“Greetings. I coordinate the RCIA process for our parish, and I am kind of new to this. Our pastor asked me to take on this role, and I’m learning as I go. Can you give me some direction on what I should be doing?”
We get some version of that question about once or twice a month here at TeamRCIA. Whether you are brand new or a 20-year (or longer) veteran, most RCIA team leaders have core questions about what they should be doing.
And it’s the wrong question. Or at least, it is the wrong first question. The first question is why. Why do we have a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults? Why do we have a faith formation process? Why am I involved in this work? If we are not working from the correct why, we cannot ask about what we should be doing. Or rather, the answer to what we should be doing will be irrelevant and sometimes harmful to our mission.
Work from the right ‘why’
Our why in RCIA ministry is that all the baptized are commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples. Specifically, Pope Francis teaches:
On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” (Joy of the Gospel, 164)
Our why is that we do this ministry so that those without love, without hope, without light will discover that a life in Christ will save them from despair and free them from meaninglessness. Pope John Paul II taught:
The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ. (On Catechesis in Our Time, 5)
The two popes place this making-disciples task specifically under the role of the catechist. In other places, they will also say that making disciples is the job of all of the baptized. And it is the role of the entire RCIA team. But catechists have a specialized role in this mission. For the true catechist, the mission of making disciples is not just a job or a task. It is a way of life. It is a vocation.
Too often, the mission stalls because we ask people to volunteer to be catechists. We ask them to take an hour or two out of their busy lives and show up to teach a class to the catechumens and candidates in our RCIA process. If you are the RCIA coordinator, a lot of your time is probably taken up with trying to find enough volunteers to cover all the teaching slots. And when you ask for help, you either hear that the potential volunteer doesn’t know enough or has too many other things on his or her plate.
Pope Francis writes:
The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue. (Joy of the Gospel, 82)
Ironically, the more time you spend trying to find “catechists,” and the more volunteers you convince to cover all your teaching slots, the more difficult it is to accomplish the mission. The catechumens and candidates sit through a parade of volunteers who read to them or show them slides or videos on a dizzying array of topics. The seekers mistakenly begin to think that Catholicism is all about knowing a lot of theology.
Find Catechists that teach like Jesus
Maybe your RCIA team is one of the lucky ones, however. You have that one catechist who seems to effortlessly connect with the seekers every time. She can get them to share things about their lives and their faith struggles that no one else seems able to. She’s not an especially good “teacher” in a technical sense. She ignores the lesson plan half the time, which secretly drives you a little crazy. But she’s an amazingly good teacher in the way Jesus was a teacher. She tells stories, makes connections, knows when to push and when to pull back, knows when to be quiet and when to ask just the right question.
You wish you had a dozen like her.
But you don’t. Parishes are lucky if they have one person like that. Because being a catechist is a vocation. It is not a job. It’s not something you do in your spare time. It’s not something you volunteer for.
Many RCIA teams haven’t yet found that true teach-like-Jesus catechist. However, I believe the Holy Spirit sends us the gifts we need for the mission we’ve been given. If you don’t have a true teach-like-Jesus catechist on your team, you may have your why a little confused. Why we do this ministry is so that we can put seekers in touch — in communion and intimacy — with Jesus Christ. We do not do this ministry in order to teach 20 lessons from a theology text.
So what should we be doing in RCIA? We should be leading seekers to life-changing decisions to live as disciples of Jesus. That’s everyone’s job, but it is the special vocation of the catechist. True catechists are rare in the way that gifted artists are rare. If you start looking for someone who can lead seekers to communion and intimacy with Jesus, you’ll find your true teach-like-Jesus catechist. You will probably only find one or two such folks, but that will be enough.
Share your story
How do you communicate your ‘why’ for RCIA ministry to your parish? How have you found ideal Catechists for your team? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash
3 thoughts on “The Secret to Leading RCIA Catechesis”
I like this article I am going to send it to each of my Catechists. I continually stress that it is not what we teach them but how. We want to turn them on to Jesus and no amount of “thesis” is going to do that. We have to share from our hearts why we do what we do and how we love Jesus. First thing – we love Jesus because he first loved us.
Great Article I am a meet you where you are at Catechist for RCIA. Every candidate or catechumen comes to us with a story. We need to remember to honor their story, meet them where they are at in their lives and encourage them on their journey to a deeper relationship with God. Every person I have had the pleasure of “working” with has this same attitude. Love, patience and witness draws people closer to Jesus.
Found this very helpful. It is hard to sometimes get a conversation going. Some days are easier then the next. When we break open scripture on Sunday, that has really simulated conversation. They love hearing the gospel stories.