Why use a catechism in student ministry?

We are thrilled to begin our summer ministries this Wednesday night, starting at 6:00 PM (family meal), with Bible studies for all ages beginning at 7:00 PM. Each summer, we take opportunities to engage with one another around the dinner table and then study various aspects of God’s Word together. Come join us for this unique time in the life of our body!

Chances are, the word “catechism” evokes thoughts of old churches, out-of-date practices, or outright confusion for most of us. If you grew up in a Roman Catholic or other “high church” context, catechisms may have been used to drill into your mind the essential doctrines of the Church in preparation for confirmation. If you grew up in a Baptist or non-denominational context, the concept of catechism may be unfamiliar to you, having fallen out of vogue in the past few centuries or so.

What is a catechism? And why would we use it for our summer Bible study in the student ministry? Those are great questions! Here are some brief points to consider…

What is a Catechism?

Catechesis comes from the Greek word katecheo, which means “to echo” or “to sound from above.” It is used in the New Testament to refer to instruction (see for example Romans 2:18). From the earliest days of the Church, catechism became a particular method of grounding people in the essentials of the faith through simple memorization and repetition. This practice found its resurgence in the great catechisms of the Reformation, many of which continue to be used in churches across the world. In the preface to his small catechism (1529), Martin Luther wrote, “when you are teaching the young, adhere to a fixed and unchanging form and method. Begin with teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the like…so that the young may repeat these things after you and retain them in their memory.”[1] Luther recognized the importance of a method of learning that has continued to be effective across the millennia of Christian history: repetition. In fact, there was something to be said for Luther’s organization too, as numerous other catechisms have followed the contours of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed.

Simply put, a catechism is a tool for discipleship that employs a question and answer format to help people of all ages learn what the Bible teaches about the basic doctrines of the faith. It is a time-honored method of discipleship, and it has proven effective in the Church throughout history.

What is New City Catechism?

Straight from the source, New City Catechism is…

“…comprised of only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg's 129 or Westminster Shorter's 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules…”

“… a joint adult and children's catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children's answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time, albeit an abridged version…”

“…based on and adapted from Calvin's Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, giving good exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of the great Reformation-era catechisms. The hope being that it will encourage people to delve into the historic catechisms and continue the catechetical process throughout their lives.”[2]

This Catechism was developed by Tim Keller, John Piper, and others involved in organizations such as The Gospel Coalition, in order to help provide an accessible yet theologically rich catechism for the 21st Century.

Why use a catechism in Student Ministry?

Why in the world—during a time in which learning styles seem to be evolving, interest in doctrine seems to be waning, and youth groups seem to become less substantive—would we want to have our students go through a catechism? Here are two reasons:

  1. To follow the biblical command to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3).

    Catechesis is a tried-and-true method of passing on the essential doctrines of Christianity to the next generation. If Christians in past generations had not catechized their children, we may not have had the privilege of passing those same truths on to ours! When we teach doctrine, we are following the biblical command to contend for the faith. Our students are entering college campuses where they will be confronted with all manner of varying worldviews, and they need to be adequately prepared to articulate and defend the Bible’s core teachings.
  2. To give students an opportunity to ask questions and express doubts.

    Any good discipleship tool ought to be a conversation starter. Curriculum and catechisms are not meant to be static, mind-numbing exercises. They are meant to stimulate biblical thought, provoke deep questions, and bring any underlying doubts to the surface to be explored in light of God’s Word. During the spring semester, as we taught through the Gospel of John, we discovered that students have some big questions about the core doctrines of our faith…and that’s OK! The catechism will enable us to introduce these topics and give students the opportunity to freely ask questions about the Bible’s teaching!

Catechism for All!

Let me take this opportunity to encourage each of you to download New City Catechism on your iPad or android device, or visit http://www.newcitycatechism.com/. You’ll find this tool can be used for all ages (there is a children’s version in the settings menu), and it can be of great value for your family.

Parents—are you looking for an idea for family discipleship time? Why not take the next year and go through one question per week in the New City Catechism—reading the Bible verses, watching the videos, and discussing as a family? Let us know how we can be of help to you in that endeavor!


[1] Quoted in Mark A. Noll, Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation.

[2] http://www.newcitycatechism.com/intro.ph