Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Helping Our Children Be Biblically Literate

I ran across a few documents lately that amazed me. First of all, let me explain to you the depth of my former ignorance. I had never heard of the Westminster Shorter Catechism until last year. You either? Oh good. I'm not the only one. For those of you who have always known what that did you know?

I first read about catechising our children in Voddie Baucham's book Family Driven Faith . Kelly at Generation Cedar gives a brief introduction to catechising your children in this post. So I started poking around the internet and looking at all this catechism business that I have somehow missed knowing about for over 30 years. (Well, I knew my Catholic students attended catechism classes, but that was the extent of my knowledge.)

There are many, many catechisms. One of these was Martin Luther's Large Catechism from the 1500s. It was not written in the typical question/answer format, but instead was intended for the teachers (especially parents) to review so that they would be able to teach their households.

Now HERE is a really interesting point....made by Martin Luther himself. (this quote is from the Wikipedia article linked above)

However, it is not enough for them to comprehend and recite these parts according to the words only, but the young people should also be made to attend the preaching, especially during the time which is devoted to the Catechism, that they may hear it explained and may learn to understand what every part contains, so as to be able to recite it as they have heard it, and, when asked, may give a correct answer, so that the preaching may not be without profit and fruit.

Now I don't know about you, but that bolded statement, bolded by me...really hit home. How many American churches do you know of where the children never even set foot in the worship service? I know of too many. We recently re-vamped our schedule at church to accommodate a new program for the kiddos and I was ever-so-thankful that everyone agreed the children still needed to be in worship for at least a portion of the time. I know some of you go to churches where there is no children's program, but I would say that is probably a minority. You can correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, our children worship with their parents up until sermon time. That is when they are dismissed to their program and the adults are free to listen.

Are you starting to see a problem related to all this Biblical illiteracy? If America's children are never hearing preaching....and are not being taught the basics of theology and the Bible at home...then what can we expect? And I'm talking about the children from Christian homes! Husband and I just a few weeks ago started discussing what we are going to do next year when Sweetheart is in 4th grade. We decided she should start really listening to the sermon and taking notes at that time. He started younger...I started taking notes on the sermon at the age of 10. So, we agreed that even though sooner would be better, kids are kind of different now than they used to be. Our children's ministries are certainly different. We told her that at the end of the summer, she would be learning to take notes on the sermon and really listen.

And then we realized she would be missing her Bible class time to do that. Hmm. Problem. But what can we do? She'll just have to miss it!

I want to share one other document that I ran across in my research (sorry there is so much in this post!). I came across the Mother's Catechism , which was never officially adopted by the church in Scotland. If you would, take a minute to scan this document. I know it's hard to read because of the old writing but LOOK at the content!!!! Now I know that what is missing from Sweetheart's knowledge is doctrine. She knows the bible trivia really well. She knows most every Bible story you could think of. But she doesn't know all of this! And the Mother's Catechism was written for those children who were younger and not ready for the Westminster's Shorter Catechism!!!

If this is what children used to know....then our kids aren't looking too good. But hey, at least America's children get this when they go to church...right?


  1. Wow! Guess we live in a poor community... haven't seen anything like that out here (: Sure that's not the mall of America? (: As far as kids- and adults- not even being tought solid doctrine anymore, I definitely see that out here, so it's not just your area. I'm sure, too, if there was more money in our area someone would have built one of those amusement parks. After spending the last 13 years in ministry... I've seen it.

  2. Very thoughtful post. I know that many small churches, particularly house churches, make a point of including children in the entire "service", and don't send them off to a children's church section.

    To me, it really comes down to the content of both the sermon from the pulpit and the sunday school curiculum. If the Sunday school curriculum is actually attempting to teach kids a catechism of sorts, or bible literacy and doctrine, and they are doing it in a way that is applicable for, and more easily understood by, children, then I'm all for it. As a veteran of children's ministry programs, I'm sure this is not usually the case. Often Sunday school or other children's programs are reduced to a series of crafts and games with a vaguely biblical context. I have always been thankful for the small group times in the different programs I've been a part of as an opportunity to go deeper with "my kids" in a smaller context. But often the content is so "milky", and they always know the answers, and it's not challenging.

