Stage 4 Cancer – Do Our Families Have It; or, the Sorry State of Catechization in the Home

My aunt, Gladys, was a manager in the U. S. Geological Survey. As a federal government employee, she had excellent health care. The plan included frequent checkups and examinations. But it failed her.

My Dad from North Dakota visited her and her husband, Bob, at their home in Maryland. He noticed it right away. Her complexion was not right. He asked, “Have you been diagnosed with something.” “No,” she said. “Why?” “I think something is wrong with your liver,” he said. She went for a special checkup. They diagnosed liver cancer. It was Stage 4 already. At that stage, the 5-year Relative Survival Rate is 7%. True to probabilities, in short time, she died.

My brother, David, had a similar story. For many years he was the Bills Clerk in the Montana House of Representatives until he was elected as the Representative from his district. He too had excellent health care. But it failed him.

During a midsession break, he returned to his home district. He presented to the emergency room with what sounded like flu-like symptoms. It took the lowly doctors of Podunk Sidney, Montana to catch what really was going on. They referred him to new doctors back in the capital. They diagnosed liver cancer. It was Stage 4 already. He finished the session, planted his last crop on his farm, and died before harvest.

Like my Dad who was no kind of medical professional, I am no kind of theological or ecclesiastic professional. Still, the color of our skin concerns me. Our flu-like symptoms worry me.

After Brothers of John the Steadfast published my article, The No-Name Evangelistic Association, or How the Faith Came to My Grandchildren, I received a fair amount of feedback. There were some strong reactions to Luther’s idea for the Small Catechism, which is that it should be taught in (A) a simple way (B) by the head of the house (C) in the home. What, I wondered, is the health of our homes?

So I have asked three questions in four Lutheran groups on Facebook:

  1. The most unscientific survey ever. Shoot from the hip, your first wild guess: What percent of fathers or other heads of families in Lutheran congregations where you have attended use the Small Catechism with the children in the homes?
  2. Another completely unscientific survey: What benefit do you think children can receive from the head of the family teaching the Catechism in the home?
  3. Complete this sentence. Among those fathers who do not teach the catechism in the home, their reasons are …

The most encouraging answer to the first question was 50%. Only one person gave that estimate. The next most encouraging answers were “10-15,” “8%,” and “5-8%.”

The rest of the answers are fairly represented by the following examples: Few; I would safely guess there weren’t any fathers that did; 3%; 1.5%; Too small; Not enough; Less than 5% and that would include mothers; Statistically zero; 4%, maybe; Big fat 0; 0%; Statistically insignificant; Less than 1%; Maybe 5%; > 1; 1% – being generous; Fewer than 1%; Less than 1%; 20/1500; 1%; Undr 1%; 1% is optimistic; Based on my last three years of teaching confirmation (and not counting pastors kids) I would say anywhere between 0 and 9%; and less than 1/2%.

One respondent said,

I personally think it is really low. While I love the theology and it is the reason I converted, most of the time it seems like Lutherans are the most spiritually lazy group of Christians (as a whole) I have ever seen.

What reasons are fathers giving for not teaching the Catechism in the home? Here are some of the responses:

  • The kids are in bed by the time dad is home from work and he is off to work before they are ready in the morning.
  • They would rather watch Sports Center.
  • “I don’t like reading.” True story.
  • Reading is hard. (I don’t say that sarcastically)
  • No one preached the Law to them that it is first their job.
  • Their fathers didn’t catechize them and they believe they “turned out okay.”
  • The wife ends up doing it so at least it gets done.
  • I’m not qualified.
  • I don’t know how.
  • They don’t know that they are supposed to.
  • They don’t even know what the Catechism is.
  • “What’s a cat-eeek-iss-umm?”
  • Haven’t ever heard of it before yet alone teach it.
  • No example of it in previous generations, nor any current role model.
  • It’s not necessary to get to Heaven anyways.
  • It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you have Jesus in your heart.
  • Uncertainty in how to approach the task? I mean, do you have to create a lesson plan, filled with interesting illustrations and entertaining transitions, or do you just read the passage and move on to the next evening activity (video games and texting or Bubble Guppies)?
  • Left it up to the Mom.
  • I don’t understand it well enough to teach it… that’s the pastor’s job… too busy…my wife is the Concordia graduate
  • Don’t care
  • Lack of confidence (feeling intimidated by the task), no time, think that Sunday is enough.
  • They were never taught themselves. Not all pastors catechize using the SC. Some take shortcuts in Adult Instruction so the fathers have no clue.
  • They can find time for others, but God sees their neglect toward their own flesh and blood children. Pitiful example indeed. Actions speak louder than words.
  • They were not catechized themselves, having come to Lutheranism at a late age, and found it difficult to make catechism a part of family life “after the fact.”
  • Because CPH charges $14 for it, which is robbery, so we’re not giving them the satisfaction of knowing we bought one. And we’re not using those little cheapo paper ones, either.
  • No time.
  • That’s what we send them to church for!
  • It’s the pastor’s job.
  • I get him/her to church and Sunday school…isn’t that where it should be taught?
  • It’s the pastor’s job! That’s what we pay him for!
  • I’m not called to do that
  • They are not Lutheran!
  • They changed the words. How am I supposed to teach the 6th commandment?
  • Laziness, belief that they cannot do it
  • It’s hard enough getting them to do homework.
  • Got to watch football on TV. Too tired after work. They definitely aren’t Lutheran. Got to see them guys at…wherever.
  • They did not know how to!
  • Daddy does not care what she learns. He was raised a staunch Baptist and will not lead his family in even devotions. Makes me sad. But I keep praying and keeping trying.
  • Kids learn everything at school and church. That’s their job.
  • Your favorite and mine … That’s the way we’ve always done it.
  • They learn it in school.
  • Afraid to. Ignorant of it. It’s not enforced by the local school board.
  • Too busy.
  • Husband said “not qualified”. I know he felt inadequate and intimidated. Unfortunately, I was never satisfied with his efforts.
  • They’re not Lutheran.
  • Incompetent, too busy, too tired, too – not all that interested in doing what I “pay” the church to do.
  • Don’t know it well enough themselves. Believe pastors are better for that.
  • The mother is doing it, since she’s already homeschooling the kids while he’s at work. (Or at least that was the case for my parents.)
  • Lack of confidence (feeling intimidated by the task), no time, think that Sunday is enough.
  • Because CPH charges $14 for it, which is robbery, so we’re not giving them the satisfaction of knowing we bought one. And we’re not using those little cheapo paper ones, either.
  • Based off of my limited time in Lutheranism it seems that Pastors need to be teaching parents how to lead their children in the faith.
  • It is not left to the pastors to baby sit our kids it is up to every father to do what is right
  • Too busy.
  • Don’t know how too.
  • They were never catechised themselves; catechesis was treated as something best left to the pastors.
  • That’s the pastor’s job.
  • I drop them off at Sunday School; what more do you expect?
  • I’m not smart enough
  • A secret hatred for their children, and a dark, pragmatic disbelief in their own heart.
  • Hooked on sports more than faith
  • They are going to let the kid choose for himself whether to go to church.
  • No one knows anything anymore. We all just look it up on Google with our smartphones.
  • It is not left to the pastors to baby sit our kids it is up to every father to do what is right
  • Superfluous.
  • Inconsequential.
  • Vain.
  • Meaningless.
  • Rejected and condemned.
  • Reasons of which to repent.
  • Forgivable.
  • The List could go on and on! It’s all excuses.

What did respondents think are the benefits of the head of the family teaching the Catechism in the home? Many of the answers were good. They were so good, in fact, that it makes one wonder why it happens so seldom. Here are some of their responses:

