Saturday, May 29, 2010
Responsibility and RESPONSIBILITY
Over the past few weeks we have had conversations in the church office about the declining priority of Sunday school and catechism classes among parents and families of the Church. It has included the usual frustrations of attendance, attention, and actions (meaning behavior). In that ongoing dialog we have noticed a few things worthy of a larger discussion.
It is not true that parents and students are unwilling or unable to make commitments and then follow through on them. At first this was where the conversation headed but then we noticed that kids are being hauled to sports practices and games, dance classes, extra-curricular events, and the like. Parents and kids are making commitments – but those commitments are not to the church, not to Sunday school and catechism, and not to the faith in general. The issue we must face is not why parents and families are not up to making and keeping commitments; they are and clearly do. Rather the issue is why the Church is no longer high on the list of priorities, responsibilities, and commitments in these homes.
It is not true that parents are not as involved in the lives of their children as other parents in other generations were. At first we thought the problem in the Church was related to a general distance parents have from their children but then we considered the amount of time they put in together at those sports practices and games (not to mention the travel time for some of these sports leagues). We paid attention to the amount of time parents were spending in the car transporting their children to dance rehearsals or music lessons and then to the performance events. Clearly they are spending a great deal of time together but it is also true that speaking, teaching, and sharing the faith has dropped down on the list of urgent priorities.
I spend several hours with parents prior to baptism and we include some discussion of the promises parents make to raise their children in the faith, to bring them to the worship services of God’s House, and to provide for their further instruction in the faith (what we call catechism classes). There does not seem to be much difference in their attention to this counseling or in their ability to understand and make this commitment while the child is still very small and very far removed from some of this. We talk about praying with their children every night as a discipline that bears rich rewards later when spiritual and life issues confront children and they look for people to talk to about them.
So what happens between those baptismal promises and the adolescent years when the parents have the most to do to make good on those baptismal promises? You can tell me because I do not have much of an answer. Parents still want to do right and do their best for their children but somehow the faith, the Church, and spiritual maturity in that faith are not connected with what is good and right and the best for their children. The great Dale Meyer video (Easter Showers) includes a line in which a lay teacher in the congregation complains about parents who will pay good money for Stride Right shoes for their children but then won’t come in for an hour of baptismal counseling [or bring them to worship and Sunday school and catechism classes]. Parents want to do right for their children but their definition of “right” no longer includes Church, Sunday school, or catechism classes. I wish I knew why.... and how to change it...
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More and more I'm becoming convinced that at least one of probably many "keys" to issues like this is Christian men -- the husband and father in Christian families. The greater God through his Word works Christian piety in them the better off everyone in the family picture is. If we want to help Christian families, help Christian men first and foremost.
It's a whole combination of things. In many cases, families aren't families anymore. They're just a handful of people living under one roof. MP hit on it above here. No one is taking responsibility for the family. Dad takes care of Dad, Mom might worry about the kids physical needs for the moment, and then she's off. The kids are left, or dropped off and everyone heads a different direction. Try and find a family that can even just have a meal together anymore - on a regular a basis.
Mom and Dad now have some guilt issue going on or are too busy blaming one another for whatever, and more and more I've seen kids grow up faster, because they HAVE to. Parenting in many cases is just providing food and shelter anymore.
Then we all sit around and wonder why kids have no respect for anything. No one is taking responsibility in their own home and teaching that. First of all, by example. I HONESTLY believe - they really don't know what respect is. They've never seen it, or experienced it. It's proven more and more everyday.
Kids choose what they want, when they want to do it, how they want to do and parents "jump" just to pacify whatever it is. Just give them what they want to so we can get back to our selfish lives.
I'll never forget backing out of the garage on a summer day watching every other kid in the neighborhood play, while I had to go to VBS. Sleep overs were only possible as long as arrangements were made for 9:00AM church (old school...)on Sunday FIRST. Midweek Lent/Advent services were not optional either - don't make any plans. Christmas morning - THE WORST! Church came first (even though we were just there a couple hours prior for xmas eve.)before presents. But after all was said and done, there WAS time for other things. BUT IT WAS A PRIORITY IN OUR HOUSE - NO EXCEPTIONS or it better be a pretty good one.
