This Thursday, I’m looking forward to being on a panel with Christine Hoover, Irene Sun, and Beth Urton at The Gospel Coalition 2016 National Women’s Conference (TGCW16). We’ll be discussing the topic “Teaching Theology to Children” and I thought I’d share about one of the resources I’m thankful we used when our children were young.
Prior to the birth of our second child, I worked for a year as our church’s Children’s Ministry Director. One of the personal benefits was learning about a variety of different curriculums, parenting books, children’s books, music CDs, and other resources that were useful to me as a new mom. To my surprise, one of the resources that has helped me most in teaching my children is the Children’s Catechism.
You may be asking the same question I did when I first heard about it, What’s a Children’s Catechism? A catechism is simply a series of fixed questions and answers used to instruct children in the precepts of Christianity. There are a few online versions (Presbyterian and Baptist have similar versions) and Great Commission Publications has produced an entire curriculum for the catechism. It has even been put to music by Judy Rogers.
I have to admit when I first learned about the catechism, it sounded a bit old-fashioned and formal to engage with my children using a question/answer format. We regularly read the Bible to our children, so I also wondered about the necessity of using it as a teaching tool. Now that my children are older, I look back with fond memories of our times sitting around the dinner table reciting these questions. It also paved the way for the family devotions that we continue to share together now. Here are five ways learning the catechism benefited our family:
Reason 1: Simplifies Complex Truths
One of the greatest benefits of teaching the catechism was that it gave me simple ways to explain complex truths. The question, “Mommy, who wrote the Bible?” can be difficult to explain to a child. The catechism provided a succinct answer, “Chosen men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Often as parents, we think we must teach all the details when our children ask spiritual questions, but the catechism helped me to realize that children learn best with manageable amounts of information. Just like we cut up food in small bites, they digest truth best in child size portions. The catechism gave me the words and phrases to help me do that in our conversations.
Reason 2: Teaches the Language of the Church
I remember sitting in church one Sunday with my four year old daughter. At some point in the service the word covenant was used and she excitedly pulled on my sleeve and whispered in my ear her catechism answer, “An agreement between two people.” Learning from the catechism allowed her greater involvement in the service because she understood the words being used. Just as we teach colors, numbers, and letters, it is helpful to introduce words used in church so that it will be a familiar and welcoming place for our children.
Reason 3: Prepares Them to Answer
When we teach children, it is easy to get in the habit of being the one who does all the talking. The catechism allows children the opportunity to participate in learning by repeating the answer. The back and forth nature of the catechism provides an opportunity for both parent and child to participate in the learning process. For our family, it began a spiritual conversation that continues as normal and natural part of our times together.
Reason 4: Provides a Treasure Map to Follow
I’ll admit that one of my underlying fears in teaching the catechism was the misguided notion that somehow we might overdo their spiritual training. We take them to church, read them Bible stories, memorize verses – do they really need one more way to learn about God? However, as I’ve reflected upon it through the years, I now view these combined efforts as providing a treasure map for my children. If knew of riches buried in a field, I would do everything possible to make sure my children knew the exact location of the treasure. I would give them every detail I could remember in hopes that they would find it. I know of no greater treasure than Christ, and so I hope to provide every means (the catechism just being one of those) to lead my children to the riches found in Him. We can join the psalmist in his promise, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78). Every day, in every way possible, let us tell our children about more about the goodness of the Lord.
Reason 5: Becomes a Fun Time of Family Fellowship
Another reason for my initial reticence to teach the catechism was that it just seemed like it might make family dinners pretty laborious. Did I really want to spend our family times together forcing my children to recite these questions and answers? In actuality, these became sweet times of laughter with our children. One evening, about nine years ago, I took out my video camera and filmed John (age 3) and Emma (age 6) as they answered. These were the days before iPhones, so the quality isn’t the best, but hopefully it provides a window into our (imperfect) process.