Tools for Teaching Our Children the Truths of God
Oftentimes when I talk to my children about big concepts like the trinity, faith, prayer, or forgiveness, it doesn’t come out quite right. My explanations can be confusing, unclear, or maybe even just plain wrong—leading to blank stares from my kids. I read the bible and go to church, but I’m not a seminary-trained pastor. And, even if I was, it can be really challenging to explain these concepts to children in a clear and coherent way.
If only there was an easy, time-tested, and theologically sound way to teach our kids the core doctrines of our faith. It turns out there is! Throughout the centuries, Christians have used catechisms as one tool to help pass down Christian truth to the next generation. This post explains what a catechism is and why I’ve loved using one with my children. And at the end, there are links and other information on how to get free resources.
WHAT IS A CATECHISM
. . . and Why I Love Using them with My Kids
Catechisms are biblically rich, carefully crafted statements of doctrine in the form of questions and answers, designed to be memorized by children and adults. The most well-known reformed catechisms are the Heidelberg catechism (1563) and the Westminster Shorter and Larger catechisms (1648). In 2012, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Tim Keller) and The Gospel Coalition published The New City Catechism, which is based on the Heidelberg and Westminster catechisms.
My wife and I have been using The New City Catechism with our kids for the past four years—each daughter works on memorizing three questions during our family worship time, which we try to do most weekday mornings. We are going slow, and we still have not made it to the end. But it has been a tremendous blessing to us.
For example, if you ask any one of my daughters, “What is your only hope in life and death”, they will each respond: “That I am not my own, but belong to God.” This is the first question in the catechism, and it is indelibly fixed in their heads (and hopefully their hearts!). They belong to God, and that is the source of all their hope. Knowing who they belong to puts everything else in perspective. Grades, popularity, sports are all subordinate to this one critical truth: they have been redeemed and they are His.
That’s just one example. From basic truths like “What is sin?” and “Who is the Redeemer?” to more complicated things like “Does Christ’s death mean all our sins can be forgiven?” and “What happens after death to those not united to Christ by faith?”, my daughters are learning, question by question, core doctrines of our faith. These are critical building blocks that help them develop a richer and deeper understanding of the Gospel, God’s glory, and their own purpose in life. As they grow and mature, these doctrines that they can speak with their mouths are, by God’s grace, translated to their hearts and minds.
As a busy parent, I love how easy it is. It doesn’t require significant planning or preparation on my part—the authors of the catechism have already done most of the hard work! And my kids always seem to respond better to things that are interactive.
The New City Catechism is available on an excellent app for free in the Apple Store; the app includes proof texts, helpful commentary, and children’s songs to help memorize the questions and answers. You can also get a hard copy for about five dollars on amazon.
If you want to dive into the Westminster catechisms, there is a really good family devotional guide that several families in the church have found useful: Training Hearts, Teaching Minds. The church also has a few free copies of each of these. If you would like one, email me (email@example.com).
I hope you give it a try. If you do, here are a few tips:
- Start early. Even three year olds can memorize some of the simpler answers. Setting these types of habits and patterns is easiest when your kids are young.
- Make it part of your daily routine. It can take as little as five minutes, but find a regular time to go through catechism questions with your kids. Try breakfast time, dinner time, bed time, or even on the way to school.
- Try to be consistent, but don’t give up simply because you aren’t as consistent as you like. Being a parent is tough and schedules can be unpredictable.
- Don’t rely solely on a catechism. Catechisms are incredibly useful tools, but they are just one of many ways that we teach our children about God. They are supplements to (not replacements for) reading scripture to your children, praying with and for them, Sunday School, corporate worship, and the other ways that we teach our children the doctrines of our faith.
- Last and most important, while it is our responsibility to teach our children these things, we do not teach them in our own power. We do it “in humble reliance upon divine grace.” Our children belong to God. We are His people, and he is our gracious God. That is our only hope. And by the power of the Spirit, He will use our faithful (and imperfect) parenting for His glory.
Jeff Dutson is an elder at Atlanta Westside. He and his wife Laura have four children; Lucy, Wendy, Josie and Peter.