I didn't get the choice of "how I felt that day" to whether or not I wanted to do something. My parents KNEW what was best. THAT WAS THEIR JOB! There were not deals or bribes made either. THIS IS WHAT WE/YOU DO. After we're done with church, they were all ears. But, nothing was more important other than God, and being in His house.
That's what I was taught. But I wasn't taught by words. I was taught by action. Sure, I fought a lot of it - I was still a kid who wanted to my thing just like most any other kid. I was being taught two lessons the way I see it. Repect for God and secondly, respect for my parents. They didn't waiver or cave, or take the easy "do what you want - just be quiet" approach. They taught, committment and respect by their own actions.
This starts at home. Michael Paul is right. Those soccer games, karate lesson, little leauge are great programs. But they in no way are anywhere as valuable as God and His word. I'm going to say it.....You want to talk about "child" abuse.....that is a "CHILD" of God. A gift from God. That "CHILD" is starving and is abused. Not in the physical sense, but in a spiritual sense.
Let's not forget this one either. Many parents are so selfish themseleves. Training a childing and bringing them to church might mean - they have to show up as well. And that doesn't fit into "their" schedule.
Respect. I wonder if the next Wesbster's dictionary will re-visit that word. Because somewhere along the line, the definition has surely changed.
I wonder if part of the problem may not be a lack of real belief on the part of both parents and children. Imagine if you can, sitting down with each of your people and asking them, point by point to go through the Creed, and say, "now, do you really believe this?" If pressed, I am afraid we might hear things like, "well, no, that's just what we say on Sunday." If this is the case, then there is no real reason for parents to make any great effort to pass on to children that which they do not really believe themselves. The Church is only a social connection point for them, and their children can find those for themselves when they grow up by their own means.
Secondly, I think a major part of the problem is the message of the culture that for the past 50 years has encouraged parents to keep their kids busy in order to keep them out of trouble, but this has never included the Church. The focus has always been on sports, skills, various organizations, but the Church has been conspicuously excluded. The exclusion is rather obvious when we recognize that the Church is the principle source of moral teaching in our society, and yet it is entirely absent. This is not an accident. But parents have bought into this message, to the point that they are given major guilt trips if their children are not kept frantically busy every waking minute. They have little or no time to spend with their children on the faith.
I don't know if I have any answers, but I know that things were much different when I was confirmed 54 years ago.
Confirmation classes were held on Saturday morning. This included the opening of deer hunting season, and opening of fishing season, though our pastor was an avid hunter and fisherman.
In the event that we missed a Saturday class, we had to be able to say our memory work for both Saturdays the next week.
We learned at ages 12 and 13 how to listen to our pastor's sermons, and we had to turn in sermon notes for the previous Sunday. He would show us where we were getting it, or missing the point, altogether. He taught us how to use the lectionary in TLH, prior to the Sunday service so that we could be familiar with the lessons before attending services.
Oh, there was absolutely nothing open on Sunday! About the only occupations that would prevent a person from being in church on Sunday morning were police, fire, and health workers.
There were no organized youth sports of any type that would keep a family out of church.
Today, youth sports dictates, in some cases that a child will have to be there on Sunday morning. Parents have over the years bended to these folks rather than saying that Sunday is family day, and have taught their children what is more important.
Pastors and congregations, who gets confirmed, at the end of the day?
Are the confirmands held to some kind of test, or are they confirmed because they're completing the 8th or 9th grade?
Things are very different today than they were when I was confirmed.
Why don't we stop expending our energy trying to figure out who is to blame for the state we're in today? Let us, rather do our duty as pastors, congregations, parents, etc. and support each other in seeing that our children are in confirmation classes and attending church.
