When first approached with the invitation to become a catechist, many people respond with a variation on the same theme: “But I’ve never done that! I don’t know how to teach, and I don’t know enough about my religion to teach it.” Veteran catechists will tell you that although formal training is undoubtedly helpful, some of the most important lessons a catechist needs to know come from personal experience.
Children look to adults for guidance and structure.
Establish your role early as the resident adult in matters of discipline and organization. While it’s tempting to want to be their friend, the children need you to be their guide.
Know the content by heart.
You don’t have to be a trained theologian to be a catechist, but it is necessary for you to be familiar with the content you will cover and to take it to heart prior to presenting it. It’s best if you can discuss the content with another catechist or supportive believer, sharing your understanding and your faith before presenting the content to the children.
Actions speak louder than words.
The way you treat the children will make a greater impression on them than any session you lead. Respect, kindness, fairness, compassion, and forgiveness will reinforce the Christian message. Harshness and rigidity will undercut the gospel you present.
We learn in a variety of ways.
Catechesis includes a wide variety of information that children should become familiar with. As Catholic Christians, we learn about our faith in more ways than one—through story, symbol, ritual, song, prayer, and service. Be sure to include a variety of approaches when presenting the content.
Exercise children’s religious imagination.
Children are naturally religious in their inclinations. They seldom have any trouble with hoping, dreaming, and imagining every possibility under heaven. Allow some elbow room for creative thinking as you draw them toward the ideas you want to present.
Don’t just tell them—show them.
A valuable aspect of religious formation that the Church has reclaimed in the last generation or so is the irreplaceable dimension of faith sharing. Catechists have the opportunity not only of presenting the fundamentals of the faith but also of sharing the importance of it in their own lives. “Faith is not taught, but caught,” as catechists say. Reflect on whose faith your own spiritual life is modeled after.
Make their time a positive experience.
You stand before these children as a representative of the Church. Their impressions of their time spent with you will become part of their understanding of what the Church is all about. If they remember this time as enlivening, exciting, and purposeful, they will associate that experience with what a life of faith entails. So get in touch with the excitement of your own faith and let that excitement shine forth in every session you lead.