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.


12 thoughts on “Educating the People

  1. I know a bunch of people in Traditionalist Catholic circles. I am amazed by the qualiy of the education they give to their kids (the content of it, of course, is awful). When the job is weel-done, you can be sure to have perfect 10-years old stubborn Romanist, and this is most often done with very few resources and books from the 60’s (sorry, guys, no Veggie Tales)
    I am also surprised by how well they deal with the (many) young people who come to them without any decent christian education and how they train them using (ta-da!) the Catechism of Trent.
    Now, if the French Society of St Puis X, with its ridiculous buget, can do it, why not Missouri?
    No transmission without education. I agree with you, Tim, the Church has to go back to its catechical task.

  2. Well said Tim. If this is view which you embrace throughout your career than I would be happy to have you as my Pastor.

  3. Amen. Not only should you continue holding your view, but shout it from the rooftops! Tell it to every pastor you meet. Be so stubborn about it that you become known only as “Christian Education Man.”

    I’ve actually tried this, and even with the high expectations I brought I was blown away. I took over our church’s High School Bible class. The first thing I did was to throw out the “age-appropriate” curriculum and start with the Small Catechism. Even though they had already been catechized, they benefited from a refresher. I have since been using some of CPH’s “adult” materials — even ones I used with our campus ministry. So they couldn’t go as fast as the college students, but they did learn the material! Now we’re going over the Confessions and I don’t think we’ve had such good discussion.

    Ordinarily I would ask each student, since they are now all confirmed, if they would like to remain in this class or to join the adult class. I haven’t brought it up, however, since right now the adults are learning about “prayerwalking” and other Ablaze!™ nonsense.

  4. Tim,

    You are right on the money here. We need to stop underestimating our parishoners’ ability to desire, learn and appreciate the solid doctrine of the confessions. I would argue that if one compared the confessions to the 40-days junk, that the difference in quality would be glaring. My home parish in San Mateo, CA is teaching an Augsburg Confession class and it is well-attended. “40 days” would flop at my church, and probably any church that holds and teaches correct doctrine.

    Tim, if I can offer further advice is to respect your members’ willingness to learn hard doctrine (some of this desire is the fruit of faith itself) and teach, teach and teach. Offer classes in the confessions, get members talking about them to each other and explain how the confessions are relevant to dealing with modern theology and all its weaknesses.

    Overall, I think it’s a ‘testament’ to how poorly the bible is taught in the US that Rick Warren’s books sell as well as they do.

  5. Der Better,

    I attended a high school/college age Sunday School class at our LCMS church in Provo, Utah and our teacher taught us doctrine based on the confessions. No coloring books or pablam milquetoast bible study with glossy, prettified cover art for us.

    And Thank God she taught us and didn’t underestimate us. We were in the center of Mormonism and that solid doctrine helped protect our souls.

  6. Good post, Tim. In just a few weeks, I get to take your advice and put it into practice.

    Someone should write a STM paper on this topic!

  7. A side note for the new pastors.

    You will have any number of congregants desiring discussion and tutelage. But not wanting to interfer with your busy schedules, they will probably not ask you to teach.

    Find those who do ask, identify your informal church leaders among them, and help them (or have them help you) instigate gathering people for training situations such as you describe.

    Any given church has a number of natural or professional “organizers”. As a new pastor you can take advantage of their influence with the congregation. What they need, from any pastor, is a properly pointed Theological compass.

    And don’t be afraid to say No when people try to change the wrong things in the wrong direcion on their own volition. Most parishioners won’t be offended, and will respect you for holding fast to the correct theological stand on issues.

    And,.. don’t try to make it all happen at once, all by yourself.

  8. Let this be a lesson:
    Proofreading is essential!

    What I meant to say is that “Now we’re going over the Confessions and I don’t think we’ve EVER had such good discussion.”

    One little word makes a difference.

  9. Tim,

    Great post! Sarah and I have tried to get in the habit of reading a passage from the Confessions and praying the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Evening Prayer with our daughter Magdalena every night. Even though she’s only 7 months, we’re hoping that the habits we start now will continue when she’s old enough to say some of it with us 🙂

    You, Tennille and Lucia are in our prayers, and we hope you quickly wrap up your STM so you can start your ministry in a parish!


  10. Thanks for the comments.

    A friend here at the seminary has been using “My First Catechism” with his young children. It is essentially the SC with pictures–not, I think, too different from what Luther did with the woodcuts in his day. I plan to get it for my daughter when she turns two next month. Anyone else used this?


  11. Your comments have been very helpful and encouraging to me. Let me also add that in the sometimes difficult teen years, God’s Word (including the liturgy based upon God’s Word and their catechism) has the power to reach even teenage ears, especially when their sinner’s ears tell them not to listen to old mom or dad. The firm foundation that catechism and liturgy (scripture) lays when they are young, holds up in the teen years.

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