I am a retired Associate in Ministry who had prime responsibility for Catechesis in the parish. Two things I observed in a few congregations I served. In every instance we began an after school program that was lectionary based, but experiential incorporating music, creative projects, recreation, prayer offices, meal, Catechetics classes, and youth activities. In the smaller congregations this started with a small group of kids (10-12) and 2-3 leaders. The full program evolved as time went on. The kids became much more attentive on Sunday morning because they had some reference to the theme of the day. I once saw two 8 year old boys "connect" with a hymn because a bit of the text referenced the discussion of the previous week-day session. One thing noticed over the years with these programs. It took a while to get on the agenda of the parents, but once they got into the habit, it was locked into their schedule. Kids were there 95% of the time. Sunday mornings became a greater problem because families had other ideas of what they should and could do on the weekends. Some children were penalized because they were with the other spouse in a divorce situation.
It came to me as I began work in the last parish I served that maybe there is a better way to go about this. The confirmation group came to me the first day I was there and asked what the "requirements" would be for confirmation. I told them I talk to them about that at our first meeting. The room where I met them was plastered with charts for attendance, sermon notes, memory work, etc. I thought about the fact that we are all members of the church by virtue of our baptism. Most of these kids were already communing, so there was really no "carrot" at the end of the road. what was it we were preparing them for? So I answered their question with "There will be no requirements, but there will be many opportunities to learn and experience things you will use the rest of your life." I used "When God Chose Man" and "This is the Christian Faith" over a three year period. The Bible overview in grade six and catechism in 7th & 8th with a fall course on discipleship and Confirmation on All Saints Sunday. If a child was not ready to commit to the vows of the rite, I urged them to wait until they were ready. One boy did so and then returned about two years later and asked to be confirmed.
Sorry this is so long but I am passionate about how we lift up Catechesis as central to Christian Formation.
I seem to remember a parable - something about seed falling among thorns, and people being choked out by the cares and riches and pleasures of life. . . that is what this is describing.
We ought no longer pretend that we are a "middle class society" - we are rich. Even those of us who are "lower-middle class" live lives filled with mammon... 50-60 years ago the typical family couldn't afford the cash to do all the stuff we do today nor buy the stuff we have today. Our society is simply hitting the Eye of the Needle, as it were.
I'm a different Steve from the first one. My wife and I have small children in our home; one of my biggest fears is that somehow the devil will get into our home through the avenues of the world. We have our kids in our church pretty much everytime the doors are open and we have found the easiest way to do that is to have ourselves in church pretty much every time the doors are open.
A sad sight we see is that Grandpa and Grandma are bringing kids to church while mom and dad are out doing other stuff or just sleeping in.
I'm with John. When I was growing up, everybody went to church, not the same church, but some church.
Now, I will be the only one on the block, and so far as I can tell, the neighbourhood, pulling out of the driveway to go to church.
I don't know a single one of either of my kids' friends who is going to church this morning. Hardly any live with mom and dad under the same roof at the same time. When my kids were preschool age, their problem was not understanding that the do have a mother but she's in heaven, but why the don't have step this and special friend that like all the other kids. And that was at a church (not LCMS though) related preschool!
If we wonder why people no longer behave in a different society, there is your answer right there.
Now that John mentioned it, we were also responsible for turning in an outline on the sermon, EACH WEEK. This was still in the mid 80's.
I know all of us has either been involved, or had a child in team sports activities - (NOTHING WRONG with that). They're pretty tough on "Mandatory Practices." I'm sure this all came about due to the same lack of commitment the Catechism classes are experiencing. Funny, people certainly respond to what the world demands of them. It also puts the pressure on the kids as well. Those kids are being taught a lesson too! BE respectful, and be committed! I've seen kids "flip out" if for some reason or another they thought they were going to miss a soccer practice! Why??? Because they know it's NOT optional. It's demanded and expected.
I'm aware emergencies come up or 'some' conflicts. But I would assume the "no shows" are way beyond this that Pastor Peters is referring to.
I think the parents should be held accountable. Make them send the "absent note" type explanation. Put it in writing right of front what will be expected if there is a no-show. They tend to think they can just pull up quickly and drop the kid, duck and run. If they do that and the child shows up without the "note" as to why they were absent - they don't come back until it's resolved. You betcha this is going to cause a stir! We will have the angry parent because "my child was wronged or made the example." You're right, they were. But YOU as the parent were warned in advance. So....YOU "wronged" your child. This issue is "you - you failed to be responsible for YOUR child."
