The greatest responsibility of Christian parents is to train their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6.4). This responsibility is also to be one of Christian parents’ greatest joys. Certainly, we have found this to be true. Recently our hearts were blessed as our 5-year-old son led us in the Lord’s Prayer before bedtime; and then we were blessed even more because our 3-year-old daughter insisted we do it again but with her in the lead. They both did a great job. What a joy that was!
Training our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord doesn’t just happen through an hour of Sunday School a week, which never equates to an hour of teaching anyway. It’s truly a 24-7 thing. We are to be instructing all the time, which is beautifully captured in the Lord’s command to us in Deuteronomy 6.4-9:
4 Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Every moment is a teaching moment. It’s a lifestyle! We teach as we live, which means along with formal instruction, there must be lots of informal instruction, where children learn through our living example. Both must be present. The informal living example applies what is formally instructed, and what is formally instructed gives the reason and foundation for the informal living example. Leave either one out, and our children will not really be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
I want to share with you one of the ways that we formally instruct our children: We catechize them. Now, before you rush to contact child protective services, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Maybe you were reared in a Christian tradition that regularly utilized catechisms to teach biblical truth, or maybe you have never even heard the word catechism. Don’t panic, the word catechize comes straight from the New Testament.
Luke tells us that he is writing his gospel “so that you [Theophilus] may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Paul declares, “However, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue, (1 Corinthians 14.19). In Galatians 6.6, Paul commands, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” In each of these verses, the root Greek word for “instruct” or “teach” is to verb katecheo. It’s used four other times in the New Testament: Acts 18.25; 21.21,24; Romans 2.18. Literally, katecheo means to teach by spoken word or to instruct, and it’s from this Greek word that we borrow our English word “catechize.” It simply means to teach biblical truth in a systematic way.
The traditional approach to catechesis is a short question followed by a memorable answer and is often accompanied by biblical support and perhaps an explanation. For instance:
Q – Who made you?
A – God made me (Gn 1.26, 27; 2.7; Ec 12.1; Acts 17.24-29).
Explanation – God created all things, and that includes you. The Scripture says that God knit you together in your mother’s womb (Ps 139:19) and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139.14). You are a unique person made in the image of God.
Some may say, “Catechism? Isn’t that what Roman Catholics do?” While it’s true that Roman Catholics have traditionally utilized catechesis for confirmation, there’s nothing inherently Roman Catholic about catechism as a tool. Protestantism as a whole and Baptists in particular have a rich history of catechism. Even outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, Socrates and other philosophers used this method of teaching with great benefit.
My wife and I determined in 2012 to begin catechizing our oldest child, who was 6-years-old at the time and about to enter the second grade. Why did we choose to utilize catechesis?
1) Catechisms teach doctrine in an intentional way. The express purpose of a catechism is to deliver to a child what the Bible says is true. It’s so important to begin early to train our children in what they should believe based upon the authority of Scripture. Once that truth is in their head, we then work to get it into their heart by leading them to Christ and growing them as a disciple.
2) Catechisms teach doctrine in a systematic way. Most catechisms are organized thematically. For instance, the catechism we use—A Catechism for Boys and Girls—is organized around the following categories: Questions about God, Man and Sin; Questions about The Ten Commandments; Questions about Salvation; Questions about Prayer; Questions about the Word, the Church and the Ordinances; and Questions about the Last Things. In doing so, catechisms systematically cover the basic truths of God’s Word on the most fundamental topics.
3) Catechisms teach doctrine in a concise way. It would be useless to hand most elementary-age children your favorite systematic theology and tell them to go at it. It would be way over their heads and would provide entirely too much information for them at this developmental stage. There’s a reason why kids like chicken nuggets instead of the whole chicken. They need something small and bite-sized. This is true with doctrine as well. That’s why the concise nature of catechesis is especially helpful in teaching children.
4) Catechisms teach doctrine in a fun way. Unfortunately, catechism has a reputation of being boring. If that’s ever true, it’s because boring people are leading it. There’s nothing inherently boring about catechism. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. Their question-and-answer style naturally piques the curiosity of children. Children love to answer questions, and it’s very easy to turn catechesis into a game of sorts with rewards and competition. Another level of excitement can be added by allowing parents and kids to give one another “pop quizzes” at random times during the day. Obviously, the point is not “fun.” The point is “learning,” but fun can certainly facilitate and motivate learning.
If you become convinced to give catechesis as try, here are some important tips:
A) There are many historic catechisms to choose from, even from a Baptist perspective. So, read several before choosing one. However, don’t be afraid to write your own if you see fit.
B) Make sure the catechism you choose fits the developmental ability of the child you are catechizing. Some catechisms are more intense than others and may contain advanced or simply outdated vocabulary. Fit the catechism to your child.
C) Try to the find the one that best fits your doctrinal understanding. Truthfully, you will be hard-pressed to find one that fits perfectly your every doctrinal tenet. So, be ready to edit as you see fit. I have certainly done that.
D) Don’t think this sort of instruction is only fit for family teaching. It could very easily be incorporated into church ministry, particularly Sunday school, and a church would be wise to do so.
We are now in our second year of catechizing our oldest. We have taken it slowly, introducing three new catechism questions a week and reviewing six old ones. It’s been an absolute blessing! Next year our second child will be six and will enter into the first grade, and we will formally begin to catechize him as well; but guess what: he already knows many of the answers from hearing us go over them with his big brother.
We must take seriously the stewardship that God has given us in our children as we humbly and systematically teach them the truth of Scripture. May we use this teaching tool to that end as we train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord!