My wife and I, along with our youngest daughter, had the privilege of attending the inaugural “Christ Academy Family Institute” at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne this past week, Thursday evening through Saturday. Kudos to Rev. Matt Wietfeldt and his Admissions Office on an excellent Institute; they hit the sweet spot their first time at bat with this new effort. The schedule was well organized, and all of the speakers were excellent and edifying. I hope that it will take off in the years to come, and that many more families will be able to participate.
The focus of the Institute, as I would describe it in retrospect, was on the cultivation of family catechesis and overall piety in the Word of God and prayer, and on the bringing up of children to be pious and faithful adults in whatever arenas of life the Lord may call them to serve. Each of these goals was approached and discussed in a variety of ways, involving both admonition and encouragement, as well as practical advice and guidance for establishing and maintaining good habits and rhythms of life in this fallen world. I especially appreciated the realistic and pastoral attitude that permeated all of the presentations and the conversations they prompted.
The Family Institute was not aimed at pastors and their families, but I did take note of the fact that a significant percentage of those in attendance were pastors and their families. That was likely for a variety of reasons, and it wasn’t really discussed at any point. My conjecture is that, not only were pastors perhaps more likely to be aware of the Institute, but they are also more keenly and oftentimes painfully aware of the need for better rhythms of family life and the many challenges hindering such efforts.
While the perception may be that a pastor has all the advantages in catechizing his own family and teaching them the discipline of daily prayer, there are also any number of difficulties that challenge a pastor in seeing to these things and practicing them as he should. The fact that others are watching and evaluating what he does and how, in addition to his own expectations, can too easily turn his own family’s catechesis and devotional life into a legalistic burden, rather than a joyful discipline and exercise of faith and love. The pastor’s responsibility for the pastoral care and catechesis of the whole congregation may actually compete with and detract from his care for and catechesis of his own wife and children, either because he isn’t there at opportune times or as often as he should be, or simply because he doesn’t want to “bring his work home.”
Pr. Wilhelm Löhe once quipped that, if he had not become a pastor, he might not have remained a Christian; but his pastoral work and responsibilities kept him constantly in the Word of God and engaged in prayer. I suspect that the opposite may also be the case for many of our pastors, that the demands of the Office burn them out and end up driving them away from the Word which they and their families desperately need to sustain them in the Christian faith and life. Protect us from this, heavenly Father! God grant us wisdom to discern and establish an appropriate balance of time and energy for both our congregations and our families.
As one of the presenters at the Family Institute advised, don’t let the ideal become the enemy of the good. If your family catechesis has not been what it should be, repent, to be sure, and begin to do better; but start small, keep it simple and straightforward, and build upon the progress you make over time. And do so in the joyful knowledge of the Lord’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.