Category Archives: Congregational Catechesis

Pr Mark Surburg’s Catechism challenge: From memorization, to heart, to part of us.

Pastor Mark Surburg has written a great article for his congregation’s August newsletter that we can preview on his blog.

The article launches a challenge to the congregation to learn by heart the Small Catechism, and an explanation of the benefits this brings. This includes memorization, of course, but uses memorization to go on to the next levels, of learning the Catechism by heart, and for it to become a part of us. Pastor Surburg says:

In order for the explanations of the Small Catechism to function in this way, they need to be in our head.  This happens as we learn them by heart.  The first step in this process is to begin using them as we seek to commit them to memory.  The second step is that we continue to use them so that they go beyond memorization.  Memorized items are learned and then forgotten.  Items we have learned by heart are things that we use over and over until they become part of us.  Once they are part of us, they begin to shape and form the way we think and speak.

See the whole article on Surburg’s Blog, “Mark’s thoughts: Take the Small Catechism challenge.

Mission and the Small Catechism: Aspects of the Connection, and Realities to Face

The connection between mission and the Small Catechism has a number of aspects. Some of them are:

  • state of catechesis
  • marriage
  • family
  • congregation
  • community
  • generations

Some realities we need to face are that:

  • The state of catechesis is poor.
  • We are suffering a death rate among our own offspring who, after being confirmed, depart the faith. This is death by apostasy.
  • The strength of outreach depends on the strength of inreach.
  • Because we are vague and faint on the Catechism, our outreach is weak.
  • We need to strengthen catechetical inreach in marriage, the family, and the congregation for their own sakes, and then also for the sake of outreach to the community.
  • The Small Catechism teaches what needs to be presented in evangelism and outreach. It contains the six chief parts of Christian doctrine. Do we think something else is what outreach should present?

I have been writing a series of articles that make initial rough sketches of these aspects and realities.

State of Catechesis


Family and Congregation



I welcome your feedback, ideas, suggestions, evidences, and experiences in these areas. Please use the contact form to write to me.

Cooperative Catechesis (Parents and Pastors), by Rev. Phil Booe, Winkel Presentation at Hudson, New York

So you missed the winkel. No need to miss the presentation.

Rev. Phil Booe, has kindly provided his selected excerpts from his doctoral dissertation, “Cooperative Catechesis: A Model for Equipping Lutheran Parents and Pastors to Catechize Children in the Christian Faith,” prepared for the March 16, 2016 winkel at Hudson New York.

Learn about parents being active in catechesis. Learn about parents and pastors cooperating in the catechesis of the children.

Download it here.

Cooperative Catechesis: Equipping Parents and Pastors to Catechize Children in the Christian Faith, Rev. Phil Booe

Following is the Oral Defense Opening Statement defending the doctoral dissertation of Rev. Phil Booe.


Rev. Phil Booe

Oral Defense Opening Statement

In the Lutheran Church, as in many liturgical Christian traditions, there exists the practice of Confirmation. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox (Chrismation) consider it a sacrament. For Lutherans and the protestant groups who have retained this rite, it is a symbolic religious milestone in a young person’s life. For Lutherans in particular, the Rite of Confirmation is supposed to be a public recognition that a child has not grown to reject the faith God gave him or her in baptism. It generally follows two to three years of formal study, which is catechesis. In current practice, a young person undergoes the rite of Confirmation after he or she has matured, studied his or her faith, and is ready to make a public confession of the same. This often coincides with his or her first reception of communion.

In both my personal pastoral experience and in the many conversations I have had with other pastors (of varying tenures) over the years, it has become apparent to me that the Confirmation system, at least in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is woefully inadequate and actually quite broken. Many children see confirmation as the end of learning about their faith. It has become a graduation from church. I have had many Lutheran parents tell me that after their child is confirmed they then give them the option of whether or not to continue attending worship or Sunday school. Overall, I have observed that in my ministry context many, if not most, parents have completely abdicated over to the church and the confirmation program their God-given duty to teach their children the faith.

