As we continue our summer series, Preparing Hearts and Minds: 9 Simple Ways for Catechists to Cultivate a Living Faith (based on my new book of the same name), we explore establishing a climate of trust.
Strategy #2: Introduce Jesus as someone you can trust.
Advertisements seek to gain your trust. The goal is to convince you that your money will be well-spent on whatever product or service is being sold. In a similar way, as we invite people to consider embracing the Gospel, we need to convince them that this invitation comes from a trusted source: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and that investing in him is a wise decision.
Many experts in leadership emphasize that one of the first priorities of an effective leader is to establish a climate of trust. This is especially crucial in a faith formation or spiritual environment where people are being invited to entrust their entire being to the Person of Jesus Christ and his Church. And, let’s face it, people today are not eager to trust the Church in the wake of scandals that seriously breached that trust. In order for us to re-establish that trust, we need to be credible, reliable, approachable, and other-focused. Here are some specific skills and strategies for establishing a climate of trust in faith formation that will enable participants to feel safe and secure in a group setting.
- Clarify expected behaviors for all (including yourself). Trust is built when participants know what behaviors are encouraged and what behaviors are unacceptable. They should even be invited to construct this list or at least add to it. Participants can also benefit from hearing you, as the leader or facilitator of the group, identify which behaviors are required of you in order to ensure a safe environment.
- Consistently confront violations of such behaviors and affirm adherence. Trust is built when participants see that the aforementioned codes of conduct are enforced and that there are consequences or repercussions for violations of such codes of conduct.
- Encourage and protect expression. Trust is built when participants feel free to express themselves and know that, when they do, they will be respected, and their contributions will be appreciated.
- Encourage and embrace candor. Trust is built when participants are allowed the freedom to grapple with concepts being presented and to respectfully express their disagreement with impunity.
- Encourage risk-taking, and do not fear failure. Trust is built when participants know that they can use their unique gifts and talents to try new things and not fear repercussions simply for trying.
- Incorporate cooperative learning opportunities. Trust is built when participants interact with one another in order to build trust in the group, not just between them and you, but among one another.
- Share responsibility. Trust is built when participants (especially older children, youth, and adults) enjoy a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the direction of the group.
- Show compassion and empathy. Trust is built when participants know that you truly care about them and understand them.
- Celebrate diversity. Trust is built when participants know that their unique talents, gifts, characteristics, and identity are welcome and that they are not simply expected to conform or to perform tasks.
- Generously affirm. Trust is built when participants know that they and their contributions are held in esteem and are appreciated.
- Admit your own mistakes, shortcomings, and limitations. Trust is built when participants recognize your transparency and honesty, which, in turn, encourages them to be transparent.
- Be available. Trust is built when participants know that you are approachable and that they can confide in you.
- Respect and observe boundaries. While boundaries sound like something negative—a way of shutting others out—they are actually quite positive: a means of protecting that which is sacred. In the Old Testament, we learn that the Temple in Jerusalem—the focal point of God’s sacred presence among his people—had various boundaries that separated Gentiles, Jewish women, Jewish men, and the priests from the Ark of the Covenant, which “contained” God’s sacred presence. In the New Testament, Jesus replaced that Temple with the temple of his own body, and St. Paul taught that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we are called to respect the sacredness of ourselves and one another. One of the ways we do this is by observing physical, emotional, and behavioral boundaries.
Doing the work of establishing trust is not an interruption in our evangelizing and catechizing efforts; it is a prerequisite to meaningful accompaniment and a crucial step in tilling the soil of people’s hearts and minds in order to cultivate a living faith.
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Be sure to check out my new book, Preparing Hearts and Minds: 9 Simple Ways for Catechists to Cultivate a Living Faith.