by Tim Pauls
Open up the Small Catechism, and each section begins with the words, “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.” Though we use it at church a lot, it’s foremost a book for home instruction. The reason for teaching the Word of God at home is simple:
If you think that an hour of church and an hour of Sunday school is enough exposure to Jesus for your kids, you’re kidding yourself. The devil, world and their own sinful flesh are at work all 168 hours of the week.
When it comes to home catechesis, I think that there are two great obstacles. One is simply a matter of priorities: it’s easy to let catechesis slip, but it’s not just a matter of “busy.” Your old Adam wants you to skip catechizing your kids for anything else. It’s why, on my grouchy days, I start to grumble about charging $20 for confirmation class: monetary value increases commitment, as I grudgingly note that the piano teacher down the street has nearly perfect attendance. (Single parents, this temptation is likely doubled for you, since you have twice the responsibilities and the devil doesn’t play fair. Please know that, while I write this as if to two-parent families, you are in my prayers and this is for you too.)
Where prioritizing the culprit, I can only urge you to repent. God gives you the honor of feeding the souls of your children every day. Where catechesis doesn’t happen, souls go hungry and slowly starve. Empty pews testify to the outcome.
The other obstacle is straightforward too: the idea is simply intimidating. I think many parents face catechesis the way I face the prospect of training our dogs: the task is so great that I have no idea where to start. If that’s the case, let’s simplify.
- Luther helps us out with his daily prayers in the Small Catechism. The masterful content aside, the prayers frame the day: when you pray with your children in the morning, evening and at meals, you’re also teaching them about God’s loving-kindness five times daily.
- Along with prayer, bless your children. Our liturgies are full of great blessings to use at home. Before they leave for school, draw a cross on their forehead and say, “The Lord order your days and your deeds in His peace.” When they go to bed, draw a cross and say the Aaronic (Num. 6:24-26) or apostolic benediction (2 Cor. 13:14), or maybe “The Lord grant you a quiet night, and peace at the last.”
(Bonus points for moms who replace “you/your” with “us/our” while blessing kids. It’s a subtle way to teach Ephesians 5:22-33, that husbands and wives are to exemplify Christ and the Church, respectively. Dads say, “The Lord bless you” because Jesus blesses His people. When moms say, “The Lord bless us,” they’re teaching how the Church acts toward Jesus, receiving His blessings.)
Note: between prayers and blessing, you’ve now framed the day with God’s grace seven times.
- Do you have story time? The developmental benefits alone are priceless. As long as you’re reading stories, read Bible stories. Don’t even worry about explaining the meaning, if you’re not sure: just tell the story.
- One more: I dream of the day when students arrive for their first confirmation with the Small Catechism already memorized. (Luther did say, ahem, “As the head of the family” – not the pastor – “should teach.”) The best time to do this is when children are small with memories like sponges. Keep a Small Catechism by the dinner table, and learn three new words a night around the table: that way, you can keep up with your kids! (CPH also offers the entire Small Catechism set to music, so you can play it in the car. The music that occupied my children on long trips is still ingrained in my memory, and I wish it were the catechism.)
Between prayers, blessings, story time and memorizing three words, you’ve now framed the day nine times with God’s Word and grace. And which is more effective: nine times a day, or once a week?
The Lord’s command in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 is huge in importance: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Hugely important, but simple.
You’ve got what you need. Frame the day with Jesus.
The Rev. Tim Pauls is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho.