Smart Board Reveals Smartly Catechized Confirmands, by Pr. Rossow

Over the last couple of years we have been adding smartboards to our church’s day school classrooms. Smartboards are computerized whiteboards. It took me a few weeks to transition from the traditional chalkboard to these new computerized boards but once I did I realized they are incredible teaching tools. For instance, I was able to capture the notes below that I wrote on the board and create a pdf so I could share it with  our BJS readers. The  captured notes tell  the story of some smartly catechized catechumens.

We have three years of confirmation instruction.  In sixth grade we require the public school students to take a year of Bible instruction  so they can catch up with our day school students.  In seventh grade we teach the first three chief parts of the catechism and then in eighth grade we teach the last three chief parts. A couple of weeks ago I was teaching the third article of the creed (second chief part) and realized the fruits of sixteen years of teaching and preaching at the same congregation.

We were just beginning our discussion of the church in the day school class. As a discussion starter I asked the students to tell me what the church is. Their off the cuff answers floored me and delighted  me to no end. Here are their answers as I recorded them on the smartboard (you can see the actual printout from the screen below):


Whiteboard during confirmation class

Whiteboard during confirmation class


  1. Where you learn about God.
  2. A place where we our sins are forgiven and we have baptisms.
  3. God’s holy place because he is there.
  4. Where you receive communion.

I have been teaching confirmation for 25 years and have never had such a profound answers to this question. Keep in mind, this is before I started to teach them about the church. The pastors reading this post can testify that the answer to this question usually is along the lines of “a place where we worship,” “God’s house,” “a building” and the like.

These students practically recited Augsburg Confession Article VII even though they have never read it! Look at those answers. (These are the exact first 28 words that came out of their mouths. I simply wrote their words on the smart board.) The first answer is mildly protestant (emphasis on the sermon) but still better than most typical out-of-the-box answers. The second and fourth answers echo Augsburg VII perfectly. The church is not the people, it is not the institution, it is a place where God administers his sacraments. The third answer is also somewhat protestant (because it hints at an emphasis on  the glory of God) but it is also quite Lutheran  because  it calls to mind  the true work of the church – forgiving sins. God is holy and we are not, and  so something needs to be done about it, i.e. forgive us.

I believe  these responses have been born of patient plodding along in a  long pastorate.  I have been preaching and teaching in this parish for 16 years and it is good to know that after a certain amount of time confessional theology begins to sink in. We are also blessed to have a confessional Associate Pastor (9 years in the congregation) a confessional teaching staff (average tenure of 12 years) all of whom have contributed to this excellent catechesis. Most of all, I would credit the work of our Cantor (8 years tenure) who has taught the congregation how to sing, taught sight-singing in the day school, mentored our acolytes  and has well catechized our  children’s choirs. The authentic Lutheran singing causes the faith to become second nature for the congregation. This is a very subtle thing and I am not able to capture it very well in words but I know that it has made a huge difference. Our music and Sunday morning piety matches the theology taught in the classrooms.

Fellow pastors, keep preaching and teaching the faith even when it seems like it is not sinking in.  Laymen, keep supporting your pastors as they promote traditional theology and piety in the congregation. The Brothers of John the Steadfast stand ready to  encourage and equip such confessional work.



Adding April 6th:

After posting this, a reader submitted a WORDLE copy of the smartboard that Pastor Rossow presented above. Wordle is a web-based system that generates a pictoral version of a set of text — it is a good method of seeing visually what the focus of a sermon or reading is about. I’m not sure exactly how it does it, but it seems to increase the size of the word based on its frequency in the text. It doesn’t work as well for short text like the above, but it is still interesting to see:

Confirmation Class Initial Response to "What is Church"

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Smart Board Reveals Smartly Catechized Confirmands, by Pr. Rossow — 36 Comments

  1. Pastor,

    It is indeed wonderful to see God’s grace at work in the students in catechism. I remember our LCMS congregation in the early to mid 1970s had catechism for 5&6 grade together with a layperson and 7&8 grade together with pastor. Every Wednesday after schools, we would walk down the hill 3 blocks from school to grab something at the downtown soda fountain. Then walk up the hill on the other side of town about 5 blocks to the LCMS church and start confirmation class at 4 pm sharp.