It's not a place I know we like to be as humans, but too much has been taken for granted and it's time the church take a stand and reclaim respect, honor and commitment for God and His word just like the REST of the world expects. I know it's a tough call as we don't want to turn people away, or make it harder to come, etc. But the problem is, THOSE are the people who start the chain of events and make it look acceptable. If they or their child gets away with it - why can't mine and so on. Then for the sake of the others that are there and doing what has been asked, it's not fair to them. Why should all 12 kids get to be confirmed when only 6 showed up as required. Take your kid to his football game after he's missed practice. Yeah, we know what happens. And that's FOOTBALL!
Even the parent who's children are getting there to Catechism classes should take a stand as well. Be positive - just confront the "offenders" as in "did you need some help, maybe we can work out a car pool and take turns, etc." BRING IT UP - Let them know...."yeah....we see ya, grow up...." without saying it directly. Pretty sad when good parents have to teach other parents as well, but - as a church, we are responsible for all God's children too.
The only thing I would really hate to see as it's just adding more injury is bribes. Children and/or parents should not have to be bribed or compensated for being responsible. That's the wrong lesson to teach. We send the message "whoever has the best offer - go with them." We make it clear up front - THIS IS THE BEST OFFER.
If I was responsible for receiving the "written excused notes" and I had a third one (world rules too here...3 strikes....) I'd simply hand it back without looking at it. I'd politely say, "I think we have a bigger issue here. You need to take this note and talk to God. Let me know what you two have decided and we'll make arrangements from there . Maybe then they will then realize just how important this is. Some may, some may not.
If it were only this simple. Maybe God wants the strong to become stronger. God always makes us look in the mirror as well.
The church is becoming more and more feminine. More women are holding church offices, becoming lay readers, and the church does not discourage it. I can ask men doctrinal questions or theological questions, and they say, "Oh, you need to talk to my wife about that." In our modern culture, the husband is no longer the "head of the household;" it is a 50/50 partnership. According to Scripture, this is not natural, that the husband is the head of the wife. When the church itself, is going to "cave in" to culture, is it not easy to understand? Even in our Missouri Synod, is not ordaining women as pastors the next step? Women are already lay readers; therefore, it will be relatively easy for the next step to be taken.
Many people believe it is not even necessary to go to church, that they can "worship" wherever they are at. If they believe one should go to church, then all is important is the "worship" service.
Many churches preach law; many preach law, gospel, law; and then some preach gospel, gospel, gospel, with little to no law. Gospel without law becomes ineffectual.
Until the church goes back to Scripture and men and women submit to the roles which God has ordained, the decline will probably continue.
Also, more and more LCMS churches are going to contemporary services. This gives the individual a choice as to what he/she likes. This tells people that the Divine Service is to please them, that they are the focal point. Therefore, church becomes entertainment.
We teach in catechism classes that an example of the gospel is not being punished when one has done wrong. That is not gospel; that is injustice. Justice requires that all "wrongs" be punished, and all wrongs were placed upon Jesus, and He bore the punishment for those "wrongs"--which are sins. We do not believe we are bad. When sickness, death, or calamity occurs, we ask, "Why me? I'm a Christian." Is it not because of sin? Is it not because we are still sinners? Do we not die because we sin? Everything we refer to as "bad" is to remind us that even as Christians we are in a constant need of repentance, and the gospel is the healing salve. But many times the church will say something to the effect, "We don't know why God allows it, but He will work it to good somehow." This is not biblical at all. Punishment for crimes is good; punishment for sin is good--it leads to repentance and the gospel.
When we get back to Scripture and back to law and gospel, then perhaps the tide will turn. We allow culture to dictate many things in the church; we let culture dominate to a degree.
I have spoken to Christians regarding abortion. They say something to the effect, "I don't agree with it, but I recall the "butcher shops" before abortion was legal." In other words, the not guilty one should be murdered for the sake of the murderer. If the economy is more important than a life in the minds of those in our Synod, and the belief that we need contemporary services in order to please people, are we really surprised at the decline?
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