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What does a Lutheran education look like? That question has as many answers as there are Lutherans.
The one thing that should tie them all together, however, is the presence of Lutheran catechesis. Whether our children attend a public, private, parochial or home school, we as parents have the primary responsibility for bringing them up in the faith. We may seek and receive assistance along the way from teachers, pastors, godparents and others, but ultimately the handing down of the faith begins with us.
For our own family, what has worked best is to weave catechesis into our family prayer life. What does that mean? Simply, that when you take your children to church, you are catechizing them, rehearsing them in the faith and providing for the nourishment of that faith in Word and Sacrament. When you pray with them at home, you are also catechizing them, demonstrating not only what you believe but also what the Christian life looks like.
We have also made a practice of applying the catechism in daily life. For example, if a child is disobedient, he is asked to come face to face with his sin by reciting the Fourth Commandment and its Meaning, or if he told a lie, to recite the Eighth. It’s hard to argue with God.
Could it really be so simple? Yes. And no. Not only are families different, but children are different, and part of the art of parenting is figuring out what works best for your situation. As our children grew, we found it helpful to consider not only individual temperaments and our own family dynamic but also the stages of learning as described by the classical model of education. (We are not, strictly speaking, classical homeschoolers, but we do subscribe to the overall framework of grammar, logic and rhetoric.)
During the grammar phase of our children’s development, we memorized Scripture, hymns stanzas, and, yes, the Six Chief Parts. During the logic phase, we considered deeper questions of how and why. And during the rhetoric phase, we invited our children to discuss Scripture and doctrine with us on equal footing, bringing their own observations and insights to bear. (It is wonderful, at this phase, when you find yourself learning from your children.)
What does all of this look like in practice? The nuts and bolts of our children’s catechetical instruction happened during family devotions, typically following one of the short services of Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families beginning on p. 294 of Lutheran Service Book. These are also available as laminated prayer cards, great for taking on the road or when you want to pray at mealtime but don’t want to risk spilling something on the hymnal.
During Daily Prayer, at the part of the service calling for a portion of the Small Catechism to be read, we focused on catechesis. For very young children, that might have consisted of simply speaking together, or having the child repeat back the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments.
As the children got older, we gave them memory assignments to recite during catechetical time. These assignments were generally given on a weekly basis, and included drilling and practicing the material together during devotions as well as the children’s studying on their own. On Friday, the child was expected to demonstrate mastery, at which point he received a new assignment.
For children in the logic and rhetoric phases, we continued to rehearse catechism memory but also introduced material from the Large Catechism, Book of Concord, and other sources, adjusting our approach to reflect the stage of learning. With different ages of children, it can be challenging to do several different levels of catechesis at one time. I don’t have a magic pill for how to do that. It might mean doing separate devotions for younger and older, letting the younger play while working with the older, or having the older assist with teaching the younger. It takes a combination of commitment, creativity and trusting in God that He is holding on tight to your children even when you aren’t sure which way is up.
Here are a few more helpful resources for catechetical instruction, taking into account the grammar/logic/rhetoric distinction:
Logic: Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. The new 2017 edition is now available for order.
Rhetoric: The writings in Treasury of Daily Prayer. TDP is also a great resource for readings and hymns for daily devotions. Please note, though, that not everything in TDP for a given day must be utilized. You can pick and choose according to your needs and the time available. Don’t overlook the gray pages in the middle of the book. These are the various Propers for the church year, and are wonderful for enriching devotions and finding good passages of Scripture to memorize.
This process of incorporating catechism study into our family life has enabled our children to begin Confirmation study at church with most, if not all, of the six chief parts of the Small Catechism already memorized. The benefit to their ability to get even more out of Confirmation is enormous. Instead of having to frantically work on memorization, they are able to relax and glean much more deeply from the instruction offered.
Parenting is hard. Teaching your children the faith is hard. We parents are sinners just like our children, and we fail more often than we care to admit. My true confession is that as someone who was not raised Lutheran, I did not learn the Small Catechism as a child. It’s a lot harder to learn it when you’re having and raising your own children! To this day, my children can recite the Small Catechism much better than I can. For that I give thanks to God and pray that one day I will catch up to them.
On those days when you can barely get through the day at work, put a meal on the table, or get the laundry done, much less carry off a well-planned family devotion that leads your children though a meaningful time of catechesis, remember that you are not going it alone. Your heavenly Father, the same one who set apart those children for Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism and who will continue to nourish them in Word and Sacrament all the days of their lives, is standing beside and behind you, doing what you cannot do, holding on to your dear ones when you can’t anymore. He has loved them with an everlasting love, and they are His (Jeremiah 31:3).
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