    Today, I am given an opportunity to help teach Jr. Catechism for 5&6 graders, where we take time to learn about Luther and some church history, then on to the commandments. I certainly pray God’s grace and blessings on those students who go through catechism at our WELS church and those of other confessional Lutheran bodies. What a blessing to have God work on the hearts and minds of these young people.

  2. Maybe you can go to Michigan and counter the misguided message of the key speaker, who will be speaking to the North and East districts of Joint District Pastors Conference. The theme is “Youth Ministry:Our Failure and our Future.” The key note speaker is Mark Oestricher-a.k.a “Marko”.

    Lord have mercy!

  3. Concerned Michigander, I do live in Michigan, too. I’ll have to check with our pastors and see what they think of this. We have a new senior pastor, and he seems more confessional that the retired one, who had introduced us to Rick Warren studies/small groups AND encouraged John Ortberg video studies!!

  4. I think we need to send our son to Naperville for his last year of Confirmation. Do you take exchange students???? We’re in Michigan too.

  5. @Concerned Michigander #3

    Thanks for the link Concerned. Here they go again. Youth Specialities and Mark Oestricher is about as Emergent as it gets. Don’t take it from me… the following is a source quoting what Emergent guru Tony Jones has to say about Youth Specialities’ ties with himself and Emergent.

    At the time, YS was publishing books by emergent authors, an arrangement created by then-publisher, Mark Oestreicher. Yac was taking some heat for that, particularly from the old guard at YS — some of the long-time speakers and authors. Doug and I had heard that, and Yac confirmed it. He said that his son, Mark’s, work on contemplative spirituality was also irksome to some of YS’s more conservative constituency.

    But then — and I remember it like it was yesterday — he said, “YS has always been about pushing boundaries. That’s why we started it. It was never really about youth ministry; it was always about radicalizing the church for Jesus. It just seemed to us that youth ministry was the way to do that.”

    He continued, “I’ve been afraid that we’re losing our edge, becoming too mainstream. So, you know what, if YS goes down in flames because of what you guys write, that’s great! At least we’ll be true to ourselves.”

    That sentiment, I think, was the impetus for Marko publishing my books and Tic inviting me to the NYWC. They got some angry mail for that — I remember one letter from a church’s board of elders telling Yac that YS was apostate because they let me speak — but I hope it was worth it…

    (online source)

  6. What is the Church?

    Maybe it’s just off the bottom of the markerboard as #5, but I would have thought some good
    Lutheran catechumen would have said something like, “The Church is the congregation of saints”… like, well, the answer to Question 169 (in the 1991 Explanation of The Small Catechism, or Walther’s Thesis I, on the Church (but maybe the catechumens don’t get into those Theses until their third year of catechism).

    Or as a PK educated by a Waltherian pastor would have said from the answer to Question 192 or Walther’s Thesis III, “The Church is invisible.”

    The first four markerboard descriptions seem to have a lot of ‘visible church-iness’ in them.

  7. @Concerned Michigander #3
    I have never see this person “Marko”. I presume that he is a member of the LCMS for certainly Michigan would not want some other type of youth presenter?? Perhaps a further explanation of who and what he is and does and where.

  8. Pastor, I agree with everything you have said here, but I take issue with one sentence:

    “In sixth grade we require the public school students to take a year of Bible instruction so they can catch up with our day school students.”

    This assumes that children who have not attended the day school are behind the day school students, and I think you would be the first to say that is not necessarily so. It can be so, because the day school students do receive excellent Bible teaching in the classroom. But children whose parents are fulfilling their role as primary faith-teacher of their children are not going to come into Confirmation class behind. In fact, I think you would agree that some homeschooled and public schooled students are ahead because of parents who have taken responsibility for catechesis at home rather than assuming that the school will do it so they don’t have to.

    That’s all. 🙂

    Cheryl, mother of a soon-to-be-confirmed 8th grader (who loves our pastors’ Confirmation classes)

  9. “Carl V.,”

    Two things:

    1) As I noted, at the point of the question, they have not been taught formally from the catechism about the church and so there was still time to speak of the congregation of saints. I was not expecting experts. I was just struck by how they identified the church according to its marks rather than according to fallable human things such as sanctuaries, synods, and voters assemblies.

    2) I prefer Marquart’s approach to visibility/invisibility. Rather than talking about an invisible church and a visible church, he asserts there is one church that can be spoken of according to its visible marks (word and sacrament) and faith which is invisible because it is hidden in the heart.


