By Josh Mulvihill
What is a grandparent’s role in a grandchild’s education? Many grandparents have never considered that Christian education can be an impactful way to make a spiritual investment in a grandchild’s life. For many grandparents, educational involvement with a grandchild is limited to attendance at Grandparent’s Day. While attendance at Grandparent’s Day is a good thing, I hope this article gives you a much grander vision for the role you play in your grandchild’s education.
To begin, I want to point out that American culture communicates powerful messages about what grandparents can and cannot do with the family. Society operates by unwritten rules expecting grandparents to maintain emotional and financial independence, personal autonomy, as well as non-interference with their family. Grandparents are told not to meddle in their adult children’s lives and are often kept at a distance.
I’m sure you can see how this applies to a grandchild’s education. American society is telling grandparents that this is none of their business. And many grandparents have heard that message loud and clear and reduced their presence to emotional support, an extra-special babysitting service, and the dispenser of large amounts of sugar. There are two problems with this thinking. First, grandparents who accept this role have greatly limited the likelihood that they will leave any significant, lasting spiritual impact in the life of their grandchild. Second, this isn’t the role God has given grandparents in the Bible.
Grandparents are given a God-ordained role in Scripture that is not interchangeable with any other member of the family. Grandparents are essential, not extras, in the life of grandchildren. According to the Bible, a grandparent’s role is to build a heritage of faith in the coming generations. A grandparent is to be zealous to pass on their faith in Jesus and to work diligently to present everyone in their family as mature in Christ.
Christian education is an excellent partner for this purpose. Christian education is the adjunct servant of a godly parent and grandparent. I want to encourage you to utilize Christian education to help your grandchildren form faith and fortify faith in Christ. Christian education, at its best, never replaces the spiritual role that God has given parents and grandparents. It reinforces, strengthens, and supports. In this way, Christian education and grandparents have much in common regarding their role in a child’s life.
How can a grandparent utilize Christian education to pass faith on to grandchildren?
First, grandparents and adult children need to understand why it’s important for a child to receive a Christ-centered and biblically-based education. In short, education is discipleship. It transforms children into the likeness of the educator (Luke 6:40). Children who are educated by secular humanists begin to think like secular humanists, which is the religion of public education in America. The reason: it’s impossible to divorce knowledge acquisition from character formation. There is no such thing as religious neutrality in education. The bottom line is that a Christ-less education never leads to a Christ-like maturity. If we want our children and grandchildren to treasure Christ, then it makes sense to place them with instructors, curriculum, and schools that help toward this end.
If the need and value of Christian education is a foreign concept, then books like Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education and Kingdom Education, as well as The Renewanation Review magazine, are excellent resources that grandparents or adult children can utilize to help family members understand the importance of Christian education. These resources can be excellent discussion starters and can help families share the same strong conviction regarding the place that Christian education should have in a child’s spiritual life.
In addition to a philosophical shift, some families need financial support to make Christian education possible. Grandparents can encourage adult children to pursue Christian education by offering to pay for some or all of their grandchild’s tuition.
It is no secret that one of the primary deterrents to Christian education is the cost. Christian education is financially expensive. Because of the high financial cost, some families place their children in public schools and try to combat the errant messages their children hear. Can I encourage you to look at education from a different angle? Non-Christian education is spiritually expensive. For many children, it leads them away from Christ, and the cost is eternal separation from Jesus. In light of eternity, I don’t think families can afford not to place their children in some form of Christian education.
If you are a grandparent, I want to encourage you to eliminate the financial barrier for your grandchildren to the degree that God has made that possible with your finances. I believe you can do this in two ways. First, you can spend less in some area of life in order to reprioritize money for Christian education. One grandparent told me that rather than take their children and grandchildren to Disney World, they used that money to send their grandchildren to a Christian school for a year. The same idea could be applied to the purchase of a new car or piece of furniture.
