My beginnings in initiation ministry had two phases. I went to school to learn about liturgy, and my first parish job included planning and coordinating the rites for the catechumenate. I felt pretty confident about that role.
Many years later, I moved to California for a non-parish job. I volunteered for to help out on the RCIA team at my new parish, and I thought I would again focus mainly on the liturgies. But through some unexpected circumstances, I wound up coordinating the team. And most of my focus was not on liturgy but on formation.
I had no experience or training for that. And I had very little confidence in my ability. But there was no one else who was willing or who had any training at all.
When Diana and I talk with RCIA team members, we often encounter folks who feel that way. They aren’t doing quite the role they imagined when they signed up, and they don’t feel very confident they are doing a good job with the role they wound up with. That’s why from the very beginning of TeamRCIA, we have focused on confidence as a core value.
The truth is, if we are going to be missionary disciples, we will always be in new and unfamiliar circumstances that we aren’t quite prepared for. When Pope Francis urges us to go to the peripheries, he is not suggesting we go to our comfort zone where we know the routine and don’t have to work very hard.
The peripheries are the place of the unknown. It’s the place we haven’t been before. We won’t know right away what we are supposed to do when we get there or how to accomplish the mission.
There are dozens and dozens of examples of confidence-shaking periphery trials in the gospels. One of the most terrifying is Jesus’s agony in the garden. My fear about being able to lead a catechumenate team and provide conversion-based formation for the seekers was nothing close to Jesus’s struggle. But his ability to follow God’s will, even though his confidence wavered, is an example of how we can all do the same.
Jesus went to the garden to pray. He knew that prayer was the only thing that was going to get him through the trials to come. All of us involved in initiation ministry should have a regular, daily practice of prayer. When times are tough, or hectic, or busy, or chaotic, we are tempted to skip prayer because we don’t have time. It is in those times when we need to pray even more.
Another way to boost your confidence is to build your skills. When I got started, there wasn’t a lot available to help initiation team members learn how to do their ministry. But now, there are plenty of resources. The reason we started TeamRCIA was exactly to provide free, accessible training resources to catechumenate teams. If you haven’t already, spend some time looking around and learning about your role. This is a good place to start: https://teamrcia.com/about/eight-easy-ways-to-explore-teamrcia/
I really, really hate making mistakes. When I make a big mistake, I feel like I failed. And when I started out on the formation side of initiation ministry, I made a lot of big mistakes. But the weird thing is, I learned more from those mistakes than I did from any of the books I read about catechesis and formation. We are all going to fail. The way to use failure to build confidence is to always see every mistake as a learning opportunity. If you learn from your mistakes and get better because of it, consider your missteps as tuition for the learning experience.
An excellent way to solidify your skills and build your confidence is to teach others to do what you do. If you can teach a new team member how to form disciples, they will think you are an expert in this stuff. And eventually, you will start to see yourself that way too. You don’t have to make a name badge that says “expert” or throw your knowledge around just to impress people. But if you have a quiet confidence that you really have learned how to do this ministry well, you will become a mentor and guide to others on the team.
Believing in yourself
For me, this is really about believing in God. When my confidence is really shaky, I have to remind myself that God led me here. God gave me the skills I have, and that will have to be enough. I didn’t get the skills that some other person got, who would be much better than me. I got these skills. My skills. My gifts from the Holy Spirit. If I have faith that God knows what I need, I can believe in myself.
If you have answered God’s call and you have been led to unknown peripheries, you can be confident that you can fulfill the mission you have been given. Pray, work on your skills, lean from your mistakes, teach others how to do what you do, and believe in yourself. You will be amazed at how much you accomplish.
What has been the most helpful way for you to grow in confidence in your RCIA ministry? How can you encourage others to grow in theirs? Share your thoughts in the comments below.