  10. Concerned Michigander :
    The theme is “Youth Ministry:Our Failure and our Future.” The key note speaker is Mark Oestricher-a.k.a “Marko”.
    Lord have mercy!

    That’s just silly. Youth groups in the LCMS over the last 30 years have done exactly what they were designed to do: make methodists …and atheists. The problem is not that we’ve failed to accomplish the standard youth agenda, but that we’ve done it only too well. Marko, based on his video, is a perfect case in point: We need to get back to “communion (personal relationships] and mission.” This is not new thinking.

    You don’t have to sell out.

  11. Carl Vehse :
    “What is the Church?”
    Maybe it’s just off the bottom of the markerboard as #5, but I would have thought some good
    Lutheran catechumen would have said something like, “The Church is the congregation of saints”…

    Hmmm. Because the congregation of the holy people is made holy by just getting together by themselves and hanging out and loving God?

    Why pick bones with your friends? It is in receiving our Lord Jesus in his body and blood that we are together made the Church, not in being ourselves. “The Holy things for the Holy people.” The saints “congregate” around Word and Sacrament. It’s the same answer.

    +pax Christi+

  12. @Janet #5
    We have a new senior pastor, and he seems more confessional…..
    seems? more confessional????
    well, maybe not.

  13. @17 “More Nonsense”: No K-mart or school in sight. Seems like there are a lot of churches like ours, though, doesn’t it??

  14. Why pick bones with your friends?

    Quoting Lutheran doctrine is now considered “picking bones”?!?

  15. Carl,
    No quoting Lutheran doctrine isn’t picking bones w/your friends.
    But, we are adults here, Carl. Maybe you’ve known 6th-7th graders, who can quote Luther & deeply understand, prior to Conformation, but I haven’t, yet. Most kids that age, that I have known or know now, understand the basics, which is what is on that smartboard. Teachers have to find out what they think & how much they understand first, before you know where to start with Luther/Doctrine, or you’ll talk right over their heads.
    Basics first, then we relate or correct it w/Scripture & Luther, and then explain in depth. (Every kid, is a different level, you need to learn what the class average is)
    It’s just how tweenies learn, just because someone can quote something, doesn’t mean they understand what they’ve said.

  16. sounds to me like your kids have been confessing and experiencing the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church — those who experience it don’t easily walk away from it either.

  17. Dutch :

    (Every kid, is a different level, you need to learn what the class average is)
    It’s just how tweenies learn, just because someone can quote something, doesn’t mean they understand what they’ve said.

    This past year, when talking to the 5th / 6th grade class, my opening question in introducing Martin Luther, was simply, who was Martin Luther? One youngster immediately said, he is the fellow who helped break the racial barrier! I told the young man we needed to look back about 500 years and think about church history, not American history. I made it a point to thank the students for their knowledge they learn in schools, however there is much to learn about Lutheranism in our classes.

  18. But, we are adults here, Carl. Maybe you’ve known 6th-7th graders, who can quote Luther & deeply understand, prior to Conformation, but I haven’t, yet.

    My earlier response did not suggest I expected “6th-7th graders quote Luther and deeply understand.” The post stated that it was the 8th-grade catechumens, with two years of catechism, to whom Rev. Rossow had asked the question. The whiteboard answers to the question of what is the church were essentially referring to the church as a “place” or location (“where”).

    My earlier response did not claim these answers were wrong, because they are, in the improper (secondary, lesser) sense, descriptions of “church.”

    My earlier response did wonder whether any answer was given that would have associated “church” with, not where, but “who — “the communion of saints,” “true believers,” or “Christians” — based on what had been read or discussed during the first two years of confirmation. For example, in discussing the third commandment,

    Question 37. Does God require the church to worship together on any specific days?
    A. God requires Christians to worship together.
    B. He has not specified any particular day.
    C. The church worships together especially on Sunday because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday.

    In the Creed’s second article, which would have been covered prior to the third article, there is another clear reference to the who of the church in the discussion of the three kingdoms ruled by Christ, including “the kingdom of grace – the church on earth” and “the kingdom of glory-the church in heaven.”

    There are of course a number of Scripture passages throughout the Catechism that use the word, “church,” in the proper and primary sense of all believers.

