Educating the People

On a recent post, Jean-Martin asked about educating people in (LCMS) congregations, especially when American evangelicalism has become so pervasive. (There is certainly something amiss when more LCMS people know what the 40 Days of Purpose is than know what the Smalcald Articles are.)

I do not claim any expertise. All I’ve got is eight years of theological education, experience in a handful of Lutheran congregations, my vicarage year, and (perhaps most importantly) experience with my own daughter.

However, I do have opinions (suprise, surprise!). First, I think David Brazeal’s comments are a good starting place:

I think a good start is to turn people back to the Lutheran Confessions. I was amazed — just outright shocked — at how right the Lutheran viewpoint is, when I saw it laid out in the Confessions for the first time. And I grew up in an LCMS church! But to see the obvious case for the salvific effect of baptism, and the clear passages on the Lord’s Supper, and the proper distinction between Law and Gospel — those insights were eye-opening, to say the least.

No doubt knowledge of the Confessions is even closer to extinction than knowledge of the Bible.

But maybe we’re over-thinking this. If you have kids, you will know what I’m talking about. My daughter is almost two, but it is amazing what she knows already. As my mom said recently, there’s no time in your life when you learn so much so quickly. For example, we started praying the Lord’s Prayer with her when she was probably 18 months. But she had been hearing it every Sunday since before she was born. One day I just stopped at certain points, and she filled in the blanks. I never made any concerted effort to have her repeat after me; I didn’t put it to a catchy melody; I didn’t play any Lord’s Prayer games. The sheer repetition and exposure put it in her brain. I tried a similar thing with the Apostles’ Creed, without having said it every night, and she filled in blanks there as well. That came purely from hearing it in church, though she was probably writing on a pew at the time.

How is it that we have come to assume that kids need something “fun” to keep them involved? Hey, I’ve got no problem with fun–except when it becomes an excuse for adults’ lack of attention span. I think it has far more to do with adults needing to be entertained than it does with kids being bored. As I’ve already found out, kids pick up body language (far too easily!) and when adults act as if they’re just in church because they have to be, kids will follow suit.

Another question is, how come we can be convinced that the best time for kids to learn a second language (or two) is very, very early, and yet we assume the liturgy is much too difficult for them? Maybe it’s much too difficult for us adults and we project our intellectual and emotional shortcomings onto our kids (kind of like when we make them wear a coat when we’re cold).

The liturgy is the language of the Divine Service. The prayers and hymns that have been handed down to us are the language of the Church–and not just of whichever myopic generation we happen to be a member.

Education in the Church? I don’t have all the answers, but I’m pretty convinced it needs to be comprehensive, firmly grounded in the tradition (in the best sense of that word) of the Church, and utilize the language and culture of the Church. It also needs to start at the earliest ages, and not 11 or 12 years later. I’d be interested to know of any programs that attempt to accomplish such things.