Responses to Why People Hesitate to Become a Catechist

Amy G., a religious education coordinator in N.J., wrote the following bulletin article, offering responses to my list of reasons why people hesitate to become a catechist. Nice job, Amy! Thanks for letting me share it here!

Maybe being a catechist is something you feel God is calling you to, but you’ve got some reservations.  Joe Paprocki, a former Director of Religious Education and current 8th grade catechist came up with some reasons why he thinks that people hesitate to volunteer to be a catechist which he published on his website,  “Catechist’s Journey” (www.catechistsjourney.org).  These are reprinted here with Joe’s permission.  I’ve given my own reassurances after each hesitation.  I hope this helps you.  If you want to ask some more questions about volunteering as a catechist, please call me or Michelle at the Religious Education Office. Hope to hear from you soon!
~Amy G., Religious Education Coordinator
“I’m hesitant to become a catechist because…”
“…I don’t know if I can handle a group of kids.  I don’t know if kids will like me.”
Everyone is nervous going into a classroom on their first day of teaching (Some of us were nervous for our first several weeks of teaching).  The good news is that the children already know how to behave in a classroom from being at school.  They know what acceptable behavior is and what it is not.  The bad news is that they will sometimes act up.  Children thrive when there are clear expectations for their behavior and clear consequences for when they step out of line.  If you are friendly, fair, and firm with your students, classroom discipline comes easier.  And people of all ages like others who are friendly, fair, and firm.
“…I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer kids’ questions.”
Our textbooks are very easy to use and the answers to most questions you will be asked will come from the text.  However, sometimes, kids come up with really excellent questions that are not all that easy to answer.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and tell you next time we meet.”  Then, after class, you can just walk down to the Religious Ed Office and ask us for the answer.
“…I’m not sure that I have anything to share.  I’m not that holy; I’m just a regular person.”
Teaching religion is not just about passing on facts for memorization. In addition to helping the children learn about God, the catechist must help the young people in his or her class to get to know Jesus Christ through His Church; to foster in them a relationship with Jesus.  If you’re thinking about serving God as a catechist, you probably have a relationship with Our Lord already.  And your good relationship with God probably happened as part of a process, not all of a sudden.  You can share some of how you got to where you are with God now.  And the struggle it sometimes is to stay that way.
And as far as not being holy enough goes, let’s look at the example of the canonized saints.  They considered themselves regular people, too.  They love God with all their mind, with all their heart, and with all their strength.  Does that sound like someone else you know?
“…I’m not sure that I know just what the Church teaches.  I’m afraid I’ll say something wrong.”
Our textbooks are in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  That means that everything in our textbooks is in line with what the Church teaches.  The key here is never to guess at what the Church teaches.  If you don’t know, just say, “I’m not sure, let me get back to you” and ask the Religious Ed Office or consult the Catechism we’ll give you.  
“…I don’t have any formal training to teach and I’ve never taught before.”
Have you ever shown someone else how to make one of your favorite recipes or use a computer program?  Have you ever given someone else directions to a destination?  If you can answer yes to questions like those, then guess what: you taught someone!  Sure, not formally, but you taught them all the same.
Our texts come with a variety of activities you can use in each lesson and they give you a hand with how to plan lessons.
I heard a priest once say, “God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”  At our parish, we qualify those who are called to the ministry of catechesis by sending you to local workshops on how to teach religion and on the catechism.  We often run these classes right here at our parish.  You’re not out there on your own; Michelle and I are here to help you in any way we can. 
“…I don’t know if I have the time.”
Being a catechist is definitely a time commitment.  And it’s not just the hour and 15 minutes you’re here in the classroom.  For your time with your students to go well, you need to prepare before you walk into the classroom for at least an hour.  Many of my best catechists take much longer than that.  And when you factor in the workshops that I strongly encourage everyone to attend, it probably averages out to about 3 hours a week outside of the classroom time.
Maybe a weekly class just can’t fit into your schedule right now, but you could do the monthly Confirmation Preparation Program.  Or maybe right now you’d like to serve as a teacher’s aide or a substitute teacher to get a feel for what this is like.

 

About Joe Paprocki 2115 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press. He has more than 30 years of experience in ministry and has taught at many different levels. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestseller The Catechist’s Toolbox and Under the Influence of Jesus.

8 Comments on Responses to Why People Hesitate to Become a Catechist

  1. When I am encouraging people to become catechists, I emphasize that faith is caught and if they love the Faith, they will be able to give it to their students. When they express doubts about “knowing” the Faith, I tell them if they love it, knowing it will come.

  2. Hi Joe! I am an Filipino expat here in Dubai undergoing my Catechist training. I have my doubts whether to continue this training or not. I feel that i’m worthy although i answered the call of our parish to be on of the few to share the faith. Please pray for me. Thank you for the inspiring articles.

