While we all know that last Sunday was the holiday we celebrate as Mother’s Day, it was also an anniversary for me. I didn’t realize it was an anniversary until I pulled a book off my shelf and opened the front cover to find a short message written in my mother’s handwriting.

My mom had written these words 56 years ago inside the cover of my red, hard-bound, Reformed Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer: “Received at St. Mark’s Confirmation service. Sunday evening, May 12, 1968”. . . 56 years ago last Sunday.

While I had received the blessings of adoption by Christ several years earlier, May 12, 1968 was the culmination of a year of formal catechesis that led to my making a public profession of faith and entering into church membership. To this day, I treasure the old black and white photo of my 11-year-old self kneeling at the Communion rail with my fellow confirmands as we celebrated the Lord’s Supper – which we had learned was “an outward sign of an inward grace” – for the very first time.

Looking at that Book of Common Prayer, which was engraved with my name on the front cover, I couldn’t help but pause to think about the twists and turns of my life, including those influences that nurtured me in the faith. . . people, places, and things used by God in His sovereignty, providence, and plan. I was filled with gratitude for God’s grace, mercy, and kindness in my life. I am grateful as well when I ponder the sinful twists and turns of my life which were self-chosen, and how God has shown me grace, as He does all of us, by allowing me to reap the consequences of my sin while disciplining me in ways that He has used to steer me straight and lead me, I trust, into greater and greater conformity to the image of Christ. Knowing my own sin nature, I’m sure there are many more opportunities like these that await.

So what must we know and do if we are to have a balanced response to The Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28::18-20, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”?

We need to begin with a proper understanding of what it means to teach.

In their most helpful book, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful, Gary Parrett and Steve Kang pass on some important words from Richard Osmer and Walter Brueggemann. Osmer says, “If we don’t want to see our future generations abandon the faith, we won’t abandon schooling as an aspect of ministry in our churches. . . I am concerned that too much focus on relational approaches to discipling and spiritual formation will undercut the strong evangelical emphasis on biblical content – simply knowing the story scripture tells in depth.” Brueggemann writes, “Every community that wants to last more than one generation must be concerned with education.”

As I’ve looked back over the course my own life, not just to what my 11-year-old self experienced, but everything before and after, I can see clearly that I was nurtured through the process of catechesis, which Parrett and Kang tell us comes from the Greek word katecheo, which “means, literally, ‘to echo,’ ‘to resound,’ ‘to sound from above.'”

Consider this helpful explanation of catechesis from Parrett and Kang, and while doing so evaluate not only how well you’ve been catechized, but how effectively you are catechizing the kids you know and love. . .

“In the New Testament itself, the term often seems simply to refer to instruction. But, very early in the life of the church, ti came to mean instruction of a particular sort in terms of both form and substance. In terms of form, catechesis generally was a verbal instruction that involved a good deal of repetition and memorization. In terms of substance, catechesis came to refer to instruction in the basics or essentials of the Faith.”

Pause here for just a moment and read that last paragraph again. Based on that description alone, can you see what I mean when I say, as I often do, that “culture is catechizing our kids 24/7. . . usually in the basics and essentials of what the Apostle Paul calls ‘the course of this world’?” Why then, would we ignore our calling to catechize our kids, leaving them to the teachers and instructors who inhabit every nook and cranny of popular culture?

So, what should our teaching and catechesis of our kids look like? Parrett and Kang offer this helpful summary: “A sound ministry of catechesis has several essential features. It is relational, involving dynamic interaction between catechist and catechumen, all in the context of the entire faith community. It is liturgical, occurring chiefly in the worship of the gathered community. It is holistic, engaging the full humanity of catechumens – their minds, hearts, bodies. It is culturally responsive, paying careful attention to the backdrop in which catechumens are living and against which they receive this vital instruction. It is pedagogically strategic, featuring sound educational processes and practices. And it is content rich, focused properly, as we have said, on the essentials of the faith.”

Ok. . . once again, go back and read the previous paragraph. Do you see how these words capture the essence of Christian parenting and youth ministry?!?

As I think back on my own journey in spiritual growth and development – admittedly still unfinished – there are several elements present that I offer for your consideration. . . elements that I believe were powerful shapers of my own life, and should be powerful shapers present in the lives of our children and teens.

First, spiritual nurture begins in the home. There is no other place that is primary in terms of the leading our kids into biblically-faithful, whole-life, Christian discipleship. We’ve been instructed to pass on the faith in Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6. And, we know both anecdotally and through research that parents exert the primary influence. In an article in First Things, sociologist Christian Smith tells us that “The good news is that, among all possible influences, parents exert far and away the greatest influence on their children’s religious outcomes. Stated differently, the bad news is that nearly all human responsibility for the religious trajectories of children’s lives falls on their parents’ shoulders. The empirical evidence is clear. In almost every case, no other institution or program comes close to shaping youth religiously as their parents do—not religious congregations, youth groups, faith-based schools, missions and service trips, summer camps, Sunday school, youth ministers, or anything else. Those ­influences can reinforce the influence of parents, but almost never do they surpass or override it. What makes every other influence pale into virtual insignificance is the importance (or not) of the religious beliefs and practices of American parents in their ordinary lives—not only on holy days but every day, throughout weeks and years.” I was blessed to have parents who from the moment I was born until the moment I left home. . . and even thereafter. . . were committed to nurturing me in the faith.

Second, nurturers are committed to knowing the faith. We cannot teach, model, or pass on that which we ourselves do not know. Do you want to nurture the children and teens in your care? If so, be nurtured yourself in a never-ending pursuit to know God and His Word. In Deuteronomy 6:6 we are told that the Word of the Lord is to “be on your heart.” I had numerous people in my life who oozed a growing and vital faith.

Third, nurturers tell what they know. In Deuteronomy 6:7 the people of God are commanded to “teach them diligently to your children.” We are to “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Every moment of our lives offers up opportunities to nurture our kids in the faith. From my parents, to youth pastors, to Sunday School teachers, to older adults in the church. . . they all exercised a verbal influence on my life.

Fourth, nurturers live the faith they know. When someone has been adopted into God’s family and given new life, the new creation that they are and which they are becoming can’t help but evidence itself in the comings and goings of life. I saw faith lived out 24/7.

Fifth, nurture is an outgrowth of our commitment to the church. From the time I was little it was a top priority for me to gather with the larger intergenerational Body of Christ to sit under the faithful teaching of the Word, to observe and participate in the sacraments, and to engage with a local body that looked out for each other, encouraging me to spiritual growth and away from the ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Yes, healthy discipline done in love marks this kind of church. Today, I would run from any church that is not committed to all three of these marks of the church.

Finally, effective nurture requires interaction with the full body of Christ. My dad was a pastor. Consequently I had the great benefit of living in a home where missionaries, scholars, theologians, and every-day believers would come and go. In hindsight, some of my greatest memories are of these people who, thought I did not know it at the time, were being placed in my life by God to serve as nurturers and models of the faithful life of discipleship. And, truth be told, because the church is not perfect, I was also exposed to models who were not to be emulated. Examples, both positive and negative, were powerful.

Self-evaluation of how we’re doing, both as parents and as youth workers, must be a regular practice. Perhaps you, like me, can examine how you are or are not effectively nurturing those in your charge. The marks and characteristics of effective Christian nurture are not limited to what I’ve listed here. Our best and most regular practice is to sit down under the light of God’s Word, looking carefully in the mirror to not only see who we are, but to see who we need to be.

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