Recently, I have had several people ask about how to use the Heidelberg Catechism as a family, and in particular with the training of children. I figured it was worthy of a quick post.
I have broken the answer down into things to remember and then suggestions for implementation.
1. Remember that this is a catechism. It is a teaching. It is written by men and is not on the same level as Scripture.
Suggestion: Explain this to your children. Tell them that God has given us many gifted teachers (Eph. 4.11) throughout Church history that help us to better understand the Bible. This is an example of helpful teaching. But make sure to explain the difference between the catechism and the Bible. To invert these two will undermine everything you are trying to accomplish.
2. Remember that the style of writing is different. In particular the sentences and word selection may be it a bit longer than your typical elementary school child is used to.
Suggestion: Read the Q & A and provide a paraphrase as you go. I still use the answer I get from the Catechism but I paraphrase it and explain it as we go.
3. Remember to set and pursue a reasonable goal. I am not trying to have my kids memorize the catechism. Instead, I am trying to expose them to biblical truth. I am trying to help them to understand systematic truth in a summary fashion. This does not replace their Bible reading but rather, it augments it.
Suggestion: Ask questions as you go. Are they getting the point of the question? It may be more effective to have your kids be able to summarize the answer, hit the main points, and explain it in their own words instead of quote it word by word.
4. Remember to be consistent. Nothing undermines a practice like Dads not taking leadership. If Dads fail to step up to the plate here the kids probably won’t latch on to it.
Suggestion: Make the catechism regular but not an overbearing practice. When our family is sitting down together, maybe at or after dinner, maybe in the car, or wherever, I will read and ask questions. I usually don’t spend more than 10-15 minutes on it. Sometimes I spend less time.
5. Remember kids like competition. Use this to your advantage.
Suggestion: If you have enough kids, consider making teams where they can work together to get the answers. Provide candy or treats to the winning teams.
6. Remember repetition works. This is one of the points of the catechism.
Suggestion: If you have enough people, assign the various sub points to individuals. Then ask the question again and point to each person as you go around the table. If you do this a number of times you will be surprised how much they (& you) remember.
7. Remember to teach them to marvel.
Suggestion: Feel free to pause and insert and show your own excitement for the truth of God’s word. After all, one of the intended impacts of the catechism is grattitude! Feel free to show joy and happiness in God and what he has done for your soul in Christ! Kids will see what you are truly happy about.
Be patient, consistent, understanding, and faithful. God will no doubt use the catechism in their lives as well as your own!
A couple of other tools that I have found helpful are Kevin DeYoung’s book The Truth we Almost Forgot (my review here). Also, I liked this book by Wiliamson.