  • It indicates that Dad is concerned about the salvation of their souls. It reinforces the importance the parents place on their spiritual edification.
  • To lay the foundation for strong faith. First teach them the what, then when they are ready for confirmation, teach them the why.
  • What is important to parents (head of household) becomes important to children. You take your kids to soccer, dance, school – it becomes important to them. Teach the faith… well look at that.
  • I like the lawnmower analogy. Why do toy stores stock toy lawn mowers? Because little kids like to imitate their parents. So it goes with religious practice. And of course hearing God’s word is always cool.
  • What’s taught to the next generation will stick with the next generation(s). (Ps. 78) Grant this, Lord, unto us all.
  • I grew up in an unchurched family, but during the years of my catechism classes, my LCMS uncle lived next door and I was there in his home several evenings each week reciting the Catechism with my cousin so that we were prepared for Saturday’s class with our pastor. These evenings were significant in my life both then and now. He was my “other” father for the faith and it made me a better daughter to my own father and mother in the long run.
  • Children will see that the person in charge of the family (usually the father but not always) believes that teaching the faith is important, that it applies personally to him. The children will learn to apply the Word of God to themselves. They learn that “this is for me.”
  • To teach the catechism would either mean that the head of the family knew it or was learning it as the family learns it – either way the whole family would be on the same page, so to speak. The children would benefit from having home instruction support church instruction about Jesus.
  • The benefit of a solid foundation for their faith. Knowing why and what you actually believe can be the best defense against an evil world.
  • Mom and Dad actually think this stuff is important enough for me to learn it.
  • It implants the faith in the hearts and minds of the children.
  • The children can experience a Christian education at home as a part of their daily life. In effect, they wouldn’t think that their spirituality should be reserved for church.
  • From an older child’s perspective, teen? The pastor is supposed to think God is important. That’s his job. Mom & Dad don’t get paid to talk about God stuff. Maybe there’s something to it after all. Totally separate thought, mom & dad have more hours in the week to dedicate than the pastor does, even if we just squeeze in a few minutes a day. That one-on-one time adds up and has a greater effect than an hour a week in confirmation class (9 months of the year for 2 years in our congregation).
  • From the perspective of an adult convert (whose wife – and by extension stepson are disinterested or disagree), I can only think of the simplest and most effective benefit. That benefit is rooting in them in the notion of Christ at the center – in all places, times, and situations – not just on Sundays.
  • I think if the head of the family is a man or the father and he teaches lovingly it can help the child to always think of God as a loving caring father. Also as the teacher teaches, he is learning as well.

As admitted in the questions posed on Facebook, these surveys are about as unscientific as can be. But let’s not console ourselves that because the results are not scientific, we can dismiss any concern that our families and churches have Stage 4 cancer.

Instead, our synods ought to get reliable and representative information to find out what has become of Luther’s program for the home. Can we remain confessional while failing to practice a repeated feature of our confession. The Small Catechism is one of our confessions. It says repeatedly, “As the head of the family should teach in a simple way to his household?” Is that only a dead letter?

One dead letter of confession leads to another. When the direction to teach in the home is dead, then what is the health of the teaching itself? What becomes of the rest of our confession? Can the teaching itself be any more healthy than our practice of teaching it?

When we say, we never catechized our children in the home, and they turned out okay, what does that mean? Are we saying their faith and confession unto spiritual life is healthy, or only that they have turned out to be good kids, good neighbors, civically righteous, respectable and patriotic citizens? What kind of “okay” are we referring to? If we are referring to being spiritually okay, one must wonder, how do we think we know that, since we have had so few catechetical conversations with them?

The pastor is doing all he can, but he is in the trenches alone. He needs help from parents and synods. The synods need to make it a matter of agenda and priority to diagnose the family health of our congregations, to face facts, and to promote treatment of whatever disease is found.

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of


Stage 4 Cancer – Do Our Families Have It; or, the Sorry State of Catechization in the Home — 14 Comments

  1. I understand your point, Mr. Halvorson, but I am curious about your analogy. How did your aunt’s and brother’s health care fail them? Had they both utilized frequent checkups, and the doctors failed to notice symptoms and failed to diagnose their cancers? Something else?


  2. As an ex-evangelical coming over to Lutheranism, I can say that all of those excuses amount to either laziness or a lack of a proper understanding of priorities. You make time and effort for what’s important in your life. And if the things of God are not what’s most important, that’s very telling about one’s spirituality.

  3. In my congregation, after each infant Baptism, my pastor hands the parents a copy of their child’s “first catechism” and instructs the parents to bring the child back to him after he has learned it.

    As a single adult who has never had children, I can’t tell you how encouraging it is for me to see families in our congregation who seem to be putting this into practice. One family has their young children making the sign of the cross at the communion rail at dismissal,(they are not communed, but accompany their parents to the rail). In watching, visiting and playing with the children, it is evident that they are taught more than just making the sign of the cross, but instructed in the teachings behind it.

    At times I have walked by the church nursery and overheard a mother reading the catechism to her children as they waddled on the floor or cuddled in her lap.

    Mr. Halvorson is right, it is first and foremost the parents responsibility-AND WONDROUS PRIVILEGE-to teach the basic doctrines of the faith to the children with whom God has blessed them. What a joy to be able to teach children the blessings which were given to them in their Baptism, and the wonderful undeserved love that Jesus has shown them in His life/death/and resurrection for their salvation. What a joy to explain to children the miracle that happens in Holy Absolution or in the distribution of the Body and Blood of Christ’s to His church.

