No one catechized me growing up. If anyone or any institution did, it is likely during my years in the para-church program, A.W.A.N.A. (Approved Workman Are Not Ashamed). This program drove me to memorize countless scriptures, which I did, but unfortunately I was not driven by a love for His word, rather I was driven by a love for prizes and recognition.
Reflecting back on those years and now having children of my own, I often ask myself, “Was that spiritually profitable at any level or did it just feed my insatiable pride?”
Charles Hodge grew up, not in A.W.A.N.A or some other para-church program, but being personally catechized by his pastor.
“Green’s (Charles’ childhood pastor) catechizing of his young charges in Philadelphia formed just a small part of his ministerial duties in Presbyterian confessional polity. His pastoral efforts reinforced in the congregation what the parents practiced at home in teaching the Shorter Catechism by systematically expounding its meaning from the pulpit. Upon successfully learning and repeating answer to the 107 questions, Charles and Hugh then attended a weekly Bible class taught by the pastor in his study.” (p. 35)
Part of me reads the above excerpt and sees the obvious value in such training. But then I also remember how many “Christian” friends wound up rejecting the local church, historic Christianity and some even the existence of a deity. To be clear, these were individuals who were in the same programs, memorized the same amount of scripture and/or went to the same Christian school that I attended.
I guess the core issue is, “Does the instrument of catechism help or just foster a false security of their salvation? Does the ability to beat everyone in bible trivia (at 6 years old) mean anything if that 6 year-old is trusting in his own “works-righteousness”, rather than the righteousness of Jesus Christ?
I believe it can be profitable, but the issue is whether the gospel is seen and reinforced, not only by word, but mainly by deed (i.e. a visual, gospel lifestyle at home). Children need to see that the answer to life is WHO, not WHAT. If for one moment, my children believe that question #4 of the Shorter Westminster Catechism is the answer, rather than the gospel, they are being set up for failure.
Here are 5 things to remember if you are going to catechize your children:
#1—Memorize a verse with a catechism question.
This helps the child see the authority is the word of God, not some man-made list of questions and answers. The goal is to foster a love for Christ and a love for His word. If their eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit, the child will grow up able to ‘give an account for the hope that is in you’ (1 Pet. 3:15).
#2—Explain the reason for the catechism question and the meaning of the corresponding memory verse.
There have been times I have been overcome by guilt when my children can rattle off memory verses, but are clueless of their meaning and its connection to the gospel. I ask myself, “How could I have been content with rote memory, when my child’s heart seems unmoved by the beauty of God?” Now at this point, parents must be careful. We are prone to either take too much responsibility for the spiritual indifference of our children or too much credit for it (i.e. being prideful if they seem to “get it”). It is vital that parents remember that the actual acceptance of truth as what it is (i.e. God’s inspired Word), can only happen through the work of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
To be clear, this verse is not meant to relieve parents of their responsibility of proper, consistent, gospel-driven instruction, but simply to remind them to be “seed-planters” and then pray for God to cultivate a large yield of spiritual fruit in the child’s heart.
#3—Interact with the current worldviews and philosophies of the day.
At first glance, some parents may consider this integration as unwise or even harmful to the spiritual development of their child. Isn’t the goal to protect them from these worldviews and the secular, humanistic philosophies of the day? Actually, the goal is to prepare them to live as followers of Christ, which means they must be grounded with the proper worldview and a zeal for the mission of ‘making disciples of all men’ (Matt. 28:19-20).
Does this mean you force them to “drink the Kool-aid” of today’s media, which is liberal and anti-Christian? No, of course not. But our children need help in seeing how the gospel and the Christian worldview are the only real truth. For example, I was watching an episode of the History Channel’s popular show, American Pickers, with my 11 year-old daughter. During the show, an individual told the camera that the only reason he went to Sturgis (an annual motorcycle rally, located in Sturgis, South Dakota) this year is because of a rock that he found in his garden, which looked (to him) like a motorcycle. I proceeded to use this as an opportunity to help my daughter identify the subjectivity in this individual’s decision and remind her that the only objective truth is found in the pages of scriptures, which comes the mouth of God (2 Tim. 3:16).
#4—The most profitable times are often the informal moments, rather than formal.
This does not mean the formal moments should be neglected. Rather, I would assert to you that consistent, realistic formal moments lead to more productive informal moments. Just as a reminder, God instructs parents to both formal and informal training.
Deuteronomy 6:6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children (formal), 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 (informal).
#5—Make it fun, not drudgery.
For those who know me, I am not known as a “fun” guy or a “fun” dad. Even my children would tell you that I am not “fun”, but I have “fun” moments.
So how do you make this time enjoyable? Well, incentives always work. Furthermore, if done in balance, you may get some quality father-child time out of it (i.e. ice cream, candy run, etc.).