Second, most grandparents plan to leave some form of financial inheritance to their children and grandchildren. Based on Proverbs 13:22, that is a good thing. In this Proverb we read, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” What if your financial inheritance could be used to build a spiritual heritage by making it possible for grandchildren to attend a Christian school or college? Barbara, a grandmother from California, told me that they help pay for their grandchildren’s Christian education because, “allowing them to be at a Christian school is an investment in their spiritual growth.”
Jim, a grandfather from New York, provides the following reasons for financially assisting his grandchildren so they could attend a Christian school. “I think it is more important for a grandparent to help provide a Christian education for grandchildren while the grandparent is alive than it would be to give them an inheritance after they have gone through the public school system and secular college. I think it is more important to spend the money on them during their formative years when they are deciding what they believe about God.”
Andy and Karen, grandparents of eighteen grandchildren, told me that they are very strong believers in sending their children and grandchildren to Christian colleges. Their thought is long, but worth reading. “We want a place where biblical values are taught and where classes start with Scripture and prayer time. Most of our children met their mates at a Christian college. That is a really good reason right there. Yes, they are going to college for an education, but many times they are coming out with a spouse. Plus, the friends that they established at the Christian schools are still good friends with them now. And that is special too. When you go to a non-Christian college, you are going to find the dorm life is unbelievable. Co-ed living and lots of temptations. When they go off to college, they are going to be out of sight and not in a situation where they are getting your input on a regular basis. I want to place them in a wholesome environment where they are going to be encouraged to go to church and pursue the Lord.”
Andy and Karen are been-there, done-that grandparents who have experienced the value of Christian education in helping their children find godly spouses, form lifelong friendship in Christ, and solidify faith. True, there are children who go to public schools and secular colleges and grow up to love Jesus Christ. But this is becoming the exception rather than the rule. Public schools have slowly shifted away from teaching children how to think. Instead, they are teaching children what to think. That is a big shift. Unfortunately, in many places, public education has become hostile toward Jesus Christ and the truths of Scripture, making it all the more imperative for grandparents to do what they can to see that their grandchildren are not in these environments.
Lastly, Psalm 78 informs grandparents that they are educators themselves. God has given every grandparent a teaching role in the life of a grandchild. Psalm 78:5-6 states that God, “commanded our [grand]fathers to teach their children that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children.” In case you weren’t counting, that’s a four-generation vision, and it revolves around grandparents teaching children and grandchildren “the works of God and his commandments … so that they may set their hope in God … and not be a stubborn and rebellious generation” (Ps. 78:5-8).
Grandparents, do you want your grandchildren to treasure Jesus?
Then teach them the mighty works of God, tell them the commands of God, and share with them the hope you have in Jesus. This is Christian education. Regardless of whether a grandchild attends public, private or homeschool, they need this more than ever. Your role is to teach them the core truths of the Bible and help them embrace a biblical worldview rather than a secular one. A few resources that you might find helpful toward this end: The Gospel for Children and Renewanation’s By The Way Series, books that enable parents and grandparents to help their children discover biblical truth in everyday life and are excellent for grade school-aged children. Bitesize Theology is good for young teens, and 100 Essential Truths of the Christian Faith is valuable for older teens.
Grandparents can have a hands-on role passing on a life skill, reading and discussing a book from a reputable Christian author, or leading a grandchild through a Bible study. If a grandchild is home educated, grandparents could help teach an academic subject they enjoy. If you live a long distance from grandchildren, technology such as Skype, makes all this possible. Most adult children would be delighted if grandparents wanted to read, study, discuss, and teach grandchildren the truths of Scripture. Most grandchildren would be excited to spend additional time with grandma or grandpa doing any of these activities.
I’ll end with a question: How can you use your financial resources, godly wisdom, and incredible influence to give your grandchildren the gift of a Christian education?
Josh Mulvihill is pastor to children and families at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MN, an adjunct professor at Crown College, and is completing his PhD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in family ministry with a focus on the biblical role of grandparents. He is married to Jen, and they have five children and a Beagle.