Gospel-minded grandparents see opportunity in the golden years

David and Jennifer Misner with their four grandkids

Photo by Kim Henderson

From generatıon to generation

The Misners can hear their grandkids long before they can see them. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and they’re coming up from the garage two stairs at a time, calling out greetings and the day’s highlights as they go. Topping the newsreel: the loss of 5-year-old Leland’s tooth. “It was already wiggly. I put my finger in there kind of like this,” he demonstrates for his waiting grandfather, David, who is properly impressed. Walking over from the kitchen, David’s wife, Jennifer, bends down for a good look at her grandson’s changed grin. 

“Too bad you won’t be able to eat the cookies cooling on top of the stove,” she jokes, breaking into a grin of her own.

Before long, the cousins are begging to go out on the apartment’s balcony, a make-do playroom hemmed in by metal railings and the limbs of a three-story water oak. There, the four youngsters can look across a bustling Birmingham neighborhood filled with parks, playgrounds, and ice cream parlors they’ve visited with their grandparents. The address is a fairly new one for the Misners, who in 2018 loaded up the contents of their former 4,000-square-foot home and moved to be near their family. It was an intentional—and influential—relocation. 

Larry Fowler with his grandsons Nate and Evan

Larry Fowler with his grandsons Nate and EvanHandout

Across the country, some 30 million grandparents profess to be born-again believers, but unlike the Misners, many ­haven’t considered their potential as spiritual influencers. Even though the word grandparent makes just two appearances in most Bible translations, verses like Deuteronomy 4:9 underscore the importance of the role. Larry Fowler of the Legacy Coalition says a central word in that verse changed the course of his life—the and in “teach your ­children and your children’s children.”

“Obviously, that’s a command to parents and grandparents alike, but I hadn’t seen my responsibility in Scripture before. I came to understand I have a responsibility before God to do everything I can to influence my grandchildren.”

Much like the Misners, who are in their early 70s, Fowler and his wife pulled up roots in the Chicago area and moved to Southern California to live near a son as he was starting his family. Earlier, they helped when their daughter divorced and became a single mother. “I didn’t want my grandsons to grow up without a godly role model in their lives, so that’s when I began to step it up on a personal level,” Fowler remembers. He believes few Christian grandparents have ever heard a sermon about their spiritual responsibilities. Often the only voice in their ear about what makes a good grandparent is a secular one. “Culture says if you love your grandkids and go to their activities and take care of them once in a while, you’re a good grandparent. But Scripture simply has a higher bar, and the higher bar is that we are still to be involved in the discipleship of the younger generation.”
I have a responsibility before God to do everything I can to influence my grandchildren.

For the Misners, that involves M&M’s. Their grandchildren have moved back inside where a dispenser sits on a low shelf. The two oldest are debating whether naming the persons of the Trinity earns them five candy-coated rewards or six. “It’s motivating,” Jennifer smiles, noting they’ve learned the Lord’s Prayer and an assortment of verses. Jackson takes his turn by reciting a truth about God’s lavish love. “Got an address for that?” his grandmother asks.

“1 John 3:1.”


As David watches the exchange, he admits the “grand” business came easy for Jennifer, while he had to grow into his role. “I realized I loved my privacy, my solitude. I love things being neat and orderly and quiet. It exposed a very selfish manner that I have to give up if I’m going to embrace being a grandfather.” The Misners experienced instant immersion when their daughter and her husband fostered, then adopted, a pair of sibling preschoolers. To be all in, they took an agency-required course and made lots of four-hour trips to visit. Later, when a business partnership suddenly failed, David chose to put away his career as a tennis pro and focus on a different kind of coaching.

As the culture increasingly vilifies Christianity, the importance of grandparents passing on their faith is magnified. But to be spiritual influencers, grandparents must move beyond society’s idea of grandparents as “spoilers.” At Legacy Coalition conferences, Larry Fowler often meets regretful grandparents who have squandered their golden years: “Imagine that in an ideal family situation, the parents and the grandparents actually lived out the command to disciple. There would be six people devoted to every child, longing to see them follow God. Six to one. That’s incredibly powerful.”

Jennifer Misner with Hudson

Jennifer Misner with HudsonPhoto by Kim Henderson

But ideal situations are rare. Divorce, health issues, and distance present challenges for grandparents, including the Misners. They live near four grandchildren, but three are a state away. They try to make the trip at least every six weeks, and David is purposeful about another way of investing in these long-distance relationships: He works hard to remain close to his son. Before the birth of that son’s third child, they met for a weekend at a halfway point. “It was going to be a pivotal time in his life—the pressure of being a father, the husband, the breadwinner. I just wanted to know where he was with the Lord. I wanted to be able to spend a lot of time with him and just talk about deep things, because if he’s walking in integrity with the Lord, I’m not really worried. I don’t feel like I need to tell him how to parent.”

Sometimes, though, a grandparent’s spiritual influence isn’t welcomed. How do you approach family members who have walked away from God? What if a grandchild’s identity is wrapped up in something that is ungodly? “My generation elevates truth really high, so we want to tell them the truth. But I emphasize working on the relationship,” Fowler explains, adding that it’s not the abandonment of truth but rather a strategy of leading with grace. He gives the example of grandparents, including himself, who want their families to share their political views. “My views are not the most important thing. I need to remember there is nothing in this world that I want more than to have my grandchildren in heaven with me. It means that I hold my tongue if there’s a political issue that comes up that might produce a rift in the relationship. I’m going to hold my tongue because I want something better for my grandkids, and that is to be in heaven with us.”

Bridging gaps becomes increasingly difficult as grandkids age. That’s why the Misners are leaning hard into the preschool and elementary years. Their apartment complex has a tennis court where they’ve trekked with four grands, a cooler, two rackets, a sleeve of balls, and a remote-controlled car. It’s breezy and sunny and noisy. Before long, a child announces she’s hungry, and another thinks he’s overdue for a turn with the car. “Jenn Jenn” must also contend with a toddler’s tears and the need for a Band-Aid. It’s real life, and the Misners are expending the realest of retirement commodities—time and energy. The payoff in relationship ­building is in the details, like knowing the little things about Leland’s lost tooth. That it happened today at school. That it’s the second one he’s lost.

David Misner with Leland

David Misner with LelandPhoto by Kim Henderson

The benefits can work both ways, according to a Boston College study that found strong grandparent-grandchild relationships can reduce the risk of depression. Maybe that’s because grandparents busy investing in their grandchildren focus less on their own decline. For Christian grandparents, the knowledge that they’re striving to leave behind a worthy legacy can help ease some of the anxiety and pain of getting to the end of life here on Earth.

By 2030, almost one-third of North Americans will be over age 65. Most of them will join the grandparenting ranks alongside the Misners, and hopefully some will adopt their belief that age does not impair fruit-bearing capabilities. It enhances them. As Psalm 92 notes, “The righteous flourish like a palm tree. … They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.”

David says he and Jennifer pray for that fruit: “That our children and grandchildren will love the Lord more than anything in the world. That they will see the world for what it is, and that it’s not where life truly is.”

Kim is a World Journalism Institute graduate and senior writer for WORLD. During her career as a homeschool mom, she worked as a freelance writer. Kim resides in Mississippi with her family.