What I believe has resulted is that children are exposed to basic Bible stories in Sunday School, as young teens they endure a couple of years of confirmation instruction where they review the Lord’s prayer, 10 commandments, the Apostles’ creed, and the sacraments of the church. Then, around age 14, they are confirmed. Five years later, they go off to college, the military, or the work force and they have not grown in their understanding or confession. Fast-forward 20 years, and—Lord willing—if the person has remained a member of the church, they are still operating on an 8th grade understanding of their faith. Imagine encountering the increasingly hostile world with a child’s understanding of faith? They are saved by God’s grace, but defenseless against the wiles of the adversary. With this happening over many generations, it is not hard to see why parents feel unequipped and unmotivated to teach their own children about the faith.

These are the circumstances that have weighed on my heart heavily over the past few years – and I am thankful for the opportunity this process has given me to explore other ways to go about catechesis.

In a field as subjective as faith education, my project was naturally qualitative in nature. Simply put, I wanted to get a better understanding of what parents in my own ministry context, and in contexts similar to mine, thought about catechesis and the role of parents and pastors in teaching the tenets of the faith.

Before I could accomplish that, I wanted to more fully understand the biblical perspective of catechesis and the roles of parents and pastors. I would say the epitome of what the Bible has to say about parents passing down God’s teachings to their children comes to us from Deuteronomy 6. Where parents are reminded that training up their children takes place over the course of one’s daily activities and is ongoing, not compartmentalized as it has become. As for the role of pastors, the scriptures were equally clear. The necessity for pastors to teach and defend good doctrine is nowhere better illustrated than Paul’s Pastoral Epistles.

Once I was convinced that I had a good scriptural foundation and biblical support for my position, I then searched the current academic literature to establish a good understanding of how catechesis had developed over the history of the church. I started broadly with the historic early church and then narrowed to the LCMS in particular. I also reviewed the writings of contemporary catechists and LCMS confirmation instruction material to determine how the decline of parental participation in catechesis was being addressed. Among other things, I determined that many people spoke about the problem, but few offered any concrete solutions.

After my literature review, I proceeded to conduct field research to determine how I might design a model of catechesis that helped to address the problem of parental participation and the graduation mentality of confirmation. The question in my mind was how the church might help reclaim the lifelong nature of catechesis and engage parents in the process along the way.

To accomplish this, I designed an online survey for parents in order to ascertain what barriers they felt prevented them from full participation in catechesis. I additionally wanted to learn what goals and expectations they had for Christian education prior to the Rite of Confirmation.

I solicited pastors in the 71 congregations of the New England District to help me find participants. While I had hoped for more participation, I was happy with the high level of participation by parents in my own congregation and with the many responses I received from parents and pastors of NED. I followed up the survey with telephone, Skype, and in-person interviews of the parents and pastors who were willing to participate. This data was evaluated and synthesized with the biblical and literature review to develop a new model.

From the literature review, the surveys, and interviews a model began to develop. My role was shaping the themes I saw emerging from the data. The result was a catechetical model that emphasized life-long catechesis. A model that involved the expertise the pastor as catechist brings along with the personal relationship and loving authority that parents as catechists bring. Although I may have personally desired to dispense with the Rite of Confirmation altogether, it was apparent to me from my research that not only was confirmation too deeply ingrained in the culture of the Lutheran church to leave it behind, but also rites of passage in general can be beneficial. Therefore, my model retains confirmation but lessens its emphasis.

In the end, I saw catechesis as a cooperation between pastors and parents that begins in early childhood and continues until the children are parents themselves and carry on the process with their own offspring. This model, Cooperative Catechesis, contained four stages.

