Sharing faith, hope and love with grandchildren and other young members.
By Bob Regazolli, Grandad and Pastor, Australia
One of the joys we experience in our local congregation is seeing the evidence of cross-generational care in children’s and youth ministry. Parents and grandparents are actively involved in the various classes. Some grandparents bring their grandchildren to services. The children’s parents don’t attend, but when asked, they are glad for their children to attend church with their grandparents.
It is a blessing to see the children learning with their grandparents (by birth or by church adoption) about the life of Jesus as we celebrate the great events in his life as highlighted in the Christian calendar. Children delight in looking forward to Jesus’ birth during the Advent season as adults make the story applicable to life. The Christmas season provides a foundational point from which to learn about Jesus’ life and ministry, leading to a focus on why he died and how he rose from the dead. During the Easter season the children (and their teachers/mentors/grandparents) look forward to celebrating his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecost season. Then through Ordinary Time we focus on why there is a church, that Jesus will return and that we will live forever in the new heaven and the new earth. All of this learning in a cross-generational platform leads to the building of relationship.
Looking at some research conducted by the Barna organisation about where teens receive spiritual guidance and encouragement, it impressed upon me how influential the love and care of grandparents can be across the generations. (Click to see survey.)
In the survey, teens were asked to identify which family members or extended household members shared their faith. The mother came out first in all categories, with a grandparent second in the following areas: encourages me to go to church, encourages me in other ways, talks with me about God’s forgiveness, teaches me about the Bible. In responding to the question about who teaches them about traditions, the grandparent was first.
Not all grandparents are able to include their grandchildren in children’s church. But they can teach in other environments. We know what is most significant is having a loving and open relationship with grandchildren. We also understand what is to be passed on. We have been blessed by God so that we can share his blessings with others. Let’s look at some of the ways in which grandparents bless their grandchildren.
Pray for them: The most important role we all share in cross-generational care is praying for one another. One of our pastors was relating how he asked each child in his congregation to write their goals for the new school year on a piece of paper. With the parent’s consent to include the child’s name, these were distributed amongst adults, so each child was prayed for. But prayer for a particular child was only the beginning. Relationships were formed as the adults showed a genuine interest in “their child” throughout the year. This might include phone calls and messages throughout the week. Whether the little ones are able to attend church or not, God hears our prayers for them.
Mentor them: Mentoring relationships are beneficial for all concerned. The children, in developing relationships with the older generation, can benefit from their wisdom and experience. Likewise, older generations benefit from the life and enthusiasm of younger ones, as they learn from them. Younger people are generally much faster in picking up new technologies, and the world they are growing up in is vastly different from that of our childhood and youth. The listening adult is important for them.
Believe in them: In another survey by the Barna group, it was found that only one in three of the young adults surveyed said that they felt “deeply cared for by those around me, or that “someone believes in me.” Having a relationship with grandparents (real or adopted) whose lives reflect faith, hope and love can mean much to a young person who may be struggling with the challenges of life in the 21st century.
As parents and grandparents, let’s take every opportunity to tell our family members and the church youth we have adopted how much we love them. Let’s make sure our conversations are positive and uplifting. Let the younger generation see that we are people of hope. Bless the children with expressions of love and encouragement, with gifts, and the loving kindness which is typical of many grandparents.
Be there for them: Pay attention to birthdays, holidays, and school events. Show up if possible. When opportunity arises, make the most of family traditions and take time to enjoy meals together. As we celebrate the Christmas and Easter seasons, especially with family meals and activities associated with those days, we are helping families instil these seasons as part of the cycle of life.
Have fun: Enjoy music together, especially with the pre-school-age children. Good music adds much to their development and growth. Sing along with the videos and join in with the actions. Where children can be exposed to Christian songs, those words will remain with them throughout life. How many of us remember “Jesus loves me this I know”? The children in our Congolese congregation all know the words to the songs sung in their mother tongue.
Grandparents — with the parent’s blessing — often have a wonderful opportunity to invite their grandchildren to participate in the life of the church. Children’s church provides such a valuable opportunity for them to build lasting friendships and learn from the Word of God in fun and creative ways. In a society where most are biblically illiterate, there is a great need to help our children learn about God and his unconditional love. Grandparents are often the ones who can fill these needs, doing so with great love and wisdom and bathed in much prayer. As a grandparent, I really appreciate the Psalm which expresses such care for the next generations:
“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4).
Many of our readers are wonderful grandparents, and we would love you to share your insights. Please leave your responses in the comments section below.