How to become a religous education leader

Have you ever thought: I wonder if I would enjoy being a religious education leader? Spend a few minutes here and let us share with you some thoughts about the work of religious education.

Religious education is the work that you will love to hate.  We live in a culture that is filled with the noise of the marketplace. Some people are selling good things; others are selling horrible things but through the din and clatter of it all religious educators are trying to help people hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.

There is no higher calling than to share in the sacred responsibility to make Christ known and loved. Just look around — look in your local community, in our nation and in the world at large — are we not in serious need of the Price of Peace?

You will be overworked and given few practical resources for your trouble. You will probably be underpaid as well. However, if you have a vision of the banquet of heaven where Christ sits at the head of the table and enemies learn trust; if you have a vision where lions lie down with lambs and people find peace; if you have a vision that within each heart is a desire for God and you have a passion to help them discover that still point at their center — then this is the work for you.

There is a community of people who share this vision and labor to make the Gospel come alive.  We would love to have you join us and we pledge our support if you are ready to do something really important. 

Religious Education Leadership

Role of the Religious Education Leader

In its most specific sense, ministry is a service designated by the Church, given in the name of the Church and done to help the Church fulfill its mission. One of the primary duties of a Bishop is his responsibility to proclaim the Good News and to oversee catechetical formation (Canon 775). So significant is this responsibility that the universal Church offers this counsel, “Catechesis is so basic to the life of every particular Church, that ‘no diocese can be without its own catechetical office.’”
(General Directory for Catechesis, #267)

The responsibility for catechetical ministry is delegated by the Bishop to pastors of local parishes. Again, leadership in parish religious education ministry is noted as a primary responsibility of the pastor (Canon 776), and of the parish consultative bodies such as the Pastoral Council Education Commission/Board.  Frequently this leadership role is shared with those designated in the Diocese of Erie as religious education leaders.

Religious education leaders then, proclaim and teach the Word of God as understood by the Church, and are appointed to give direction to this ministry as a delegate of the pastor.

The Catholic Church’s commitment to education throughout history has been a vital force informing both citizens and disciples — persons whose faith shapes the economics, politics and family life of society.  In 1965 this commitment continued in parish life as directors of religious education (DREs) became integral members of pastoral staffs. During the thirty years since this significant development, DREs have become well-recognized figures on the landscape of the Catholic Church in the United States.

(DRE: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, p. 3)

The growing demands for educational and formational ministry by diverse groups in the parish require that religious education leaders be qualified to provide effective leadership. Excellence in religious education is most likely to happen when religious education leaders have the necessary competencies to provide knowledgeable and motivational leadership in all the areas that make up a complete religious education program.

These competencies are outlined in the National Certification Standards for Professional Parish Directors of Religious Education written by the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) and approved by the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) Commission on Certification and Accreditation (see bibliography). These competency standards for parish leaders exist so that

...catechetical ministry ... be understood in relation to Jesus’ threefold mission.  It is a form of the ministry of the word, which proclaims and teaches. It leads to and flows from the ministry of worship, which sanctifies through prayer and sacrament. It supports the ministry of service, which is linked to efforts to achieve social justice and has traditionally been expressed in spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
(National Catechetical Directory, #32)

While it is evident that size has a tremendous impact on how ministry functions in a parish, it ought have no bearing on the foundational need for capable leadership in religious education. Regardless of its size, the parish should seek one or more qualified persons to oversee the ministry of religious education. On the one hand, when a smaller parish cannot afford such leadership on its own, sharing a religious education leader with another parish is a reasonable solution. Conversely, when a parish’s catechetical programs grow larger in size and number, more than one leader with specific gifts may be needed.

Religious education leaders, regardless of the scope of their responsibilities or the size of the parish, must strive to approach this ministry of the Word in a professional and caring way.  Donald G. Emler, in his book Revisioning the DRE, states:

To be a parofessional is to raise the practice of religious education above uninformed hunches. A professional educator will not chase a new fad technique or program because it is popular. To be a professional  means that one can refer to theoretical principles and to relevant empirical research so as to adequately evaluate situations and ideas and be able to choose alternatives rather than blindly repeat previous actions.

Religious Education Leadership

Duties and Tasks of the Religious Education Leader

The primary task of the religious education leader is to faithfully proclaim Jesus who is the Christ and to pursue the mission of the church. Those serving in the ministry and profession of religious education leader share in a wide variety of duties to achieve this primary task. The following is a small but representative list:
  • Overall direction of the parish catechetical programs for adults, youth and children
  • Planning, implementation, and evaluation of the parish catechetical program
  • Recruitment, formation, on-going development and evaluation of catechists
  • Implementation of diocesan and parish catechetical policies and guidelines, including the areas of catechist certification and supervision and administrative policies related to negligence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and the safety and protection of minors
  • Collaboration with the pastor, other parish ministers, and appropriate committees, boards and councils
  • Assistance in liturgical planning
  • Attention to their own personal, spiritual and professional development
National Catechetical Directory, Section 54,B,5 (page 225)