Discipleship is something parents and pastors need to take seriously and engage in together. When I first started in kids ministry over twenty years ago, the primary discipleship of children was the responsibility of the church. Over the past ten years or so the pendulum has swung from the church being primary to the church pushing parents to be primary in the discipleship of their kids and the church cheering them on. The result has been in my opinion less discipleship.
The answer to the discipleship of the next generation is not either or but both and. How can the church be intentional about discipline kids and how can parents make church an important aspect of their kids lives because of that. At the same time, how can parents disciple their kids more intentionally and how can the church resource and encourage that?
Why church discipleship is necessary
If you crush whatever initiative you set up for parents to do at home, you will only get at best 25% to 30% participation leaving 70% without the benefit of your discipleship resource. If we only view discipleship as parent driven and avoid things like VBS and other church driven initiatives many kids will miss out. Another issue we need to address is some kids come to church with grandparents or friends, and their parents will never be the primary disciplers of their kids. As kids grow, their friends will have more influence on them than their parents. As a community of faith, we need to provide a place where kids can grow in their faith even if it isn’t a value at home.
Why home discipleship is necessary
The modern America family is more transient than ever. People move to different states, different churches, different denominations like never before in history. We may never have them long enough to develop their kids and nurture their faith so we need resources they can take with them on the journey. Particularly early in life parents have more influence than anyone else on who their kids are becoming. Parents need encouragement and help.
Here are some things we try to do at our church to disciple kids.
- New City Catechism each week from preschool to college.
- Story-Based Discipleship class for Jr. High Kids.
- Small Groups
- Worldview/Theology Immersion Week
Here are some things you can try at home to disciple your kids.
- Family Worship – We use this book at our house.
- New City Catechism – Why Catechism?
- Reading Classic Works with your kids – Leland Ryken has some great books to help you navigate the classics – Also Karen Swallow Prior’s new book would be helpful
- Spirit led conversations
- Student Discipleship Guide
The goal of discipleship is not what we do to be acceptable to God but rather how is our conformity into the image of God affecting our life and practice. How are we intentionally forming the loves of our kid’s hearts? James K. A. Smith says it this way
“Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.”
This happens on purpose, not on accident. Not overnight but over time. May we as pastors and parents be curators of hearts rather than only informers of intellects.
I did a few posts on Catechism and the importance it’s role has in the church and in the family. I thought I would pass on some of the tips Tim Keller includes in his introduction to his New City Catechism.
There are a variety of ways to commit texts to memory and some techniques suit certain learning styles better than others. A few examples include:
- Read the question and answer out loud, and repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Read the question and answer out loud, try to repeat them without looking. Repeat.
- Read aloud through all Part 1 questions and answers (then 2, then 3) while moving about. The combination of movement and speech strengthens a person’s ability to recall text.
- Record yourself saying all Part 1 questions and answers (then 2, then 3) and listen to them during everyday activities e.g. work-outs, chores, etc.
- Write the questions and answers on cards and tape them in a conspicuous area. Read them aloud every time you see them.
- Make flashcards with the question on one side and the answer on the other, and test yourself. Children can color these in and draw pictures on them.
- Review the question and answer at night and in the morning. For children spend a few minutes at bedtime helping them remember the answer, then repeat at breakfast the next morning.
- Write out the question and answer. Repeat. The process of writing also helps a person’s ability to recall text.
- Drill the questions and answers with another person as often as possible.
Super helpful and super practical. Hope they help you make catechism a practice and tradition in your family’s home.
Last week I discussed why Catechism is a good idea for kids and parents alike.
I thought I would give you a few options as sort of a launching off point for you to pick what works best with your kids.
1. The Heidelberg Catechism – The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563, originated in one of the few pockets of Calvinistic faith in the Lutheran and Catholic territories of Germany. Conceived originally as a teaching instrument to promote religious unity in the Palatinate, the catechism soon became a guide for preaching as well. It is a remarkably warm-hearted and personalized confession of faith, eminently deserving of its popularity among Reformed churches to the present day.
2. The North Star Catechism – Whether or not we sail across troubled seas, Christians are all pilgrims. For thousands of years, travelers have been guided on their journey by focusing on a fixed point in the night sky: the North Star. While other stars seem to shift with the passing of time, the North Star remains anchored in the same position. This celestial gift allowed people to know where they were and where they needed to go. Our prayer is that the North Star Catechism will offer this same kind of clarity.
3. New City Catechism – New City Catechism consists of 52 questions and answers so the easiest way to use it is to memorize one question and answer each week of the year. Because it is intended to be dialogical it is best to learn it in pairs, in families, or as study groups, enabling you to drill one another on the answers not only one at a time but once you have learned 10 of them, then 20 of them, and so on.
– What to look for in a catechism –
- Make sure you can understand the language and vocabulary used.
- Make sure the delivery system works for you – Heidelberg uses website and books – North Star is a PDF at present and New City is primarily through the iPad.
- Make sure it’s something your kids can grow into
- Make sure you have a system to track your kids’ progress.
- Make sure it’s something you can stick to.
Catechism in my mind has gotten a bad rap. The reasons I believe that is because people equate catechism with a nun walking around with a ruler. While this may be a bit of a caricature I do think the idea of Catechism in a classroom is less than ideal. As a father and a pastor I believe there is strong biblical support for parents teaching truth to their kids (Deut. 6). Catechism was never meant to be a classroom subject but was meant to be lived out and learned in the context of life. Parents you live catechism before you teach it. I love how Tim Keller describes the Biblical basis for it. I can do no better so I won’t try.
A BIBLICAL PRACTICE
In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Galatians 6:6). The Greek word for “anyone who receives instruction” is the word katechoumenos, one who is catechized. In other words, Paul is talking about a body of Christian doctrine (“catechism”) that was taught to them by an instructor (here the word “catechizer”). The words “all good things” probably means financial support as well. In this light, the word koinoneo—which means “to share” or “to have fellowship”—becomes even richer. The salary of a Christian teacher is not to be seen simply as a payment but a “fellowship.” Catechesis is not just one more service to be paid for, but is a rich fellowship and mutual sharing of the gifts of God.
If we re-engage in this biblical practice in our churches, we will find again God’s Word “dwelling in us richly” (Colossians 3:16), because the practice of catechesis takes truth deep into our hearts, so we find ourselves thinking in biblical categories as soon as we can reason.
When my son, Jonathan, was a young child my wife Kathy and I started teaching him a children’s catechism. In the beginning we worked on just the first three questions:
Question 1. Who made you?
Question 2. What else did God make?
Answer. God made all things.
Question 3. Why did God make you and all things?
Answer. For his own glory.
One day Kathy dropped Jonathan off at a babysitter’s. At one point the babysitter discovered Jonathan looking out the window. “What are you thinking about?” she asked him. “God,” he said. Surprised, she responded, “What are you thinking about God?” He looked at her and replied, “How he made all things for his own glory.” She thought she had a spiritual giant on her hands! A little boy looking out the window, contemplating the glory of God in creation!
What had actually happened, obviously, was that her question had triggered the question/answer response in him. He answered with the catechism. He certainly did not have the slightest idea what the “glory of God” meant. But the concept was in his mind and heart, waiting to be connected with new insights, teaching, and experiences.
Such instruction, Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander said, is like firewood in a fireplace. Without the fire—the Spirit of God—firewood will not in itself produce a warming flame. But without fuel there can be no fire either, and that is what catechetical instruction is.
Timothy Keller, October 2012