I am happy to welcome Joe Paprocki, author of The Catechist’s Toolbox: How to Thrive As a Religious Education Teacher, as a guest at The Religion Teacher. Joe is celebrating the fifth anniversary of his very popular blog this week! Joe was an inspiration to me in starting The Religion Teacher three years ago, so I am proud to be a part of his celebration. Enjoy his tips on discipline and catechesis and what he calls “evangelizing discipline.”
One of the most challenging skills of being a catechist is maintaining discipline. We often come into this ministry with great enthusiasm and eagerness but can be blindsided by the fact that kids don’t necessarily share our enthusiasm for being there! It can be surprising, if not downright disillusioning, to encounter kids who show in a myriad of disruptive ways, that they’d rather be anywhere but in religious education class.
What’s a catechist to do?
First, we need to understand the role of discipline in the ministry of catechesis. Discipline is not an interruption of our work, it is part and parcel of what we have been called to do. Children and young people need to learn discipline as a necessary tool in their “survival kit” as followers of Jesus. Look at the words discipline and disciple! They come from the same Latin word – discere – which means “to learn or follow.” To be a disciple of Christ requires discipline. That’s why each year during the season of Lent we renew our commitment to our baptism by practicing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, known as the 3 disciplines! So embrace your call to bring discipline to your gatherings – as St. Paul said, “For God is not a God of confusion but of order.” (1Cor 14:33)
Second, don’t be afraid of firmly exerting your authority. As a catechist, you have been called and commissioned by the Church to proclaim the Gospel. You are assisting the bishop, the chief catechist of the diocese, who teaches with the authority of Christ. Likewise, you are an extension of the parents who are the primary catechists of their children. As such, you represent their authority as well. You have every right to be firm in enforcing discipline in your classes. You are not alone. . .you are backed up by some pretty strong authority!
Finally, being firm does not mean being mean. We can and should discipline in a Christian manner. I like to call this ‘evangelizing discipline.” In other words, when we need to address misbehavior, instead of merely barking at students to stop, be quiet, sit down, or shut their yappers, we can use the moment as an opportunity to explain WHY good behavior is needed by saying things like the following:
- “Jesus is trying to speak to you/us but it doesn’t appear to me that you’re listening.”
- “If it sounds like I’m upset it’s because I place a great deal of importance on following Jesus and I want you to do the same. It upsets me to see you act in a way that suggests you’re not interested.”
- “I’m not going to allow my time or the time of your peers to be wasted. I’m here out of love for Jesus and he’s reaching out to you right now. Don’t put an obstacle in his way.”
In other words, use these moments as an opportunity to profess faith in Jesus and to call them to do the same by behaving in a way that is appropriate of a disciple – a learner – of Christ.
In my book, The Catechist’s Toolbox: How to Thrive As a Religious Education Teacher, I go into much more depth about strategies for enforcing and maintaining discipline as a catechist. I’m also happy to provide you with this PDF that outlines “10 Tips for Maintaining Discipline.” My prayer is that you will find the courage and strength to help young people recognize the rewards that come from living as disciplined followers of Jesus Christ.
Blessings during this Advent season and always!
Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 25 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including the best-selling The Catechist’s Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith. Joe, who earned his master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University’s Institute of Pastoral Studies, received his doctor of ministry degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL. Joe serves as a catechist-at-large and blogs about the experience at Catechist’s Journey. He and his wife, Joanne, and their two grown children live in Evergreen Park, IL.