Catechesis and the Equipping of the Saints

There seem to be more complaints about confirmation these days than there are praises of it. Confirmation is sometimes the most frustrating aspect of a congregation’s Christian education program. After awhile, the frustrations begin to sound the same: “Kids aren’t getting anything out of it.” “Confirmation is like graduation.” “We confirm them and never see them again.” “We start too late.” “We do it too early.” “If I never teach another confirmation class it will be too soon!” Hearing comments such as these is always hard for me because I find catechesis–teaching the faith–to be extremely exciting. I do acknowledge, however, that this task is fraught with difficulties.

I’ve been involved with catechism programs in several congregations, ranging from the traditional midweek class to individualized student-directed learning. While each congregation’s program varies in approach, all tend to operate according to the same paradigm: parents bring their baby to be baptized, perhaps bring the child to Sunday school, and when the child enters the sixth grade he or she is introduced to this thing called a catechism and is expected to be confirmed within three years. The underlying attitude and accepted practice seems to be: parents drop the children off and the congregation takes on the task of teaching them.

LCMS congregations need a paradigm shift. Some fundamental ideas that could aid such a major shift might be:

“And (Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4.11-12 [ESV])

“The Ten Commandments, in a very simple way in which the head of a house is to present it to the household.” (Luther, Small Catechism)

The new paradigm I suggest is not new at all. The leaders of the Church are to equip the saints to pass on the faith. More often than not, the Ephesians passage above is understood as referring only to enabling the laity to go out and witness about Jesus. I believe that this charge ought also be the goal regarding catechesis. We tend not to do this. Instead of equipping the saints to teach their children, the task for which the Small Catechism was produced, congregational confirmation programs tend to short circuit the process and simply teach the children themselves. While it may seem easier in the long run, this robs families of significant faith experiences and may diminish the catechumen’s training in the faith that saves.

Congregations and their leaders need to equip the saints to catechize their children. Equipping the saints to do catechesis suggests perhaps a more complex task for the congregation.  Yet it may prove a worthwhile task with ultimately more enduring results.

At the start, catechesis begins as a part of baptism. As parents prepare to bring their children to be baptized, they could go through a baptism course of sorts. Not only would this course underscore the parents’ responsibility to raise their child in the faith, but it would also take them through the main tenets of that faith: the Six Chief Parts of the Small Catechism. When the child is baptized it is the parents’ task to teach these to the child. This course would equip parents with tools to undertake this task.

It is important that congregations not leave parents at this point to sink or swim on their own. As they continue to teach their children, the congregation must continue to actively teach the parents–continue to equip the saints. The equipping and support of the parents then becomes a main priority for the congregation. Parents are still bringing their children to worship and to Sunday school, but children have the added benefit of catechesis at home, and from a very early age. This home catechesis continues into the junior high years when it becomes time for confirmation–time for youth to confirm what was said on their behalf in their baptisms.

The benefits to a deliberate training of parents is this: Instead of receiving instruction in the Catechism one day per week over three school years, children would learn the tenets of faith from their parents every day for more than a decade. It starts simply: from age 0-5, parents teach the Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the daily prayers. They simply teach the children to know and say them without worrying about the meanings. For a child aged 0-5, such a task is easier than it sounds (my 4-year-old nephew already has the Commandments and the Creed down and is working on the Lord’s Prayer).

Between ages 6-10 parents teach the meanings of the Commandments, et. al., and the Sacraments. By now, the children (and the parents) already have the majority of these tenets memorized. Basic comprehension of the meanings will come relatively quickly as well.

Between ages 11-13, the deeper discussions begin to happen. By this time, the children should be well versed in the Catechism. It isn’t a new thing for them. It is now that they enter into the pre-confirmation classes where the pastor/DCE/teacher can take them into the deeper conversation, moving them from the spiritual milk to solid food.

A program such as this is a long-term undertaking, but the results would likewise be long-term. It’s a paradigm shift, but one that churches need to make. Equipping parents to teach the faith to their children in this way immerses children and whole families daily in the things of faith. Family founded catechesis would strengthen family relationships and the faith of the individual family members. It would move catechesis out of junior high and instead place the junior high years into the context of lifelong catechesis. And the cycle would continue. The youth, who continue in ever deepening, lifelong catechesis would be equipped to pass the faith on to their children, from one generation to the next.

I wonder what we’d be saying about confirmation then.

Published July 1, 2004

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