    And, if confirmation classes are like the ones I attended, sermon reports are a weekly requirement. Thus it had occurred to me that sometime during the past 2 and 1/2 years, the 8th-grade catechumens may have written down (and remembered!) from a sermon or two in which the primary meaning of church was preached.

    Of course, in being taught the third article, the catechumens will properly learn, in the answer to Question 170, “Because faith, which makes people members of the church, is invisible, the church is invisible to human eyes.” And the catechumens will also learn from the answer to Question 174, that the invisible church will be where the visible “marks of the church” are seen.

  19. We need to remember that the questions in the catechism are not from Luther or Walther. They were written for the 1941 edition. They are fine catechetical helps and I use them profusely but there are some places where the oversimplifications can be misleading. For instance, Question 177 speaks of the “visible church.” Marquart points out that it is better to speak of the “church visible” (putting the adjective after the noun) so as not to think there are two churches. He also points out that visible/invisible is not the language of the confessions. He also points out that the Apology says that the church “is not only a fellowship of outward marks…” The point being is that the confessors were very comfortable speaking of the church as a gathering around marks and rites. This is so important for the church today.

    Carl – the reason I was glad they did not refer to the saints is that in this romantic and church growth age it is so popular to think of the church as the people. This is not only a post-modern thing, it is also a modern thing. It was refreshing to hear the kids refer to the church according to its marks and not according to the hippie notion that “hey man, its the people – that’s where its at dude.”


  20. As a complete aside — a BJS reader submitted a WORDLE copy of the smartboard; I’ve added it to the post above. Every once in a while Wordle comes up again .. it’s a great tool to get a pictoral representation of a text .. with longer text it really brings the point of the text out visually.

    Be sure to scroll up to see the addition to the post above.

  21. He [Marquart] also points out that visible/invisible is not the language of the confessions.


    It can also be pointed out that Scripture specifically does not use the word “Trinity,” but we still confess the doctrine of the Trinity. Just as Scripture provides evidence of the Holy Trinity, Scripture make it clear that the true holy, Christian Church is made up of all true believers and is hidden, or invisible, to all but known by God (e.g., Luke 17: 20,21; John 10:14; Rom.10:9,10; 1 Cor. 4:5; Col. 3:3,4; 2 Tim. 2:19).

    In his book, Church and Ministry, Walther quotes Luther (Comment on Galatians 5:19, Halle Edition, 8:2745): “Therefore we rightly confess in the Creed and say: ‘I believe a holy Christian Church.’ For it is invisible and lives in the Spirit at a place to which no one can come.” [p.41], and Chemnitz (Loci theologici, part 3, p.117): “The true and holy church of the elect nevertheless remains invisible” [p.43], and John Gerhard (Loci thologici, ‘De ecclesi”, par. 151): “When we say: ‘I believe one holy Christian church,’ the word ‘believe’ shows clearly that we speak of the invisible church, which is proved also by the added adjective ‘holy’ [p.43], and other Lutheran theologians, such as Meisner, Mentzer, Huelsemann, Dannhauer, Calov, and Quenstedt are quoted similarly.

    In their “Chapter IX: Four Decades of Expansion 1920 – 1960” (Moving Frontiers, edited by Carl S. Meyer, CPH, 1964, p. 417), Thomas Coates and Erwin L Lueker also point out that in 1929, the Missouri Synod rejected as a basis for union with the Ohio, Iowa, and Buffalo Synods theses whose language “enables the opponents to retain their old doctrine of a visible side of the Church.” The doctrine of the invisible Church is also presented in the Brief Statement of 1932, on the Church.

    John Theodore Mueller discusses the “invisible Church” in his Christian Dogmatics (CPH, St. Louis, 1934), in the chapter on “The Doctrine of the Christian Church”: A. The Church Universal (pp. 541-562), and in particular, Section 3. The Properties of the Christian Church (pp. 547-549), including his statement: “All who affirm that the Church is either wholly (papists) or partly (modern Lutheran theologians) visible destroy the Scriptural concept of the Church and change it from a communion of believers to an ‘outward polity of the good and the wicked’”.