  3. I’m becoming hesitant to sign up again to be a catechist! I’m kind of tired of this 6 hours of catechist training that the diocese is requiring on an annual basis. I’m 59 years old…I spent Kindergarten through 12th grade being taught Catholicism by priests and nuns on a daily basis. I thought I could pass some of what I learned on to kids who were getting old enough to discuss and learn on a slightly higher level. I picked 7th graders. I could not honestly teach 8th graders because I could never sign off on any of them being ready for confirmation. I spend most of my time trying to teach things I learned in 3rd grade like praying the rosary. The kids don’t know how to behave in church…how to genuflect before going into and coming out of a pew. They don’t know the 3 essential parts of the Mass! Most of them don’t go to Mass and don’t know that missing Mass without a good reason is a Mortal Sin. I’m self employed and have a lot of demands placed upon me just to get along in this world. I thought teaching from the textbook, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Bible with insights I have gleaned from life and my Catholic upbringing (not to mention some guidance from the Holy Spirit) would be enough…but apparently it’s not. I don’t see why I need to be trained as a Catechist when the kids I get are lucky if they get the bare essentials of Catholicism by the time they exit my class. Cramming 6 years worth of Catholicism into maybe 30 hours of teaching time is nearly impossible. Training me to be a better Catechist will not allow these kids to learn how to pray a rosary or even learn the Our Father or Hail Mary any faster or better. It will not excite them to learn that there are both mortal and venial sins and that Reconciliation is one of the best ways to maintain your soul in the state of grace! The kids I get today in seventh grade know almost nothing of our Catholic Faith!!! I learned the Baltimore Catechism. It may not be as loving or touchy feely as the text books we’re given to teach out of now, but we learned the rules and teachings of the Church without a lot of emotional input. By the time we reached high school, we had a sound foundation on which to express our thoughts and ideas. As an adult, I can read the Catechism and the Bible and understand what is being said and what we should absorb from their teaching to be good Catholics and better Christians. I can listen to a sermon and understand what I’m supposed to learn from it without a lot of questions in my mind. The point is…I feel very badly for the kids today. I don’t believe the diocese and their parents are doing the kids any favors by not making certain demands upon the kid’s mental faculties when it comes to learning about their Catholic Faith. The parents, kids and diocese are seemingly going through the motions of producing good Catholic Christians, but it’s a sham. …and that is why I’m hesitant to sign up to be a Catechist again. I am only one teacher of a very few 7th graders. The other 7th graders that are not in my class play games and do skits but they learn very little Catholicism. I’m starting to believe that maybe it’s better that the less they know, the better off they’ll be. If they are kept unknowing like little children, can they really be held responsible for their sins? We were raised to be adults in the Catholic Faith. We know the 3 things that makes a mortal sin a mortal sin. We know that a mortal sin severs us from God…and to die in the state of mortal sin is a one way ticket to eternal damnation. (unless of course you can make a very good act of contrition at the moment of your death) The kids today don’t really know why Jesus had to die for our sins and many don’t even care. They have no foundation! …and no matter how much training I get, I will never be able to overcome the total loss of that foundation and the few kids that I can affect will unlikely ever be challenged to think about their faith as I have tried to teach them. If those skills are not kept alive in the eighth grade class or in any of their high school religious endeavors, they will be lost for all time. I do not have the emotional strength to care for all the kids that should be taught the Catholic Faith! I’m thinking the Holy Spirit will have to find someone who will better fit the current mold of catechist to replace me. Someone who will play the games and direct the skits.

    • Thanks Bob for your comment and for expressing your feelings at this juncture in your vocation as a catechist. I understand your frustration…it can be very difficult and challenging to get through to those we teach. Might I suggest teaching a younger grade? You’d be surprised how much kids in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade can assimilate and they are often much more open to it than 7th or 8th graders. It could very well be what you need to renew your enthusiasm for being a catechist. As for the requirements for ongoing formation, I am personally very much in favor of it as a way of challenging ourselves as catechists to grow in faith and deepen our relationship with the Lord as well as to sharpen our catechetical skills. That does not mean having to play games and direct skits, as you describe, but you can learn effective and exciting new ways of teaching our Church’s faith traditions such as the Rosary, mortal and venial sins, and the parts of the Mass. I encourage you to use this Lenten season to pray on what I am suggesting to you and to talk to your catechetical leader about the possibility of teaching a younger group. Maybe you can arrange an opportunity to sit in on a class of 4th, 5th, or 6th graders and see what it is like. My prayers are with you. Lenten blessings!