    That being said... sadly I'm not so sure that many of the pulpits are producing much better. A pastor has to balance both speaking to the hearts and minds of the unsaved, the new believer ,and the salty old Christian, and this can be a real challenge, bt I am sad to say I think often they resort to Chicken Soup for your Soul types of sermon instead of sound, challenging doctrine.

    I'll check out those catechisms for sure. Thanks for the links and the challenging post!


  3. I HATE the fact that our church DEMANDS that we take our children out to the nursery. We believe they ought to be in church with us. The church believes in using the nursery. Therefore the church somehow thinks it's their right to demand that babies go to the nursery thus in essence saying that we must raise our kids the way that THEY see fit. This has been the biggest bone of contention yet with our church.

    If our friends want to teach their child that church is playgroup for babies (playing is all the kids do in the nursery) then that's fine. But let US teach our children that church is for WORSHIP. They even took away all age Sunday School before the service to do the deplorable Children's Church that I totally hate because of the demands of ONE mother.

  4. My husband and I used note-taking in the worship service when our sons were young. It is amazing how much they will pick up even at ages 8 or 10, which is what our boys were when we started. They can now critique a sermon and find its main point. I really recommend it.

    I was raised a Roman Catholic, and went to Catholic school with the nuns. We always used the Catholic Baltimore Catechism and memorized from it.

    My husband pastored a Reformed church for 10 years, and is familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism.

    These can be valuable tools. However, they are not magic formulas. I don't remember but one or two things from my Catechism days, and it was the same with the older Reformed people we knew who had studied the Heidelberg Catechism in church as young people. It was something we were all made to do as children, and it was promptly forgotten.

    As parents, we have to use a variety of tools, and Catechisms can be a GOOD TOOL, when used along with Bible reading, note-taking during sermons, etc. We are very blessed in this country to have so much.

    Every person, though, even people who grew up in Christian homes, must eventually have their own faith, and if it is genuine, it will be tested. We are finding this out with our own college-age children.

    My husband preaches exegetically through the bible, book by book, chapter by chapter, and verse by verse. That way, you get the whole counsel of God, deal with subjects that you would rather not touch, and God works on the preacher first, too. Also, you avoid repetitive hobby-horse preaching, proof-text preaching, or "getting somebody who needs to hear this" preaching. He rarely preaches a topical sermon. Exegetical preaching, too, is the key to longevity in a pulpit. You never run out of preaching material, and you never deliberately "bash" people.

    You wouldn't believe, though, how he is pressured from church members to teach Word of Faith, or Purpose Driven Life. We had one family leave because he wouldn't do Purpose Driven.

    I feel bad when pastors stoop to Chicken Soup for the Soul preaching and just tell stories. We have found that that is what keeps people coming back to churches, though. Most people love it. Nice and fluffy and not too hard on us. Sad.

    Our church attendance at the Reformed church dwindled because of the exegetical preaching. Too convicting and people didn't want to hear it. We are in a sad state. Used to be, when you preached directly from the Bible, your church would grow. Not any more...

    We now pastor a Baptist church, and let's hope the attendance doesn't go down because of the Bible preaching. This is a problem everywhere and crosses all denominations.

  5. My parents attend a Presbyterian church and they focus so much on catechism that they don't always have a lot of sermons from the BIBLE. I tend to steer clear of catechisms myself as I don't really think them a reliable way to learn Scripture or doctrine.

  6. Armchair Housewife--I'm actually a believer that Sunday school can be good--AND I agree with you about the sermons! :) Sadly, both are too milky all too often.

    And Civilla, I agree that catechisms are not magic formulas. Honestly, I can't see myself using them with my children. The main thing is I was struck by the content of the catechisms and how much meatier it is than what we expect of our children today. Big difference!

    And yes, I learned to take notes from the sermon by sitting by my mom and looking over her shoulder and copying what she wrote down. I plan to do the same with my daughter. And yes, Mrs. W--I dont' think it's any substitute for God's word! I so agree.

  7. Catechisms are supposed to be a sort of condensation of what the Bible teaches on a subject, so I would say they are a good SUPPLEMENT to God's word, not a SUBSTITUTE for it. Some folks use them poorly or idolize them, but that doesn't mean we ought to throw them out.

