Whenever I start writing about catechisms my mind gets a-stirring. I spoke only briefly about how a catechism in the house helps to establish theological language. The problem with that section was that I drifted between the church level and the home level. This may have left some residual confusion.
The reality is I do not write for the church. That is the responsibility of elders. I write for a few people inside the church. They can accept or reject me without feeling the need to turn everything into a movement. So I am working contra many "gospel-whatever" movements. Many of them inadvertently take the place of the local church. This happens whenever the gospel is brought too low into individualism or too high into celebrity worship (or sloppy ecumenicism). My agenda is the straddle this line. I think the online community can help serious laymen connect together and grow to grow in their local church.
What follows are some clean up ideas about catechism in the house. Rightfully the "compost" of the church. These are also compost level ideas.
Let's start with something simple. What catechism should dedicated households use? The short answer is whatever catechism your church uses. Remember, raising your household in the conviction of Christ should never be subversive to a faithful, local congregation. So pick the catechism they are doing and roll with the church. This does not stop your family from adding on another catechism. But baby steps. Start with the church's catechism.
If your church does not have a catechism then it's time to brush off your google search abilities. Every branch of the church has a historical catechism. And here is where I will make some tough comments. Newer catechisms will go out of their way to accommodate to modern study. This is understandable but really impertinent. This is like watching a re-make of a classic. Yes, you've seen a movie. Potentially even a good movie. But it isn't the classic movie. Even valuable and well put together catechisms like Tim Keller's New City Catechism fall short in teaching our children that church theology is more expansive than this generation. Like reading old authors, there is something invaluable about studying an old catechism.
Find yourself a classic, old time catechism and study. There may be disagreements and there may be time for extensive explanation of language. But in the end, you will be studying something that has proven valuable to Christians throughout generations and not simply hit the top ten on Amazon or some Christian book seller.
So you have your catechism picked out. You have likely scanned through it. Where to start and how? Let me state up front that there is no wrong way to study a catechism. There are a variety of valuable ways and the options may change depending on the catechism chosen and the age of the student.
For little kids, I do not recommend a straight through memorization. Their ability to memorize is outstanding but there is almost no way they can study through an entire catechism in a year. Instead, decide to focus on key questions or sections. Questions associated with the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments or the Trinity make for great sections to focus. A couple questions from each section will cover a full year of study for small children. A family might choose to do it this way to facilitate incorporation with family worship. Not only can a family recite together but they can read passages of Scripture that correlate to what they are studying. The Heidelberg and Luther's Small Catechism are both perfect for this.
It could go without saying that repetition is key with little kids. Practice in the morning. Practice in the evening. Practice in the car. Though initial question memorization can take some time, a full recitation of 15 catechism questions takes under 5-8 minutes in many cases. Little children will not be able to endure a 30 minute catechism drill session. So do not treat them like adults. Take 5-10 minutes out of the day for a selection of catechism study. With this effort, children as young as two years old can memorize a sentence length answer in two week's time. This recitation time cane be incorporated in family worship. We often surround ours with a short time of listening to the Scripture. Then we will follow up with singing. We work diligently to keep the kids engaged. This time is invaluable to teach stillness and self-control in preparation for service each week.
For older kids and adults, a straight through memorization is recommended. Many catechisms are built up with leading questions. Each question presupposes the one before it and takes trajectory towards the ones that follow. Older students will be able to catch these logic patterns. This will help with memorization and the particular wording of a catechism. The Heidelberg and Westminster Shorter and Larger are particularly good at this.
Parents should seek to stay ahead of their kids in memorization. In so doing catechism questions can be reviewed without books or materials needing to be present. The same can be said about Scripture memorization. If parents can memorize the material it will pay dividends with helping children.
Catechism training goes hand in hand with a healthy church. Pastors who desire their congregants to understand the sermon and ask probing questions should encourage their study. Sunday school classes should regularly review them so that members are familiar with the doctrinal standards of the church. But ultimately the health of the church is found in the children that are raised. They are not the future church. They are not the next generation of the church. In teaching them to prayer, sing, and memorize Scripture we are teaching them to become moral agents.
Parents should be encouraged regularly to begin or continue in their study of a catechism. Children will glean more from Sunday school, sermons, and other teaching because of it. The health of the local church begins in the nurturing of young children.