    I have taken it upon myself to begin praying for the parents and children of my congregation, sometimes naming them individually, and praying the prayer found in the front of The Lutheran Hymnal which we use:


  4. How about this language from our first LCMS Constitution regarding catechesis:

    “Synod is to see to it that there is always available a good edition of the small Lutheran Catechism, based on the original text, and a book of pertinent Scripture passages.
    A Catechumen can be confirmed only if he can recite by heart at least the text of the Catechism, and if he understands it so well that according to I Cor. 11:28 he is capable of examining himself.
    Gifted Catechumens are to be brought to the point, if possible, where they can prove with the clearest Scripture passages the doctrines of the Christian faith, and refute the wrong doctrines of the sects.
    If possible, up to 100 hours are to be used in confirmation instruction. Finally, the pastor is to see to it that his catechumens have committed to memory a goodly number of church hymns, which can serve them well throughout life.
    18. the pastors of the Synod have the duty not to lose sight of the catechumens after their confirmation, but to take care of them especially in a fatherly way; and for that reason among other things to arrange for public examinations in the Catechism on Sundays.”

    The loss of male leadership in the Synod/Church has long-reaching and devastating effect on the Church and her constituent congregations. It is an example of the Lord visiting the sins of the fathers on the succeeding generations of their children. It means the termination of the God-given role of men as the head of the home and the “priest” of the home and the passing along of this corrupt lesson to their children.

  5. @ Rev. Richard A. Bolland

    “The loss of male leadership in the Synod/Church has long-reaching and devastating effect on the Church and her constituent congregations. It is an example of the Lord visiting the sins of the fathers on the succeeding generations of their children. It means the termination of the God-given role of men as the head of the home and the “priest” of the home and the passing along of this corrupt lesson to their children.”

    I am presently persuaded that most do not see the connection between “…let the women keep silent IN THE CHURCHES and if they wish to learn anything let their husband teach them AT HOME…”, our synods and local congregations ignoring of the Apostles admonition, and the results you are pointing out.

    I pray that God would change the hearts of His people and heal our land.

    Peace in Christ,
    Merry Christmas!

  6. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #6

    Finally, the pastor is to see to it that his catechumens have committed to memory a goodly number of church hymns, which can serve them well throughout life.

    I appreciate your intent here, and my confirmation class (and my generation) did it. Since then, Synod has put out several hymnals and every hymnal committee has felt obliged to tinker with the words of the hymns, until the scariest letters in the book are alt.!

    Now I am old and should be able to sing those childhood hymns “by heart” but when I do, I’m singing one thing and the hymnal readers are singing something else. Even the Christmas hymns and carols have been so abused, as I found out this morning!

    There will come a day, sooner than you expect, when Christian books will be contraband and what you know of Christianity will have to reside between your ears.
    What then will people do, who have never memorized even catechism, or have had their memories “hashed” by hymn committee fiddlers?

  7. It seems that todays pastors are so concerned about not offending the parents by making the confirmation of their children as simple and easy as possible. Shorten the education time ,little or no memorization and pre-confirmation communion.
    Don’t offend parents by reminding them of their promise to teach their children and bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
    The cultural change in our society since at least the 1960’s which has reduced the position of males (fathers) as the head of the household seems to have been embraced by the church in practice if not officially.

  8. @T. R. Halvorson #10

    It is not motivating to a father, to a uniquely male role, to be treated as just another unisex child at church. The lay men have to be distinguished in their roles at church. This was the case in the past. Since the MO synod changed that, and has never allowed it to be questioned, I don’t see any reason to think that the slide of the MO synod into oblivion will stop. Somewhat analogous to the political system in the US, something new has to arise. That’s not very comforting, but it’s true. So, I say, Revolution.

  9. @mbw #11

    I think the reason this issue is intractable is that it is not really about the Gospel. It is about the law. And it’s about the worst part of the law to current-day Christians. The natural law. Like common sense and basic equity in the legal practice have been obscured by innumerable statutes and leftist judges (all via professionals — the lawyers), natural law is easily obscured by advanced theology and practice.

  10. This is a great article. I would like to share it on our church Facebook page.

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