children pinching a young boy s cheeks
children pinching a young boy s cheeks

The pressure came from the parents.  They wanted the catechism classes for their children to be more fun.  I was a young seminary student who’d already been fired from one catechism teaching gig.  So I took this demand for fun pretty seriously.    

Well, how do you make catechism more fun for teenagers?  First, I’m pretty sure you have to make it sound fun.  So I’d get rid of the name ‘catechism.’  I’d call it “Vibing with Pastor Wes” or just “Vibing” for short.  I’d definitely get rid of memorization.  Memorization isn’t fun and neither is proving you memorized the assigned Lord’s Day.  Then get rid of homework.  No one thinks homework is fun, whether at school or catechism.  The fun factor has already gone up at least three-fold.  Sitting at a desk in a classroom isn’t fun.  If the weather’s nice, we’ll take it outside to the soccer field.  We’ll do catechism while kicking around a ball.  Finally, a long catechism class definitely isn’t fun.  So we’ll cut it down to 15 minutes, or 20 max. 

But…I had second thoughts and never implemented any of those ‘fun’ ideas.

A few years before this, the grunge band Nirvana had a hit song called “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  About the only line you can understand in the chorus is:  “Here we are now, entertain us.”  That definitely “smells like teen spirit.”  It reflects an immature and hedonistic approach to life.  Life is all about fun and pleasure.  If it’s not entertaining, we tune out.  The worst angst is to be bored.

The Work of Discipleship

When the Holy Spirit told us to think about things that are true, honourable, commendable, etc., I’m sure he didn’t have Nirvana’s song in mind.  That approach to life is antithetical to the Christian worldview.  In the Christian worldview, we take a positive attitude towards work.  Work precedes the fall into sin.  Work has become more difficult after the fall, but in itself it’s a good thing.  When we live life to God’s glory, we realize that it’s not meant to be an endless pursuit of fun.  There’s work.  Sometimes it’s going to be hard.  Yet hard work has its rewards.

Parenting is hard work.  Christian parents are called to the hard work of discipling their children.  Because our children are included in the covenant of grace, they’re called to be disciples of Jesus.  Christian parents have the responsibility to teach their children what that means, what that looks like, everything it involves.  Is that going to involve a lot of fun?  There might be some fun, but overall it’s a serious task.  After all, it involves the eternal destiny of your children.

The Purpose of Catechism

Catechism classes are meant to reinforce the discipleship being done already by Christian parents.  This instruction is intended to address these young hearts and minds with the life-giving truths of Scripture.  We want all our young people to know what the Bible teaches, to be confident that the Bible is true, and to make what the Bible teaches their own.  In short, our purpose is to shepherd them towards true faith in Jesus Christ.

If that’s the purpose, then the approach necessary becomes clear.  Because we’re teaching the things of God, catechism classes require a level of sober seriousness.  Because we don’t naturally accept the things of God, catechism classes are a spiritual matter.  Parents and pastor have to be much in prayer for the youth.  Because true faith includes the intellect, catechism classes have to engage the mind in knowing Bible truths by heart.  Because true faith involves personal appropriation, catechism students have to be challenged, especially at the older levels, to think critically and analytically.  None of this sounds all that much fun, but that’s not the point. 

The purpose isn’t to have fun.  The purpose isn’t to make the kids enjoy spending some time with their pastor every week, so hopefully they’ll have a positive attitude about church and stick around.  The purpose is to shape disciples of Jesus Christ and that’s not necessarily going to be fun.  If you think of a disciple like an apprentice, then think of how apprenticeships are not designed to be fun.  They’re designed to shape someone who can take on that trade.  No one succeeds at apprenticeship by demanding that it be fun.  We all accept that it involves work, sometimes even memorization.  Why should it be any different for disciples or apprentices of Jesus Christ?

Be Human, Be Yourself

Nevertheless, pastors and other catechism instructors shouldn’t be afraid to be human.  Be yourself.  It’s okay to use my sense of humour in catechism.  At times, I can let my hair down with my students.  On certain occasions, I can share something I find funny with them.  It doesn’t have to be all serious and solemn all the time.  So, for example, on my catechism tests I usually include a riddle as a “bonus question.”  Also, I’m mindful of the stress and anxiety catechism can cause for some students.  I try to “do unto others as I would have done unto me.”  The Golden Rule applies to catechism teaching too.  But this is all incidental.   None of this overshadows the purpose and overall approach:  I’m there to disciple them by teaching Christian doctrine and applying it to their hearts.  My goal isn’t to entertain them or to keep them in the church (important as that is), but to see all of them profess Christ as their Saviour.

I’m afraid hedonism has a hold on us.  Not only do the girls wanna have fun, but the boys too.  If we can’t have fun, if we end up doing something ‘boring,’ it’s the end of the world.  As Christian adults, parents and pastors have a responsibility to lead from the front.  Sometimes that means making the kids do something that’s good for them even if the ‘fun factor’ is missing.