption is that grandparents should feel free to subvert the parents' intended religious upbringing of their children. It also seems that the implied purpose for building relationships is to sell the grandparents' faith to the grandchildren, not unlike the newly friendly neighbor angling to later sell you Amway.

How would you feel about grandparents who used similar techniques and resources to convert their Christian grandchildren to Scientology? You might advise parents to avoid leaving their children with them. The kids probably wouldn't be too thrilled about it either. To me, this is no different.

My advice is to keep grandparental "discipling" to a minimum. If you want a good relationship with your children and grandchildren, consider these guidelines:

⦁    Talk with the parents about their wishes regarding their kids' religious upbringing, then respect those wishes (and the parents), even when the parents aren't around.
⦁    Answer the kids' questions about your religious beliefs without pressuring them to adopt your beliefs as their own.
⦁    Have devotions, pray, talk about faith, etc. as much as you normally would if they weren't around, not more or less.
⦁    Don't target them with religious videos, books, music etc.

Be yourself, be honest and, contrary to this article, don't manipulate your grandchildren in sneaky ways or conspire with your congregation to do so. Support, encourage and enjoy your family, wherever they are on their faith journey. It's infinitely more pleasurable for everyone, and, frankly, reflects more positively on your faith. 
 

Thanks, Charles,for clarifying something I unintentionally seem to have left ambiguous. I agree: such discipling must occur with the parents' approval. I know that Carson's parents (not,of course, his real name) do approve of Jeannette's discipling relationship with him, and many other grandparents in this situation have similarly received permission. The article  is not intended in any way to encourage manipulation and deception. I apologize if it appeared to condone such practices.