Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell

The Facts:

  • Only 30% of Americans who were raised Catholic are still “practicing” – meaning they attend Mass at least once a month. Only 15% are at Mass on a given weekend.
  • Nearly 4 times as many adults have left the Catholic Church as have entered the Church.
  • Adult converts received into the Church dropped over 35% between 2000 and 2009.
  • 71% of Catholics who become Protestant say their strongest reason for doing so was “that my spiritual needs were not being met.”
  • 79% left Catholicism to become “unaffiliated” by age 23.
  • The number of marriages celebrated in the Church decreased dramatically, by nearly 60%, between 1972 and 2010, while the U.S. Catholic population increased by almost 17 million.
  • 90% of Hispanic converts to evangelicalism say they were seeking a more direct, personal relationship with God.
  • 30% of self-identified Catholics believe in an impersonal God.

Results of these facts:

  • We can no longer depend upon rites of passage or cultural, peer, or familial pressure to bring back the majority.
  • In the 21st century, cultural Catholicism is dead as a retention strategy, because God has no grandchildren. We need to foster intentional Catholicism rather than cultural Catholicism.
  • We live in a time of immense challenge and immense opportunity. Millions of American adults are seeking a religious identity and are at least potentially open to the Catholic faith.

The Catholic Spiritual Journey:

  1. To be a conscious (intentional) disciple of Jesus Christ.
  2. To be a fully integrated Catholic (reception of sacraments of initiation).
  3. To be an active parishioner.

–> The issue is that many Catholics think one needn’t ask about the first journey if the second and third journeys are in place.

–> The Culture of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – Catholics have come to regard it as normal to not talk about the first journey. It is shocking how many Catholics don’t even know that this personal, interior journey exists.

It’s All About Jesus:

  • Discipleship begins with accepting the kerygma – the preaching and proclamation of the basic outline of the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more.” – Pope Benedict XVI

If you don’t know Jesus in a personal way, how can you introduce him to your people?

  • Our own personal story can help illuminate the story of Jesus, but it cannot take the place of Jesus’ story.

Priest’s role of pastoral governance: 

Governance is one of the 3 tasks of the ministerial priesthood: teaching, sanctifying, and governing. Pastoral governance – the expression of the priest’s royal office shared with Christ – is incredibly neglected.

What if a pastor intentionally focused on this aspect of the priesthood; how would parishioners respond if they were challenged to consciously discern their gifts and call (and given help to do so), and then intentionally supported by the parish in living that call?

The 5 Thresholds of Conversion

1. Initial trust: Someone makes a positive association with Jesus, the Church, or a Christian believer.

  • First task of evangelization is to find out if a bridge of trust already exists. If not, we need to help build that bridge.

2. Spiritual curiosity: A person is intrigued by or desiring to know more about Jesus, his life, his teachings or some aspect of the Christian faith.

  • To arouse curiosity about Jesus Christ, we have to talk about JesusWhenever we treat Jesus as a “topic” within the faith instead of as Lord, Head, Bridegroom, Savior, the central Truth of our faith, we profoundly distort the faith.
  • Those who don’t believe in a personal God and the possibility of a relationship with that God will never be able to move beyond the threshold of curiosity.
  • We must tread lightly here.
    • Match your response to your friend’s level of curiosity.
  • Engage in listening evangelism – simply invite an individual to talk about their relationship with God – listen prayerfully. Do not correct their ideas. This is the best approach – just ask questions, not answer them!
    • Examples: Can you describe your relationship with God to this point in your life? Have you ever believed in God? If so, why did you stop?  What gives meaning to your life?
  • Our own lives must spark curiosity.

3. Spiritual openness: A person acknowledges to himself or herself and to God that he or she is open to the possibility of personal and spiritual change.

  • One of the hardest transitions to make because you acknowledge that you’re open to change.
  • Resist the urge to pressure them beyond what they are prepared to do right then – patience is vital, alongside serious enduring prayerful intercession.
    • Have they experienced a major life event? Openness to change is often triggered by a major life event.
  • Share with them your struggles and blessings in the faith, ask thought-provoking questions, ask them if you can pray for them and encourage them to ask God for a sign.

4. Spiritual seeking: The person moves from being essentially passive to actively seeking to know the God who is calling him or her.

  • Seeking is like dating with a purpose, but not yet marriage.
  • Seeking is centred on the possibility of committing oneself to follow Jesus as his disciple. Sustained intercessory prayer is crucial for a seeker because of the spiritual warfare that will emerge in their lives.

5. Intentional discipleship: This is the decision to ‘drop one’s nets.’ To make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one’s life accordingly.

Points to Remember about the 5 Thresholds of Conversion:

– We are not in control of this process. We can help or hinder another’s journey, but true conversion and faith are the works of the Holy Spirit.

– Evangelization isn’t about us. It is about Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, seeking the lost sheep through us. When we forget that, we can alienate and even lose those whom God has called us to bring to Jesus.

Fr. Robert Barron on Forming Intentional Disciples:

Ralph Martin interview with Sherry Weddell:

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