In Part 1 of this series “How to Catechize Children,” I laid out the method of catechesis. It is simply question and answer. You ask the questions. Your children give the answers. It really isn’t more complicated than that. In my years of serving as a pastor, I’ve never met a father who was incapable of this. The challenge, of course, is catechizing your children over the long haul. Life undoubtedly tries to get in the way. Work seems like a very noble reason. Here in South Dakota, it’s been planting season. Men are very busy in the field now, and they are working hard for their families. They have precious little time right now. Other reasons for neglecting catechesis may not be so noble. In any case, my goal here in Part 2 is to offer you some counsel on how to catechize your children over the long haul, especially when life is busy. We will call this “The Process.”
If you want to have success in catechizing your children over the long haul, you need to have a regular routine. The setting is of utmost importance. Myself, I catechize my wife and children at bedtime. That was what my parents did with me and my siblings growing up, and so that’s just a very natural thing for me to do also. The main advantage for us is that it is important for us to get young children to bed in a timely manner, so the routine is already structured well. We also say bedtime prayers with them, and so we catechize them at this time also.
I know as children and families grow older, this type of discipline tends to break down also. Parents who maybe prayed devoutly with their children when they were little perhaps no longer do so when they are teenagers. Or if you’ve never done anything like this at all, trying to establish a routine for regular catechesis is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. If you happen to have older children and your bedtime discipline has broken down, don’t despair. My suggestion for you is to use your dinner table as a place for a short catechetical lesson every day. You’re already there anyway. Starting this new habit might be awkward for your teenage children at first, but good news! Their opinion doesn’t matter. You know the Catechism is good for them, and so you use your dinner table as a place to teach it, even if you haven’t taken advantage of that opportunity in the past.
You’ve established your setting, but the next question is the one which I myself found the most difficult to answer: What exactly do you want to accomplish? You already know how to do catechesis. It’s just question and answer, basically. But how much do you want to do? Do you want to do the entire six chief parts in one sitting? That would be a half hour every day. That’s maybe not so bad for a day or two, but a very tall order over the long run. You could just take one chief part, but when you have little kids that’s still a lot to accomplish. You could just pick out a random question every day to work on, but how would you know when you’ve covered the entire six chief parts adequately? Not coming up with an adequate solution, this is where the process breaks down for many families. When you feel like you’re just shooting from the hip, the temptation to give up is very real.
I realized that I needed a good schedule for the Catechism just as I had a regular setting with my family. For whatever reason, I realized that the number of entries in Luther’s Small Catechism roughly lines up with the number of Sundays in a church year. With a bit of tweaking, I was able to make a schedule. One Catechism question is assigned for each week of the church year. That way, families can focus on just one question a week, and after a year they have the whole Small Catechism thoroughly covered. One question a week is a good pace. It’s small enough for little ones to work on. For older children, you can even work on it as memory work. And it doesn’t take a lot of time for families with busy schedules. If all you’re going to do is work on one Catechism question at the dinner table, this takes next to no time at all. For young and old, one question a week works well. You can catechize your children even when you are at your busiest, and that is a beautiful thing. The easiest excuse with which Satan entices you is crushed under your feet.
You can find this schedule at T.R. Halvorson’s Lutheran Catechism website here. It was first posted on his website a few years ago. I only bring it up again to say that this schedule is truly useful and doing the job over the long haul. With this schedule, parents don’t have to feel like they are shooting from the hip as they teach the Catechism. There is point and purpose to it, and over the course of a year you know that you are going to cover the whole counsel of God thoroughly. It is a good feeling when you know that you are pressing on towards a real goal. This gives you motivation to enjoy the process and catechize your children over the long haul in a truly thorough manner.
So with one question per day, per week, you can really do this. No doubt, life will get in the way still, but you let this be the exception rather than the rule. I’m confident you’ll enjoy this process once you get rolling with it. As you catechize your children this way, you take up your sword and protect your children every day. There are many more benefits I’ve found to this type of catechesis, and I will go over those with you in Part 3.