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.

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