Last week I began to outline some of the reasons I think we should be intentionally teaching and training our children not just in the stories of the Bible, but also in building the theological framework that will allow them to interpret those stories properly. One great way of doing that which has been tried and tested through the generations is the practise of catechising.
I hope it goes without saying that in exploring this I am not advocating a dry intellectualism. You may remember a couple of articles ago I placed teaching minds in relationship with how important it is that we teach the hearts of the children in our midst. This is done in part as they see our own example in worship (which provides one important reason why All-Age worship – if well done – should be part of the rhythm of a Church’s life; and why it is good that our children are regularly in ‘adult’ services, even if only for a few minutes). Simply put, if Christ doesn’t move us, the children at St. John’s will soon figure that out; and what’s worse is that they will assume Christ isn’t capable of moving us! That is when we lose them. Truth becomes very powerful when it is wedded to a deep spiritual love for Christ, and when it is taught by those (parents, Sunday Group leaders and others) who are overwhelmed with God’s goodness (see e.g. Psalm 4:7). On top of that, you’ll have heard me talk already in a couple of sermons about the relationship between truth and worship. Truth about God, properly appropriated must inevitably lead to profound, heart-felt worship.
Neither am I suggesting that a catechism is the only thing we should be teaching. Teaching about the great theological battles and spiritual revivals of Church history; biography (see the torch lighter series!); appropriate devotional literature; cultivating an awareness of the global Church and the issues she faces (kidsofcourage.com); as well as showing how our faith informs issues such as friendship etc. all form part of the ‘curriculum’ we are presenting the children and young people in our midst! Their vision of Christ (like ours) must be sufficient to engulf all of life. I guess I am focussing on catechising because that may be the part of the package that has fallen most into disrepair, and for which it might be most difficult to see the immediate relevance and benefit.
Nevertheless, catechising remains a powerful tool for the discipleship of children and young people in any family or congregation. This is not only because of the intentional and balanced way in which it can comprehensively cover the landscape of Christian belief, but also because it gives us opportunity to weave teaching our children into their experience of life generally. I remember during one of our visits to the local swimming pool, sitting with my kids while they were listening to another boy in the changing rooms boasting to a friend about how he gets to keep his locker money by telling his mum he forgot to take it out of the locker. Because we had recently been looking at the 10 commandments in our family devotions (which last about 10 minutes a day, and once you’re in the habit you’ll find the kids will be wanting to do it even when you don’t!), we were able to have a very interesting conversation on the way home, about everything from honouring parents, to telling lies, stealing and having the Lord as our God! I found that the catechism had already done a lot of the work for me. It had already explained these ideas to my kids in the simple answers it gave to the deep questions asked. The structured input makes spontaneous instruction possible.
The regular input also provides the material from which great questions are formed. As they learn the questions and answers in a catechism it fires other, more spontaneous questions that give us opportunity after opportunity to teach them about the wonder of Jesus and His Gospel. The great thing about the wider Church being involved in this – or at least aware of it – is that the opportunities to teach are compounded. The result of this proactive and reactive teaching, reinforced in family life, Sunday Groups and throughout the Church family, is the cultivation in children of a Christ-centred way of thinking about themselves, their world and their God.
Of course, it’s not all about direct and didactic instruction! Children pick up a huge amount by simply being a part of the Church. They will learn more about prayer from watching and listening to us pray, than by what we ‘teach’ them about prayer. Similarly, what we say about love, compassion and forgiveness will be either reinforced, or critically undermined, as they watch how we relate to each other in the life of the Church. We can tell them Christ should be listened to, and His words put into practise; but it is unlikely they will believe us unless they see this in us. The flip side is that unless we do teach them, they won’t understand what we are doing or why!
As I’ve tried to stress a number of times already in these articles, we have a corporate responsibility to the children and young people in our midst. We need to be clear as a Church that the primary responsibility for the evangelism and discipleship of children and young people lies with their parents! But we are hopelessly naïve if we think the wider Church has no part to play. We can’t simply assume that we’ve done all the Lord expects of us because of the gallant efforts of the staff team and those who run Sunday groups week by week. This is something that affects us all, and that we must all participate in. There is an old proverb that talks about how it takes a village to raise a child. Perhaps. But it certainly takes a whole Church family to raise our children in the ways of the Lord. In order to do this, children have to be consistently, intentionally and genuinely a part of the Church. This doesn’t mean they are a part of everything that a Church does, nor does it mean that they are necessarily the focus, or a deciding factor in any decision. But it is to be expected both that they are there and that they are integral. Children learn from being a part of something – not merely observers, or receptors of information. It’s the way God designed them, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible sees them as fully involved in the worshipping life of the Body of Christ - something we will be looking at as this series of articles develops.
 For younger children particularly, I am recommending the use of a series of books by Carine MacKenzie: ‘My first book…’. The series covers a general catechism; Jesus, Church, memory verses, Bible prayers, Christian virtues, published by Christian Focus. For older children a modern translation of a classical catechism will take a little bit of getting into, but will more than repay the effort.