In the first stage, parents take on the primary role and are supported by their pastors and congregations. I called this the equipping stage because it is during these formative years that parents equip their children with the basic building blocks of faith. These building blocks will be enhanced as the child grows and matures. There is a strong emphasis on memory work in this stage. It is also in this early phase that prayer and devotional routines should develop. This stage ends with the Rite of First Communion.

In the second stage, pastors take on the primary role as catechists with support from parents. This is the closest to the traditional confirmation instruction model used today, but is more personally focused on the needs of the child. Children enter this stage as they are developmentally ready, rather than at an arbitrary age. There may be formal classes or individual sessions, but this stage is called the enhancing stage because it builds upon the work accomplished in stage one. Concepts that children have merely memorized are now enhanced with meaning and context. Students are taught to think creatively and critically about their faith to take ownership of what they believe. Students are led on experiential learning and service events to demonstrate that their faith has practical aspects beyond just cognitive learning. This is in stark contrast to many confirmation programs today where the first year of instruction is often spend memorizing and reviewing the basics, which are more easily and effectively done earlier and at home. This stage ends with the Rite of Confirmation.

In the third stage, the now enhanced faith that the child has been equipped with, is explored further as he or she matures into adolescence. That is why I called this stage the exploring stage. Pastors and parents share the role of catechist. The life of a teenager is far removed from what they experienced only a few years previously. Two aspects that are especially new in this stage is a focus on apologetics and how to study the Bible. This third stage focuses less on giving teens the answers, instead teaching them how to think with a Christian mindset. This stage ends with the Rite of Farewell and Godspeed assuming the person is leaving the congregation for the military or school. If the person will be remaining in the congregation, another appropriate rite might be used.

The final stage is called the engaging stage. The student is now an adult and takes responsibility for his or her own continued catechesis. This stage is about encouraging them to continue active participation in their congregation and also, for those to whom it applies, preparing them to begin the process with their own children. This stage symbolically ends with The Rite of Christian Funeral to emphasize the lifelong aspect of catechesis.

As I seek to put this model into practice in my own congregation, a process that will likely take years, I am certain that improvements will be made. I am satisfied with the research I have done and I am pleased to commend it to the church at large.

Guest Post – Green Light Pre-Confirmation Curriculum, by Kim Halvorson

Editor’s Note:

Facebook group member Leif Halvorson uploaded to the files area of the group the Green Light pre-confirmation curriculum that he and his wife, Kim Halvorson, developed for their congregation. The curriculum now has been uploaded to this site also, and you can access it here.

Greenlight wall 3Leif and Kim both are certified teaches and it is obvious that they brought their knowledge of elementary education to the task of creating this curriculum. invited Leif and Kim to provide our readers with an explanation of how they use this curriculum. By putting the following explanation together with the curriculum download, you’ll have a ready-made plan to prepare elementary children for confirmation instruction.

This is a little background on why we created the Green Light program, and notes on how we use it at our church as a Wednesday Night grade school curriculum.

The Green Light program for our church was born out of the desire for a Wednesday Night program for the elementary children of our congregation, a lack of teachers, and the realization that the confirmation age kids were coming into confirmation as 6th graders with remedial knowledge of our church beliefs. Our church elders requested a program for our elementary age kids and as the Sunday School Superintendent; I wanted to make sure the teaching was solid.

At the same time, while talking to the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor, it became clear that our confirmation students were coming to confirmation with virtually no knowledge of the catechism or even basic Bible knowledge.

Leif and I were tasked with putting something together. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and combining good resources seemed like the best way to go, so Pre-Confirmation was born out of existing CPH materials.

After compiling our plan, it was suggested that the name “Pre-Confirmation” sounded a little boring. I didn’t want to come up with a meaningless name, so I searched for synonyms of “confirmation” and found the phrase “green light” as in, go ahead. We ran with it and created green pennants out of felt to collect the pins each student earned, and larger versions of each pin out of felt for reference. We also picked up large format Small Catechism posters from CPH to adorn the room.

