Did you know that Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism with the original intent that it be taught at home – by parents – to their children?! In fact, in the Lutheran church, when we baptize infants, we ask parents to make a baptismal promise that goes something like this,
to live with [their children] among God’s faithful people,
bring [their children] to the word of God and the holy supper,
teach [their children] the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in [their children's] hands the holy scriptures,
and nurture [their children] in faith and prayer,
so that [their children] may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.
In this baptismal promise, parents acknowledge that the home is the primary source of faith instruction. Those of us in the congregation give our promise to support the family and pray for the baptized child. We all acknowledge in these promises that the church, being God’s faithful people, is only one part of faith instruction. And yet, over the years, we have expected the church to fulfill this baptismal promise.
As little children, our parents bring us to Sunday school and Summer Bible School. Most of the time they drop us off in our age-appropriate classes while they go grab coffee, or maybe they go to the adult class. As we get older, they bring us to Confirmation, where the pastor – or maybe in some churches another staff member or faithful volunteers – teach us about the Bible and the Small Catechism. They again, drop us off, while they go run errands. We’re confirmed, and if we’ve made really good friends at our church, then our parents drop us off for high school youth group – until we can drive ourselves.
If in our baptism, our parents make this promise to us, then why do they drop us off instead of experience it with us? There has been some recent shift in children & youth ministry to “family ministry” – but it’s been a hard shift for some congregations to make. I recently discovered a congregation that is doing family-based confirmation, and I am intrigued. I want to push this even further – instead of just with confirmation – what if we did true family-based faith formation? How would our families, our churches, and the kingdom of God, be different if instead of offering programming for children & youth we offered opportunities for parents to learn how to fulfill their baptismal promise to their children?
What’s going on in your congregation? Are you doing family-based faith formation? How’s it going? What’s working? What’s not working?