I’ve been asked a question about teaching catechisms to kids, by a lovely lady (you know who you are!) who is going round the parenting block a second time. And it’s a great question. Because catechisms are great! But what even is a catechism? I hear some of you ask. And fair question too – as it is such an old school word that has fallen out of many of our traditions.
What is a catechism?
The idea of a catechism is really simple. It is pretty much a sweet list of things we believe as Christians, but it is put in the form of questions and answers, so that someone can learn it really well. For example:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever
That is the first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It may sound a bit old school – and well, that’s because it is. But it is a super helpful little nugget of theology, and has 12 Bible references attached to show us where we can see this truth in the Bible. Not all catechisms are this old school though. Some are longer answers, some shorter. And there are catechisms written expressly for kids. For example, here are the first three questions from a children’s catechism:
Q. Who made you? A. God
Q. What else did God make? A. God made all things
Q. Why did God make you and all things ? A. For his own glory
It’s a bit more simple. But still fairly wordy. And it is followed by 142 more questions! Does that make you a bit tired? And check out the answer to one of the longer catechisms:
Q20. What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created? A. The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.
Imagine trying to teach that to your kids! But please – don’t hear me dissing catechisms! I’m gonna argue that I’m all for teaching them to our kids. But why? Great question.
Why bother teaching catechisms?
I think there are 2 major reasons why it’s particularly helpful teach these bad boys to our kids.
Firstly, something that a good catechism does, is teach deep truths that we wouldn’t normally think to say. Who regularly talks about the chief end of man with their kids? And yet to talk about the main reason that God made us is super helpful! And there are lot’s of other truths that we will hit too.
Secondly, they give our kids lot’s of little bundles of truth, which they can use to think through their theology. The fact that it is question and answer, means they think about it and lock it in their brains. And when they come to you with their theological questions, you can point them back to the catechism to see if they can work out the answer. Obviously, we don’t want to stop at the catechism – you might sit down with them and look at one of the verses behind the statement. But sometimes the Bible verses don’t answer our questions plainly, but rather a bunch of verses will build the answer. That is tricky for a kid. But to have a clear answer (from the catechism) with biblical backing is super helpful.
So, in short, I’m all for teaching catechisms to our kids.
How do you teach a catechism well?
Ok guys, I need to come clean here. I wasn’t raised on catechisms. I never learnt them as a kid. They just weren’t part of my tradition. And I haven’t actually learnt one myself as an adult. However, I have seen the impact of others learning them, and I have seen how helpful a bunch of the statements are. And I have thought quite a lot about how to teach things to kids.
So… we’re going to go on a journey together. You and I. A let’s-learn-how-to-teach-catechisms-to-our-kids journey! I’m going to do some research into which catechism I think is best suited to teach my kids, and I’ll let you know. If we have to, we can write our own. But personally, I’d rather hook in on something some old dead dudes have already worked super hard on for us.
But… here are some brief thoughts on how you might approach teaching the catechisms. You could sit down for a catechism time every day and teach it to your kids. Test them on the answers etc. Your kid may be super into that. And if they are – go for it. Personally however, I think a better method is to just do it throughout your day. Have 1 to 2 questions that you want to work on with your kids for that day, and then pick a few moments throughout the day to ask the questions.
Why do I think that’s a good idea?
a) Kids learn really well while they are doing things. Obviously not if they are too distracted. But if the question has any relation to what you are doing, they will connect with the answer and will lock it in so much more. And if it’s not related to what you’re doing, it is still linked to your relational time, and they will learn it better than if you just sit down for a “lesson”.
b) It will show your kids that the truths of the catechism are part of the rest of life. They are not just for the classroom, or lesson environment. They are for all of life. And that will help them to apply the truths in their life, throughout their life.
Give me your thoughts
But please – I’d love to hear from you. Who wants to embark on this journey with me? Comment below. Or let me know what your favourite catechism is for me to check out.