The following is a guest article by Rev. Ryan Loeslie, Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Merna, Nebraska.
Most of us are familiar with Aesop’s Fable of the tortoise and the hare. The hare boasted of his speed repeatedly. But tiring of the excessive boasting, the tortoise challenged the hare to a race. They agreed. Once the race was on, the hare predictably got out to a great lead.
Seeing the tortoise so far behind, the hare thought he had ample time to take a nice nap. Of course, this was a bad idea. By the time he woke again, the tortoise was just about finish the race. The hare jolted for the finish line, but it was too late. The tortoise was victorious. Slow and steady won the race.
Aesop’s Fable about the tortoise and the hare can be applied to many facets of life. One place where it applies is the catechesis of our children. Catechesis is like a race. For several generations now, by and large Lutheran congregations have employed the hare’s method of running the race and catechizing our children.
We consider the hare. He was built for the race. He had the skills and the lightning speed. The tortoise shouldn’t stand a chance against him.
So also we have entrusted pastors with teaching our children the Small Catechism. Pastors are like the hare. They are educated and equipped especially for this job. Certainly, we reason, the pastor should be able to do a better job at teaching the faith than the parents. Just as the hare is better equipped for the race than the tortoise, the pastor is better equipped for catechesis than the parents. And so what have we done? We have placed our bets on the hare to win the race.
But we can extend this analogy even further. We consider how the hare ran his race. He got off to a big lead, and he saw the tortoise safely in the distance. No worries, he thought, and so he thought he might take a nice break and settle in for a nap. This is a shocking parallel to the way Lutherans have catechized their children for the past several decades. Children meet with the pastor for an intense hour of instruction once a week, and then for the next week there is nothing – a nice break like the hare took.
I suppose conscientious families in the past have taken memory work seriously, but this is simply not enough over the long haul. When school is out, catechesis breaks for an entire summer. When children are confirmed, many never take up the Small Catechism again. Like the hare, our congregations have been caught napping. If they are even fortunate enough to wake up, they will see they have lost the race to those competitors in this world who have worked harder to indoctrinate their children – the media, the academy, secular culture, Hollywood, etc. These are relentless every day.
I don’t have to cite technical statistics to claim that Missouri Synod congregations are losing. Too many congregations bury more than they baptize. Children often never show up in church again after confirmation. If they do, chances are still high that they go to college and fall away from the faith.
Long-established congregations have been in decline for almost five full decades. Why? We have adopted the hare’s approach to running the race. We have relied too much on the so-called “experts.” We have become ignorant of our responsibility to teach the faith at home. Like the hare, we have taken too many breaks, and we have relied on quick fixes and programs when these never last over the long haul.
Wouldn’t it be great if our congregations started winning again? I believe they can. They can, if they adopt the tortoise’s strategy. Slow and steady wins the catechetical race. This means a change of direction for most of our congregations. Instead of the pastor being in charge of Small Catechism instruction, parents must take this responsibility themselves. And this is not a once a week for two years type of thing. This must be done over the long haul – every day for a child’s entire upbringing. At least this is the goal we shoot for every day.
Perhaps this sounds overwhelming and unreasonable, but it’s not. Remember, this is the tortoise we’re talking about here. He doesn’t try and bite off the whole race in one step, but he takes just a small step every day. And so families should spend just a little bit of time in the Small Catechism every day. For the parent, this could mean reciting just one of the Commandments with your children every day at the dinner table or with bedtime prayers. It could mean just reviewing Jesus’ words of institution for Baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps it is reviewing one article of the Creed with Luther’s explanation. Maybe go sequentially through the Catechism one question at a time.
Learn to enjoy this time conversing with your kids. It’s quality time. The point is, you’re not trying to accomplish everything at once. Neither are you speeding through everything like the hare. You’re doing like the tortoise does. You take a slow step in the right direction every day. Slowly but surely, you will see results.
You will find yourself loving the Small Catechism and what it teaches you about Jesus. You will find yourself loving your church and what your pastor preaches. You will find your children loving it too. After decades of losing with the hare, it’s time to try a different formula. It’s time to go with the tortoise.
Running the catechetical race with the tortoise, you can be confident that you are also running in the way which Scripture commands. I think of the words of Psalm 119. “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32).
For us as Christians, this race can be grueling. Even going at the tortoise’s pace, there are many distractions and fears in this life which vie for our attention and push us off course. And yet, we know that Jesus is always with us. He forgives our weaknesses and failures. And still God equips us with his perfect words that we may run the race set before us.