According to just about every study I’ve seen on the spiritual development of children, grandparents rank second—right behind parents—as the most powerful spiritual influence on children. I don’t think most grandparents realize this fact, and I’m sure most churches don’t either, or they would certainly be doing more to encourage and equip grandparents for this
The best way for Christian grandparents to influence their grandchildren is to simply be around them, demonstrating by example what it means to follow Christ. Unless grandparents have full-time custody of their grandchildren, parents remain the primary teachers and trainers of their children. But grandparents play a vital support role—encouraging, praying, and modeling what parents are trying to teach their children.
That role may sound intimidating for some grandparents because we’re far from perfect models. My wife once told me that she considered me to be a model husband. I thought that was a nice compliment until I looked up the word model in the dictionary. It’s a “small imitation of the real thing.” That’s a joke I like to tell, but it has a point. Good models are far from perfect. They are small imitations of the real thing. In this case, the real thing is Jesus. He is the one we want our grandchildren to follow.
The late author Dallas Willard once said, “Unless you’ve seen the gospel in the flesh—it’s very difficult to make it your own.” He singled out his paternal grandmother, Susan Rhoda Willard, as the person who had the greatest spiritual influence on his life. “My faith was based on her faith,” he said. “She lived it in front of me and I wanted to be just like her.” What an amazing legacy of faith she left behind—not only for her grandson, but also for so many of us who have been blessed by Dallas Willard’s books and teaching on the Christian life.
To be an effective model for our grandchildren, the most important thing we can do is to take care of ourselves spiritually (as well as in other ways). Though we may be in the last few decades of our lives, it is not the time to stop learning and growing as a Christian! We may have “lost a step” physically, but spiritually we are in the prime of our lives. This past year, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl when they came back from defeat in the fourth quarter and won the game in overtime. Likewise, grandparents can come back and win the hearts of their grandchildren in the fourth quarter of their lives. We can show our grandkids that life is not all about being popular, rich, and famous, or having a lot of stuff. It’s about loving God and loving others—and knowing that Christ has given us both abundant and eternal life.