In this installment of our summer series, Preparing Hearts and Minds: 9 Simple Ways for Catechists to Cultivate a Living Faith, we look at strategy #7, aiming for the heart.
Strategy #7: Aim for the Heart!
In his research about why some things “go viral” on social media, author Jonah Berger discovered that one of the main reasons is that the item provokes emotion, whether good or bad. Think about it: if you had a nickel for each post you’ve seen about a cute kitten, you’d be rich! People share things that make others smile or reach for a tissue. By the same token, negative emotions can result in sharing, such as when a news item about an injustice provokes outrage and calls people to action. The bottom line is that emotions play a key role in choices and decisions that people make in all areas of their lives. Aware of this reality, marketers often tap into emotions in their advertising.
One of the reasons that our faith formation efforts are struggling is they too often ignore emotion and remain at the cerebral or intellectual level where the soil is too often compacted by ideas, beliefs, and ideologies that have deep roots and leave little room for future growth. My friend, author Julianne Stanz (Start with Jesus), is fond of reminding all of us in faith formation of an old Irish proverb that says, “An arrow aimed at the head will never pierce the heart.” In order to entice people to consider following Jesus, we need to invite them to experience conversion, which is the letting go of old ways—something that is hastened by emotions. Conversion and repentance involve both the mind and the heart. (Faith formation that touches the heart but ignores the head is equally ineffective.) In Scripture, we are told to “put on the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) but we are also told to “rend [our] hearts” (Joel 2:13) and to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).
For our faith formation to touch the heart, it needs to be much more than indoctrination. Teaching doctrine can only be successful if the soil has been tilled, and the best way to loosen the compacted soil of people’s hearts is to touch them through emotion. We need to invite those we teach to experience the joy of discipleship while also deepening their capacity for empathy with those in need. I suggest the following ways that we can and should touch the hearts of those we teach and till the soil of their being.
- Tell personal stories.
- Use videos to share stories that touch the heart.
- Make quality eye contact with participants when speaking.
- Incorporate you-focused language.
- Use names when addressing participants.
- Make cultural and ethnic connections.
- Make connections to pop culture.
- Connect participants with one another.
- Incorporate music and singing.
- Engage learners in works of mercy that involve direct contact with others.
- Create a sense of the sacred and profound by incorporating sacramentality.
- Engage participants in meaningful experiences of prayer.
If faith formation were simply an intellectual exercise, we could simply provide every participant with a book or a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, have them read and study it, and then give an exam. That’s not how disciples are made, however. Faith formation is not the collection of information but the embarking on a new way of being human. Such a quest requires flesh-and-blood catechists like you to till the soil by touching the hearts of those you teach and making them more receptive to the Word of God!
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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.