Families of Immanuel,

The Elders had the idea of incorporating catechesis into the Children’s Blessing and Dismissal time on Sundays. Catechesis is the long-standing practice of passing on important Christian beliefs through questions and answers.

So each week one of the Elders would ask the kids the answer to a question like, “What is our only hope in life and death?” And one or more of them would shout out, “That we are not our own, but belong to God.” It would not only shape our children, but bless the rest of the congregation too.

For this to work, it will require families to be memorizing the catechism throughout the week at home. We have picked the New City Catechism – a modern tool that is based on historic catechisms and is adapted for use with children. It is comprised of 52 questions and answers – one for each week of the year. They are short and can easily be worked on around the dinner table, during Family Worship, or at bedtime.

Adults can also go through it and memorize the longer answers. There are accompanying Bible verses, explanations, videos, and prayers for optional devotional use. There is a more detailed introduction to the concept and content here.

We recommend that if possible Dads take the initiative and the lead in teaching the catechism to their kid(s) throughout the week. I (Nathan) have been doing this with my kids for several years now and have found that it’s actually quite fun for all involved. Kids’ minds are sponges. It’s not beyond the reach of a 2 year old to memorize many of these answers. 4 and 5 year olds can memorize more than you might think.

Some may question the usefulness of 2 year olds merely parroting memorized answers to these questions. But the classical educational model understands that we naturally progress through stages of grammar, dialectic (logic), and rhetoric. Michael Horton explains:

In our youngest years, we’re sponges for the grammar – not just of language but of everything. It’s the time for learning primary colors, common names for things and proper names for people, how to read books and music, and table manners.… [Children are] learning the grammar that they will use simply as a matter of course throughout their lives. Then there’s the stage of dialectic (logic), when they love to argue, question, and explore the connections between various subjects. (It’s called being a teenager!) Finally, they reach the stage of rhetoric as they begin to communicate their convictions in their own words, with richer insight, clarity, persuasiveness, and beauty….

As children, we learned to ride a bicycle first by focusing on the pedals and the handlebar, steering with jerks to the left and the right. After we fell a few times, we gradually mastered balance. If we learned a musical instrument, we focused on the keys and the scale, staring intently at the notes on the page…. Only after a lot of practice do we begin to play the music without focusing on our fingers. Eventually we find ourselves living in the music, indwelling it….

Growth in Christian discipleship can be compared to this model of learning. First, we learn the basic grammar. It certainly includes memorizing. That’s why it’s important to commit key Bible verses to memory, and it’s why the Reformation restored the early church’s practice of catechism, in which parents as well as pastors were to teach to the young and old alike.

So our goal isn’t for it to end at rote memorization. We have Sunday School classes for older kids where they can begin to enter into the dialectic phase and engage with these terms and truths. And our prayer is our children will enter the rhetoric stage well equipped to fully inhabit the faith themselves. But if one is going to be a poet, she has to start with learning the alphabet.

We plan to start with Question 1 on Sunday, April 6th, and do one per week. If you have any questions about any of this, please don’t hesitate to ask!