Teach These Things: No More Tears!

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It is interesting to listen to “old timers” talk about their confirmation examination. It can best be described as “tales of shared suffering.” One pastor related to me that when he arrived at his parish, the previous pastor had a collection of over 800 questions that could be used, and the confirmands were expected to know the answer to each and every one of them. The synod explanation to the catechism only has 306 questions. Tales among my members have spoken of fearsome rituals, for which the young prepared with the zeal of a prospective lawyer studying for the bar exam.

It was a right of passage – similar to the national Geographic stories of cultures where the teeth are filed down with no anesthetic: if you don’t flinch, you are considered a man.

And as exciting as such tales are, as a pastor, I found the whole affair increasingly tiresome and frustrating. Children were not excited to learn. They were terrified of making a mistake. As one pastor put it, “We say ‘Here’s this great gift of grace and mercy, and to get it you only have to do this huge mountain of work, and then suffer through this ordeal.'”

Watching children forget their own names for fear, weep (literally), and shake so badly they could hardly walk gave me no pleasure. It did not help when I explained to them that, by virtue of letting them be examined they had already passed, even if they answered not one question.

I had some children who enjoyed it. But the majority looked on it as a burden that must be born if one wanted to receive the sacrament. And that’s a problem. The Sacrament should not be seen as work. After two years of study and work, adding a major exam as impediment to the sacrament was more than simply unkind. It was actually rising to the level of teaching false doctrine by bad pastoral practice.

What to do? I got the idea from Lutheran Game Show Host extraordinaire Bryan Wolfmueller. Instead of a trial, how about making the examination into something fun? The first thing to go was the name. Words have meaning, and ‘Examination’ is not a fun word. ‘Catechism Review’ sounds much more evangelical.

So, each year (even if we have no catechumens) we have a catechism review. It is open to the whole congregation. NOT: “Anyone may attend.” RATHER: “Anyone may participate. ”

The catechumens (if there are any) lead the teams. The teams have names like “The Melanchthons” or “The Walthers” or “The Judas-Not Iscariots” (My personal favorite). I have a set of questions that, after much plagiarizing refinement, I have successfully used for three years now.

The prizes? Gold bars. OK, so mini Hershey bars. And if there are leftovers at the end, (there usually are) I give bonus ones – a handful or so to each table. Everyone gets chocolate. (NB: My wife said it is critical that you understand how important the chocolate is. Therefore: MAKE SURE YOU GIVE AWAY CHOCOLATE!)

How has this been received? The kids love it. It is still a right of passage that they will remember for the rest of their lives, but a Gospel one. In their minds, “Admittance to Sacrament=Happy Things”.

The little ones can’t wait to start catechesis. They want to be “on the spot” earning chocolate for their team. Sometimes they will attempt to answer. It’s always awesome when a five year old knows the right answer. And it’s often insightful when they get the wrong one.

The adults actually show up – and not just family members. It’s the highest attendance of the year for Sunday Morning Bible Class. We spend an hour or so just talking about what the catechism teaches, everyone has a good time, families get to participate together

So, how does this relate to Teach These Things: Catechesis for the Lutheran Parish? The game is not included in the materials. I borrowed too many questions from other sources – all free and available online, but not mine. That doesn’t mean it is not an important part of catechesis at my parish. It is. And I want to share it with you.

I am now offering the “Amazing Catechism Review and Cheesy Game Show” as a FREE file. It is keyed to this catechesis. There are questions about the assigned readings from scripture. But that’s ok. Catechumens should be ready to answer questions from Holy Scripture.

You can use it, adapt it, do what you will. For those parishes that still have a public examination, this moves the event from the “Law” column to the “Gospel” column. For those congregations that don’t have a public examination, it introduces a catechism review for the whole congregation.

Imagine your people looking forward to having a review of Luther’s Small Catechism. Seem impossible? It’s not. You can do it, too.

And you can use this, even if you don’t purchase Teach These Things. Why? Because the goal in all of this is to get people interested in the Catechism. That’s what pastors should be doing with their time. And if this helps someone else do that, then the time and effort was worthwhile.

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