Book Review: Christ in the Classroom

Jared Dees’ new book, Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind, beings with a simple premise: long lectures, busywork, and the “read and review” model of religious education are failing to pass on the faith in a meaningful way.

Dees advocates a different approach, beginning with the actual goal of catechesis. While much of modern religious education seeks to transmit theological information, Dees (citing Matthew 28) puts the focus squarely on “making disciples,” a very different task.

To facilitate this goal, Dees utilizes the steps of lectio divina — lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio — and adepts them to catechetical lesson planning. In preparing each lesson catechists are encouraged to lead students towards an encounter with Jesus through a multifaceted learning approach:

  1. Learn: What does this teaching mean?
  2. Meditate: What is Christ saying to me?
  3. Pray: What can I say to Christ in response?
  4. Contemplate: What conversion of mind, heart, and life is Christ asking of me?
  5. Act: How will I make my life a gift for others?

The main body of the book is guidance for each of these steps, with specific strategies and lesson ideas outlined. For instance, the contemplatio step suggests using the Jesus Prayer, icons, and Eucharistic Adoration, and music to help students experience a conversion of heart connected to the subject of the lesson.

Jared Dees continues to be one of the most innovative and practical catechetical leaders working today and, like his previous books, Christ in the Classroom is a treasury of advice for new and veteran religion teachers. I highly recommend it for catechists, religion teachers, and catechetical leaders.

NB: I received a free review copy of this book from Ave Maria Press.

Five Books for 2014


For whatever reason we seem to be a golden age of books on Catholic evangelization and catechesis. Every month sees more books being published on these subjects, many of them highly recommendable. It can be hard to keep up with them all!

With that in mind I am continuing a tradition I began some years back and recommending some of the best books I read in the past year.

  • Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran (2013) – I’ve been recommending this book as a great follow-up to Forming Intentional Disciples — not so much for the decisions this parish made in changing the way they organize and live their communal life (some of which I don’t agree with) but because of the questions they asked that brought them to those decisions. Anyone trying to revitalize parish life would do well to reflect on the experience of this parish.
  • Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: Catechiesis That Not Only Informs but Also Transforms by Joe Paprocki (2013) – I have yet to read a book by Joe and consider it time wasted, and this slim volume — a follow up to his rightly loved The Catechist’s Toolbox — offers a clear vision for making catechesis “more like Mass than class.”
  • Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church by George Weigel (2013) – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up Weigel’s latest book, but I certainly wasn’t expecting both a cogent and thoughtful history of the New Evangelization and recommendations for reforming Church structures for an increase in the missionary activity of the Church. This one-two punch is a must-read for Church leaders planning for the next 40 years.
  • Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat (2012) – Douthat is one of the best Catholic commentators in America today, and this study of the ways in which religious practice has been subverted and made to serve philosophies alien to traditional Christianity puts in stark terms the culture we are living in today.
  • 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator by Jared Dees (2013) – Another deceptively small book with big ideas. Digestible in a month’s time, any catechist who takes Jared’s words to heart can’t help but become a more engaging and evangelizing religious educator.

What books did you read last year that have made an impact on your life or ministry?

The Call to Be Catechists and Evangelizers (Guest post by Jared Dees)

If I had to pick one word to describe Jared Dees it would be indefatigable. Besides working for Ave Maria Press, writing for multiple blogs, completing a master’s degree this past year, traveling to various conferences around the country, and taking care of his growing domestic church, he’s also written a new book called 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator. The profusion of his writing is matched only by its quality and I’m happy to host his guest post today.

One of my favorite things about Jonathan’s blog is his discussions about the relationship with catechesis and evangelization. I think he would agree that during this Year of Faith we have seen so much progress in the realization that you can’t have one without the other. We can’t do catechesis without evangelization. We can’t be catechists without being evangelizers.

phonecallThe question is, how does this affect the way we think about the call of religious educators to teach the faith? For many of us, the new reframing of our role as not only catechists but evangelizers, requires some thought about the way we think of ourselves as teachers and the way we form catechists and catechetical leaders.

The Call to Be Catechists

We have many, many good willing volunteers in our parish religious education programs in the United States and around the world. They are dedicated individuals sacrificing their evenings for class sessions as well as the time it takes to prepare each lesson. These men and women, whether they realize it or not, have been called to the classroom. God is the one reaching out to them inspiring them to be teachers and leaders.

The details of that call seem pretty simple, right? You get your textbook and a classroom assignment. You show up each week and teach a lesson. The kids learn about their faith and move on to the next grade after you’ve finished. Hopefully you’re able to make a lasting impact on them before they go.

The Call to Be Evangelists & Witnesses

Yet in today’s Church, we need something a little more from catechists. We need witnesses.

We’re in the midst of what popes are calling the “new evangelization,” which means we must not only go out to the world where Christ is unknown but evangelize people in areas of the world where Christ is already known. In particular, we must evangelize those who’ve already been catechized!

Let’s turn to the words of Blessed John Paul II:

“But in catechetical practice . . . the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain mnumber of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit . . .

This means that “catechesis” must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith.” (Catechesi Tradendae, 19)

What does this mean for the call of catechists and religion teachers? Pope Paul VI said it best:

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)

In this age of the new evangelization, we must become witnesses more than teachers. We must train and inspire our catechists to be witnesses to the faith not just teachers of a textbook.

How does this shift in vocation play out among catechists? Consider the following:

  • Religious educators must live the faith daily by personally connecting with Christ through prayer, spiritual reading, and the virtuous life.
  • Religious educators must think of themselves as disciples first before thinking of themselves as teachers.
  • Religious educators must be willing to share their personal faith story.
  • Religious educators must be willing to share the Gospel story in compelling ways.
  • Religious educators must be open to constant conversion, following the prompting of Holy Spirit in each moment of their lives.

Most of all, as religious educators (catechists, religion teachers, catechetical leaders), we must remember that our vocation is always to love Christ and with the help of his grace, share that love with his children.

We’re never alone. We never succeed through our own efforts. We always have the help of Holy Spirit who leads us and speaks on our behalf.

Let’s go make disciples of Christ rather than students of us!

Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher, a popular website dedicated to sharing practical resources and teaching strategies for religious educators. He is the author of the new book, 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator, which guides religion teachers and catechists through thirty-one exercises and meditations to help them live out their calling to catechize and evangelize God’s children.

Episode 007 – The Twitter Gang

007Episode 007 is on the air! This month we feature a roundtable of catechists on Twitter:

We discussed four articles that have made the rounds on Twitter in the past few months:

Do you have something to say about one of the articles? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think!

Click to Play – 007 – The Twitter Gang