The Green Light program was put together as a Wednesday Night Church program for elementary students. The program is designed as a type of confirmation preparation course using My First Catechism and the study materials that go with it, as well as the The Story Bible for the core curriculum.

The curriculum was split up into a 3 year plan to fit with our Wednesday Night church schedule. It is designed to have coordinating memory work for grades 1-5, with Confirmation beginning in 6th grade. Any student starting in 1st grade would have to repeat two years at the end and would have harder memory work as they got older, building on what was taught before.

The teacher binder includes all three years of scope and sequence, the order of service, and the My First Catechism Activity Book Answer Key.

Each student has a study guide binder. Each binder has a title page with the student’s name and the first page inside is the Student Schedule for the year we are on. We use this to have the teacher initial each completed study guide page and keep track of the progress.

In order to get all the lessons in the three year rotation, we had to pull the sections out of order. To help with this, we took the My First Catechism Activity Book to the local print shop to have the binding removed and all the pages three-hole punched. The books were then reassembled into a binder in the order of the curriculum. I then inserted the Earned Pin Pages to the end of each section in the binder, and split up the years with construction paper. The kids can keep a single binder through the entire program. Each student also has a My First Catechism book that stays at the church to follow along. Our intent is to let each student keep the book when they move on to Confirmation.

We begin each class by reciting/reading Luther’s Evening Prayer. This is usually followed by singing a hymn. We usually pick one from My First Hymnal, because they are shortened for the children and have accompaniment CDs. We usually choose one specific hymn for several weeks and like to coordinate the hymn to the church season.

After we sing the hymn, we take attendance with stickers and a chart I create for the church with our specific Wednesday schedule.

Attendance is followed by our motto, “God’s Word Does Stuff.”  We have the kids say it several different ways (shout, whisper, like a monster, …)  to make it more fun. As Lutherans, we want our kids to understand the power of God’s Word and to cling to His promises. God spoke the universe into existence because “God’s Word Does Stuff” (Genesis 1). We believe that God’s Word creates faith because “God’s Word Does Stuff” (Romans 10:17). We believe that God saves us in the waters of baptism and we can cling to His work baptism for assurance because “God’s Word Does Stuff” (1 Peter 3:21)  We believe that through communion God works forgiveness of sins because “God’s Word Does Stuff” (Matthew 26:26-28). We believe that in Confession, whether public or private, God works forgiveness of sins because “God’s Word Does Stuff” (1 John 1:9). The motto is so simplistic yet speaks volumes.

After the motto, we practice the memory work that the kids are working on or test them on the memory work that is due for the day. We give more than one week to memorize most of the memory work. Then, we move to the Bible story of the day. All the Bible story page numbers listed are from The Story Bible, listed in the resources section. All the Bible stories were chosen to coordinate with the catechism lesson. In some instances, no Bible story from the book was appropriate, so we inserted the coordinating Bible verses or left it blank.

When reading from The Story Bible, I like to read the vocabulary words listed at the beginning and have the kids listen for them while I read and end with the “Ask” and “Pray” sections.

Next, we read the catechism lesson to the class and complete the workbook pages. In our current configuration, half of our class is lower elementary (just beginning to read) and half of our class is in 3-4th grades, so at this point we have the older kids go into another room to complete the workbook page and check it when they are done. The younger kids stay in the room and we complete the workbook page together adjusting to their learning levels.

If we have any time left, we close in prayer, clean up the room, and let the kids play. The Sing the Faith CD from CPH would be a great way to help the kids with the memory work. We use it at home and our kids love it.

As a final note:  Ideally, this program curriculum is designed for grades 3-5, but we have had great success with a slightly modified version with children as young as 4. Our major change has been to go through the Activity Book pages orally. When we started this in 2014, three of our five students were ages 4-5 and couldn’t read. I have been constantly amazed at what they pick up and remember through this by just working a little more one on one. The Activity Book has worked very well for our older students ages 7-9 on a more independent level.

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