LCMS Stewardship Feature Story

Catechesis Fixes Everything

Editor’s note: Monthly articles from LCMS Stewardship Ministry are hosted here on The Lutheran Witness site. Visit the “Ministry Features” page each month for additional stewardship content.

In his recently published book De-sizing the Church: How Church Growth Became a Science, then an Obsession, and What’s Next, avowed small church pastor Karl Vaters makes a bold claim. Vaters asserts, “Discipleship Fixes Everything.” He claims that discipleship addresses divisiveness, immorality, immaturity, and even the lack of financial resources for ministry. In the chapter, he makes a very compelling case.

While a confessional Lutheran would tend to agree at first glance, there is one major issue with Vaters’s argument. It is the word “discipleship.” In evangelical circles, discipleship is something that is connected to obedience of the individual. The term appeals to the actions of the person.

Discipleship is not inherently a bad concept. Baptized children of God are indeed disciples, as they follow the Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed them — not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. A genuine disciple knows that anything that is grounded in our own efforts and accomplishments — yes, even in obedience — will go woefully wrong.

But Vaters’ concept should not be dismissed completely. Rather, it needs to be amended. The steward leader in a confessional Lutheran setting could capture what Vaters intended with a much more appropriate phrase: Catechesis fixes everything! This is especially true when we are considering the topic of stewardship.

Sound Lutheran catechesis points the redeemed disciple to their true identity. Once failed and fallen, the baptized and redeemed steward has been restored to his original identity and task. The First Adam was tasked with reflecting God’s glory within the created order. This steward’s original sin was his failure defend the perfect creation from the alien word of the ancient serpent. Marred by sin and death, our first parents failed and took the rest of us with them. It was only when the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, was a perfect reflection of the Father’s will that the mess was undone and life broke in where only death reigned.

In Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit clothes the redeemed steward in Christ’s righteousness. This Gospel is what we now steward within a redeemed creation. Disciples reflecting the will of their Lord is what we have been given to do. This does not come naturally to us. Hence the need for ongoing catechesis. This is more than just something for 14-year-olds preparing for the Lord’s Supper for the first time. Catechesis fixes everything in our stewardship of the Gospel throughout our lives.

If a steward leader needs to address stewardship in the local congregation the only place to start and the place to return to often is catechesis. In sound catechesis, the steward is called to repentance. In solid catechesis, the steward is pointed to Word and Sacrament ministry. In solid catechesis, the steward is shown the folly of claiming ownership of anything in creation. In solid catechesis, the disciple is shown the Table of Duties to highlight the ways that the Holy Spirit leads the steward forward in faithfulness.

What makes catechesis so critical is that it does not point us to ourselves for answer or effort. In fact, catechesis shows the shallowness of our thankfulness, the vanity of our will, and the vacuous value of our efforts. Catechesis points the repentant steward outside themselves to the true treasure entrusted to us in the person and work of Jesus.

The LCMS only needs to reflect on our history to see the value of catechesis in our stewardship of the Gospel. A half century ago it was a solidly catechized laity that saved the LCMS from falling off the cliff that other mainline Protestants and evangelicals plunged over. The stewards of the true Gospel kept us from giving up treasure of the cross and empty tomb, the life-giving Word of God, and the soul-nourishing Sacraments.

While Vaters’ vocabulary may be suspect in our eyes, the sentiment behind it is not. If you, as a steward leader in your congregation, are noting a malaise in stewardship which supports the work of the Gospel, the key is not a manipulative appeal to obedience. The real move is back to the catechism! Teach it. Connect the proclamation to stewardship of the Gospel. Make it intentional because this does not come naturally to sinner/saint stewards. With man it is impossible. With God, all things are possible.

Catechesis fixes everything. Catechesis fixes stewardship. But the fix is not mechanical. It goes so much deeper than anything we could ever learn or do. Catechesis fixes the eyes of the disciples on Jesus. He is the treasure entrusted to us to receive from and give away freely to our family, friends and neighbors. In this process, the Holy Spirit leads the steward to reflect the will of his Creator and Redeemer for the benefit of the neighbor and the glory of God.

LCMS Stewardship ministry features may be reprinted with acknowledgment given to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

1 thought on “Catechesis Fixes Everything”

  1. RE: Catechesis “does not point us to ourselves for answer or effort.”

    God’s own Word tells us to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV, emphasis added).

    So “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24 ESV, emphasis added). “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Romans 12:6 ESV), always remembering that it is “God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7 ESV).

    (As compelling as the four verses cited here are, none are referenced in Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (CPH 1986). To obtain the whole counsel of God concerning discipleship or anything else, there is surely no substitute for being in the Word.)

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