      • I’m really not interested in teaching 4th, 5th or 6th graders. I would prefer teaching High School Kids. 7th graders are just beginning to understand concepts of Pro Life over Pro Choice…Intelligent Design over Evolution…the politics of Poverty. I almost got in trouble for reading and explaining the Church’s Position on Abortion the first year I taught until I showed the head of our religious ed that what I read came straight out of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and then noted that the text book we were using wanted the kids to reflect on what the Church vs. Secular Society thinks about pro life and pro choice. One of the mothers got very upset that her daughter was exposed to this and that she was told that a baby’s heart starts beating 18 days after conception and that the Church teaches that God binds a soul to that little human being at the point of conception. It has been my goal to expose the kids to some of the real world concepts that they will be facing in their high school education before the Secularists get hold of them and corrupt their thinking in public school system. Parents don’t seem to want their children to know that certain actions are sinful…that there are both good and evil angels…that there is a Heaven and a Hell. They seem to want their children to believe that everyone goes to Heaven and that sin is relative…not absolute. If I had my real preference, I’d like to teach the parents!!! …and I’d like to teach some of the Catechists about what’s really in the Catechism! Out of all the Catechists, I’m the only one that has his own copy of the Catechism and brings it to class. I have multiiple bibles on my iPhone as well as the Catechism. I can search any topic in moments for my kids in class and any parent or Catechist that wants to know what the Church or the Bible states on almost any topic. I was (and still am) a trainer in my profession. I have been for over 35 years. Teaching is not something I’m afraid of. I have, however, come to realize that people do not want to hear that they are sinful by nature in this Catechist endeavor. Parents want their kids to get a rosy picture of the world. I stress to the kids that they are soon to enter their education for Confirmation. It is no longer stressed that they are becoming spiritual adults in the Catholic Faith and Soldiers of Christ! They do not understand that their lives need to become an evangelization of their Catholic Faith! …that through them, others might come to want to know Jesus through the wonder of His Bride…the Holy Catholic Church. This year I started with 19 kids and a Catechist’s aide. I’m down to 8 kids and no aide. Not because what I teach is wrong, but because the parents don’t want their kids nagging them to go to Mass on weekends or Holy Days. They don’t want to learn about the rosary and the promises of Mary made to those who pray it. The kids that do stay love my lectures…their parents love what they learn. No one has ever taught the kids about the Star of Bethlehem or the location of the Garden of Eden. Who was the first Angel Created!!! …and why he fell from grace!!! What place “Man” has in the Heart of God! How did God Create everything??? I give the kids logical reasons for following the Catechism…not just “do it because!” It’s important that the kids learn to reason and understand with their faith being the basis of getting through this life. That this life is not what is important and the salvation of their souls is paramount. I could teach so much better if Catechists in lower grades sent me kids that had some concept of why we are here and what our relationship with God should be. I shouldn’t have to teach kids to be quiet in church and how to genuflect by the 7th grade! I shouldn’t have to teach them that the Holy Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ! I shouldn’t have to teach them how to say a Hail Mary or an Our Father! I shouldn’t have to teach them how to go to Confession (oops…Reconciliation)! I shouldn’t have to teach them that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is physically present in the Blessed Sacrament within the Tabernacle! I should be teaching them the “hows and whys” of all these things so they can become more adult within the Catholic Faith and come to know and understand!!! They have yet to learn the basics of Faith by 7th grade. How can they be confirmed next year in 8th? I’m afraid my style of teaching would not be well received among 4th, 5th, or 6th graders and their parents. It’s just barely tolerated by some 7th graders and their parents (that most likely learned Catholicism much the way I did). My zeal is waning…and I’m afraid that it may not have a place within the catechist structure as it exists now. This is truly a shame in my view because there are fewer and fewer people like us out there. I have considered falling back on the Baltimore Catechism to supplement the curriculum, but that idea is not well received. I’m afraid that the world has changed and left me behind. I may be too old and set in my ways. (Not to mention being a zealot with a low tolerance for secularism.) I’m sure the Holy Spirit knows what He’s doing and that is my only comfort in this. …after all…the Lord, Himself, directed us to ‘be as little children.’ I may be as guilty as our first parents, having taken a bite of the forbidden fruit and for this I may just have to suffer the angst of my education.

        • Thanks, Bob, for once again sharing your thoughts. It is obvious from your comments that you are experiencing a great deal of frustration, if not bitterness. In your own words, your zeal is waning. That is not a good state of mind, heart, and spirit for a catechist. I encourage you to speak to your catechetical leader so that together you might discern whether or not continuing as a catechist is what God is calling you to do at this point in your life. May this Lenten season be an opportunity for you to pray on this issue and to find direction and clarity in your journey as a catechist.

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