    Speaking about the Lutheran Confessions, Bjarne W. Teigen, in “The Church in the New Testament, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions” (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 42:4, Oct. 1978, p.389) states:

    Some hold that the church cannot be referred to as “invisible,” since the terms “invisible” and “visible” are not found in the Confessions….To take up the first point, it may be quickly discerned that the terms “invisible” and “visible” are not used in the Book of Concord, but they are found among the later dogmaticians. It is the position of this paper that the dogmaticians, the Book of Concord, and the Luther are in doctrinal agreement on this point despite differing terminology.

    From 1851 through 2001, the Missouri Synod in convention has passed fifteen doctrinal resolutions that specifically refer to the church as invisible, deny that the church is visible, or adopted theses or statements that make the same statements about the Church.

    It continues to amaze me the number of Lutherans in the Missouri Synod who break out in a rash at the very mention of (the doctrine of) the invisible Church.

  22. What a child in sixth or seventh grade has absorbed may depend on what kind of Sunday School he has (assuming he has been brought there). If they have the sort which starts memorizing the catechism as soon as the children can read and sings hymns which the children can use in church, they are more likely to take church seriously. [Parents are another factor.]

    Where (‘in another life’) I substituted in the classroom, I observed day school children assembled around the (free standing) altar, for a discussion, with their elbows on the fair linen. My own (“public school kids”) would have been tanned if they had been part of that group.

    Day school can be better than that.
    But I am grateful for the children’s choirs in our first lcms church, which met after school so that all the children of the congregation might participate. Beginning in second grade, mine had something special which they still remember.

  23. Perry Lund #23:

    You make mention of a child confusing Dr. Martin Luther with Martin Luther King. You might be able to excuse a young Christian child of this, but what is terrible is when your average American Christian has never even heard of the Reformation.

    I will explain to them how Dr. Martin Luther is the father of the Reformation, and the issues that he addressed, and they just don’t have a clue.

    The ignorance of your average Christian in America of church history, is reflected in all of the big box churches, and their loose understanding of the Scriptures.

    Many of the pastors themselves, aren’t acquanted with church history, and they feel that Christianity has been dormant for the past 2,000 years until they started their own brand of non-denominationalism–which by the way is either Pentacostalism, or good ‘old fashioned dipsy Southern Bapitst theology; or a combination of the two.

  24. One wonders what sixth or seventh graders are learning nowadays in Sunday School…

    Especially since a few years ago a pastor wrote the following about his second-graders:

    “For, thank God, a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”

  25. In my community, too many folks (non-Lutherans) would answer: “It’s where the preacher tells us what we gotta do to complete God’s work on earth, AND it’s where the band got its start before it went on the tour circuit, AND if we get really lucky it’s where the Holy Ghost comes and fills us (but we aren’t doing something right b/c He hasn’t been around for a while), and it has the BEST screen and sound system for miles around, and it’s where we learn to scare people good so that they will make a decision for God . . . .” Amazing stuff! The more amazing is the number of Lutherans who seem to covet that and want to drag it into their congregations.

  26. At our Lutheran day school, we have a fair smattering of ELCA kids in among our LCMS students, and a goodly mix of Roman Catholic, Protestant, and neo-Evangelical students, too. When our 7th grade class was discussing what the church is supposed to do (re: proclamation of the Gospel vs. social ministry vs. political advocacy vs. moral lecturing), it was interesting to see and hear how the theology they’ve been taught on Sunday morning from their congregation’s pulpits and their Sunday School classes comes flowing forth to inform their understanding of church. I am blessed to have 5 days a week to “broom their little curling stones” back on the proper path toward the proper target. Thank the Lord for our LCMS day schools, where we may actually be infiltrating a great deal of good Lutheran (i.e., Christian) theology into many other denominations. Who knows how much subtle influence that may have on their understanding of God and His work for us in Christ, countering the error they may be receiving in their homes and congregations?

  27. I tend to avoid using the idea of “place”… and this is because 165 hours of the week the “place” where Messiah Lutheran Church meets is the High School band room. What the confessions stress is not place, but God’s activity of serving His people in Word and Sacrament who are gathered (which, yes necessarily means that there is a “place”). Furthermore, it is also helpful to note that what the confessors had in mind when confessing the Church was more the whole Church, as well as the regional manifestations.

  28. @The Renegade #33

    “I am blessed to have 5 days a week to “broom their little curling stones” back on the proper path toward the proper target.” –“Renegade”

    Love that analogy! (Wisconsin?)

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