    I find catechisms an incredibly helpful way to give kids the "vocabulary of the divine" -- the questions and answers are, in my opinion, just hooks for them to hang true theological understanding on, as the Lord (hopefully) saves them and renews their minds. It's just a tool to help parents fulfill their obligation to teach their children the teachings of God!

    Have you taken a look at "My First Book of Questions and Answers"? It's a VERY simple catechism for littles ("Who made you?" "God." "What else did God make?" "All things.") -- lots of folks at my church use it and love it! I prefer it to Westminster or Heidelberg or Luther's just for simplicity.

  8. Thanks for those sources Laura. I truly am overwhelmed by the size of the documents I have found. Even if I don't use a catechism word for word...I will be looking to them for ideas of what to teach my children. I think it is the missing link I was looking daughter KNOWS the Bible stories and has a good foundation and was ready for more...but I didn't know what more looked like. I will certainly check out these you have listed.

  9. I read this on a friend's blog & use it with my son - although he will eventually begin to take notes. It's a good way to get them used to focusing on what's being said - at least that is my opinion....

    I write down 3-4 words that will most likely be said during the course of the sermon. Our church does not give out a "notes" page so I base this on the verses listed in the bulletin for that week. Sometimes I do well with this & sometimes I don't. ;-)

    Every time my son hears the pastor say one of the words, he writes a tally mark beside it. I actually pay him a penny for each mark but you could easily skip that if you'd like. It helps pass the time for him, makes him focus on what's being said, and gives him some incentive to listen.

    I will be expanding him to regular note taking in the near future & starting my middle son on the tally mark system probably this summer.

    Great ideas - thanks for sharing your thoughts with all of us out here.

  10. It would be my guess that most small town churches (like the ones I have always attended) keep the children in the sanctuary for the entire church service. There is a nursery in my current church, but I've never used it because it is either 1) unattended and thus a very lonely place for me to take my baby if she's being distracting or 2) full of very rambunctious 3-5 year old boys that scare her. There's been talk of making the nursery 2 and under only, but honestly there's usually only one child that age in the church, and she sits with me and her father in the pew most of the time.

    Do you think that nurseries should be used for children that are too young to sit still for an hour and/or could pose a serious distraction for the people around them (say, below 5 years)? Or is it just "children's church" for older children (5-12ish) that should be avoided?

  11. You know...nurseries and CC are not evil but sure, some people over-use them. I know plenty of parents who walk in the door, drop that baby off..and go get them 2 1/2 hours later. They have no intention of their child going into the worship services. And like Mrs. W said...some churches prefer that!
    I think Children's Church can be a good thing too. I don't think it's necessary every single week and I certainly don't think children should be in there still in upper Elementary. But that's just me.

    Honestly Megan, I prefer a church with a cry room. But minus the rowdy boys! :)

  12. Yes, the catechisms are good for boiling down what exactly is basic Christian doctrine. Most of us adults don't know that.

  13. This year doing BJU homeschool stuff was the first time I ever heard the word catechism used outside of the Catholic church! (I'm so ignorant!)

    Their curriculum uses them as a guide, but you really get into the scripture and the stories, and ask lots of "drawing out" questions, so I think it's great for school.

    And I am the lone Mom in our church's "children's class" right now. And the second half of it they just color pictures and read books because I also do LOTS of other things on Sunday and during the week and can't do it all!

    Maybe when our church grows and we have some more women trained up, then things will change. But for now it's all I can handle.

  14. I went to a school that had a morning devotions and a Friday chapel service - and when I went there we were required to have Bible in hand and take notes. I actually found one of my notebooks from that the other day when I was cleaning! After I got in the habit I always had a small notebook that I used in church to write down verses and thoughts, etc.
    But I don't think they do the note-taking with any ages younger than Jr. High - seems like the habit would have a better hold if they did!
    (I sent you an e-mail that I'm hoping didn't go astray...?)

  15. I am going to try this for the THIRD time. The first time, our internet had a hissy fit, and the second time, the computer froze. It's been doing that a lot lately. Isn't it sad? My husband is a computer technician for a living, and our home computer is NOT WORKING! LOL.


    My opinions about nurseries and children's church are not popular, but since that doesn't tend to worry me, I'm gonna "spout off" about them anyway haha.

