September 23, 2019
Beloved in the Lord,
Over the past many years, I have been thinking much about how we try to teach our children the Christian Faith, how we can teach our children the Faith, and how we should teach our children the Faith. Most of us have grown up in an era of robust Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools. Some of us have experienced the richness of a Lutheran Day School. While the Day School can be attributed to Lutheranism and the Reformation, Sunday School and Vacation Bible School are relatively recent ideas in the Christian Church and especially among us of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. You can follow these links to read further about Sunday School and Vacation Bible School (http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/). While they have been beneficial to many, there are the unintended consequences that, after a few generations, it has become the norm that other people teach our children and we, as parents, know little about what is being taught.
The Scriptures tell us that the words that God commands shall be on our hearts. We shall teach them diligently to our children, and shall talk of them when we sit in our houses, and when we walk by the way, and when we lie down, and when we rise (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). We should talk of Abraham as our ancestor, of Moses as we would an uncle, of Ruth like she is a cousin, and of Jesus, our God incarnate, to whom we have been united through Holy Baptism. In this way, the Christian Faith is learned like speaking or eating with a fork. It is practiced and rehearsed and in time is a part of each of us.
A few weeks ago, I was reading an article that spoke of our contemporary situation. In it the author examined how Christians didn’t even believe the Christian Faith. Some may believe elements of the Faith but they knew so little of the Bible that their faith was shaped more by culture and the secular world than by God’s Word. He wrote from his own experience with religious school: “Contemporary religion…adapts to the world in a way that makes few demands on life, especially on young people. I felt this as a teenager. My mother yelled at me whenever I got a bad grade in regular school, but when I brought home a bad grade from religious school, she didn’t care. Grades in religious school had to do with a nebulous thing called the “soul,” while grades in regular school determined futures and salaries. For her, the world was more important, and the authorities at my religious school seemed to agree. They rarely fussed about my grades and seemed content that I was moral enough by the world’s standards to enter one of the world’s careers.” (Belief Limbo by Ronald W. Dworkin, First Things Magazine, Aug 2019). May God never let us despise His Word so much and think so little of its importance to this life as well as the next!
There is no one right way to teach our children the Christian Faith, but there is only one Faith to be taught. How we teach this Faith to our children can be varied and have multiple means, including classrooms, bedside prayers, family devotions and discussions, and lives lived as example to our children. This is a struggle all of us encounter and a battle throughout our lives. My intent is not to point out our faults but to provide guidelines and benchmarks for us to intentionally teach our children (and ourselves) and prepare them to face a world ambivalent and increasingly hostile to the Christian Faith. I am not proposing methods or teaching styles, those can be many and should be. I am presenting essential knowledge for each of us to know and ages by which that knowledge should be mastered.
Every stage is a building stone preparing our children for a Christian life in this world and each one builds upon the other. Children have a tremendous capacity for memorization and these benchmarks take advantage of that capacity to lay a solid foundation upon which to expand and elaborate as they mature. The basis of our Christian knowledge is God’s revelation in Holy Scripture and as it is summarized for us in Luther’s Small Catechism. This is where we start and continue our learning in the Christian Faith, no matter what the age.
The ultimate goal is a lifelong faith that trusts in Jesus as Savior from sin, believes God’s Word as truth and a life that is shaped by that Word. This is what Christian education, whether in Sunday School, Lutheran Day School, family devotion, or Confirmation Class is supposed to contribute towards. In whatever combinations we are able to pull together, I put forward the following as benchmarks for teaching and for our children’s learning. These will be incorporated in Sunday School classrooms and followed up in other opportunities of learning. I encourage you to incorporate it into your family routines that you may lay that solid foundation in the lives of your children.
All ages: A weekly Bible verse for all the congregation to learn by heart.
Age 5: The Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed
Age 6: The Words of Institution, the meanings to the Ten Commandments, the Close of the Ten Commandments
Age 7: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Luther’s Morning Prayer, Luther’s Evening Prayer
Age 8: Confession and the Office of the Keys, the explanations to all three articles of the Creed
Age 9: The Sacrament of the Altar, the meanings to the Introduction, Petitions, and Conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer
Age 10: The Books of the Bible
Composition of Personal Prayer Book
Age 10: A prayer for parents, teachers, classmates, in time of sickness, in thanksgiving for recovery from sickness, for others suffering illness, for those who do not believe in Christ
Age 11: A prayer for before the Divine Service, after the Divine Service, one based on each of the Commandments, before confession, after confession
Age 12: A prayer based on each of the articles of the Creed, on the Introduction and each Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, for before Communion, for after Communion
Age 13: A prayer for someone being baptized, for after someone is baptized, for one who has fallen from baptism, for a penitent Christian in need of comfort, and for each day of the week
Age 14: A prayer for your pastor, for your government, to grow up to be a faithful husband/wife, to grow up to be a faithful father/mother, to be a faithful child, to be a faithful student or worker, to love your neighbor as yourself
Family reading from a Bible story book such as The Growing in Faith Bible Storybook or The Storybook Bible when children are young or from the Bible itself when children are old enough to understand is a great way to help them learn God’s history of salvation from Adam and Eve through the days of the early Church and the missionary journeys of Paul. When children know these rich stories and the events in the lives of God’s people, it enables the unfolding of Scripture in their teen years and the unpacking of truth that packs the pages of Scripture as they mature in stature and in faith.
Once a child has memorized the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Words of Institution; the child has expressed interest in receiving the Lord’s Supper; the child’s parents believe the child is ready; and I, as the pastor, believe the child is ready; we will begin a curriculum to prepare the child to receive the Lord’s Supper in the rite of First Holy Communion.
Once a child has completed all the memory work, has expressed an interest, and received both parental and pastoral recommendation, that child may begin a one year catechesis that concludes with the rite of Confirmation.
During a child’s middle school years (grades 6-8), a one-day retreat/class will be offered twice each year to continue catechesis and preparation for Christian adulthood. The topics of these retreats will address age-appropriate contemporary and apologetic issues such as Drugs and Alcohol, Sexuality and Gender Issues, Creation and Science, Reformation History, American Church History, and Comparative Religions.
During a child’s high school years (grades 9-12), a one-day retreat/class will be offered twice each year to continue catechesis and preparation for Christian adulthood. The topics of these retreats will address age-appropriate contemporary and apologetic issues such as Contraception and Family Planning, Abortion, Euthanasia, Ethics, and Early Church History.
Information on additional opportunities for children to participate in summer camps and youth gatherings will be made available to parents throughout the year. These opportunities give children a chance to meet and develop relationships with other Lutheran children from New England and across the country, and in some cases, even from across a sea.
I will provide incentives and encouragement to the children in every stage of their learning from the youngest age and the most basic lessons throughout their childhood. I ask that you encourage them to recite their memory work to me and not to hold back on giving me that hard question that will arise.
A Final Prayer
My prayer is that your children will grow in their faith, that they will remain in the Faith, and that He who is faithful will reward them with the crown of life. If you are interested in resources, have a question, or just want to talk about how to move forward, I am your servant, appointed by Christ to help in the best way that I possibly can.