    My opinion is that anywhere we go in life, distractions exist. Usually, those distractions are actually other adults, not children. I have seen adults text message people in church and they are the same ones that claim that the small children distract them. My husband is the "sound guy" so we sit in the very back of the church and so us and the pastor pretty much see everything that goes on.

    Most of the distractions I see come from other adults. Adults will whisper (very loudly) to each other about something the pastor is teaching. They will click pens on and off, they will rummage in their purse and come up with nothing, etc.

    Yet these same fully grown adults complain and say that small children in the service are distracting. I think that as ADULTS we should take responsibility for our OWN actions, which basically means that if we choose to be distracted by something and thus aren't listening, just admit that it wasn't the small child, it was you who CHOSE to let it distract you.

    I really think that when we stand before God and He asks us why we didn't listen in such and such a sermon that He had the pastor preach just for us, that He isn't going to put up with such lame excuses from adults such as "oh well you see God, I couldn't help it. Mrs W's baby distracted me."

    Maybe the adults who do distracting things ought to be kicked out of the service first so that the kids can hear! The kids have just as much right to be there as the adults.

    So basically my opinion is that we need to get over ourselves, and listen and not make excuses for not listening. Especially as the children need to be in church just as much as we do.

    Deal with it. LOL.

  16. Molly--found the e-mail. I wrote you back!

    Mrs. W--our preacher is really good about saying "hey we all have kids--if yours are being kids, don't let it worry you, but there is a nursery if it would make you more comfortable." I think that's nice for visitors to hear.

  17. Mrs Brenda, that is a nice way to deal with it! Some churches we know of DEMAND that children be taken to the nursery.

  18. Our pastor will interrupt his sermon to ask that the baby be taken out!

  19. Brenda, I just started teaching my children the shorter catechism using a book Big Truths for Little Kids by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt. I highly recommend it! They break the catechism up into small portions and put a story with each portion that illustrates the truths of the questions in a way that children easily understand. After the story, there are questions for comprehension and a verse and a prayer that correspond. My five year old is doing really well with this format and even enjoys memorizing the questions knowing that a story will follow!

  20. Wow!! Seems as though that big play area is just a place for distracting the children so the people watching them don't really have to watch them!

    We have a nursery and children's church at our church.
    The nursery is for children 2 and under and children's church for children 10 and under. If you are 10 , you are out in the sermon service with all the other adults. Some parents have their children take notes while others just tell their children to
    play with their dumb handheld games or color. Personally, I think the children taking notes are far better off. At least it enables them to listen and ask questions of their parents later on that day. The others just zone out. Sadly, the parents who could care less if their children are exposed to the word of God are also uninterested. You always have your sleepers in the congregation!! I would be concerned about a hurting a family that may not be as spiritually mature and having a pastor single out their children as Mrs. W stated she has seen. Seems as though the rudeness would lead families away.

    Either way, this is all new ground for me. I have not been raised in church and only began attending church when I got married to my husband 7 years ago. I have so many questions still when it comes to churches and the way they act or do things. Luckily, my husband is the pastor and I have limitless availability to questions being answered. As for me, when my children are of note taking age , they will be taking notes on daddy's sermons!!

  21. Well, the church that has that play place is a really good church. But it's a big church that has, they've chosen to do a popular thing in Children's Ministry right now. Believe me, I've seen WAY more elaborate Children's Ministry wings than that!
    And yes, Giovanna...just because our kids are sitting in church with us isn't an automatic good thing. Very true.

  22. Excellent post. Especially the picture at the end. I wonder when we got the idea that church should be like Chuck. E. Cheese with a Bible verse thrown in. I have used the Shorter Chatechism with my youngest, I didn't know about it with my older ones. We aren't even half-way through. I don't want to overload him with too many memory projects at once, so right now we're focusing on scripture memory, but I will continue with the Catechism at some point. I do think it's important to make sure the kids understand the meaning of what they're reciting and know how to apply it in their lives. We like Training Hearts, Teaching Minds as a tool for learning the Catechism. It contains the questions for the Shorter Catechism and a short daily teaching on the meaning. I don't even agree with all of it, but I do find it a valuable tool and when there's something we don't agree with, we use it as an opportunity for discussion.


I don't get to talk to a lot of actual grown-ups during the day, so your comments make me really happy! :)