Tag Archives: discipleship

The Church and Discipleship

I came across this video earlier this week. Obviously, it comes from a Protestant context (so their concept of worship is not ours), but essentially, it is saying exactly the same thing that we Catholics have been hearing time and time again recently. Here are just a couple of examples from Evangelii Gaudium (that we by now know pretty well):

I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. (EV, 27)

We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented. (EV, 28)

However, this video raises some questions for me. The experience of a typical English parish is precisely not an overload of programmes or events. If only! From my experience of average parishes, you’d be lucky to turn up on a given evening and find anything going on. (Recently, I heard of a man (not a Catholic) who contacted the local parish of a town he was staying in overnight with business. He wanted to know if there was a prayer meeting, or something else he could attend in the church that evening. The response he received from the parish secretary? “Sorry, nothing’s going on.” How sad! What a missed opportunity.)

It only makes sense to send out disciples to evangelise. After all, “A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody” (EV, 266).

So the call of this video (and to some extent, Pope Francis’s call, too) seems only to make sense to a parish community which already has disciples –  which provides formation, has a sense of purpose and mission among even a small percentage of its parishioners.

Earlier in the week, a post from an evangelical Christian friend of mine appeared on my newsfeed. He spoke about how his church has grown over the last two years: they have built a community projects building which houses projects such as a food bank, money advice, child bereavement support, and youth and children’s ministry. He finished by saying how his church is reaching 600 members on a Sunday. 600! This is what they have achieved with up to 600 disciples. Sadly, how many Catholic parishes of 1000+ parishioners could claim anything like this?

The reality of most parishes is that we’re at ground-zero, and you’d be fortunate to find your church even open during the day, let alone to stumble across a core group of disciples. It’s not possible to send out Mass-going Catholics who are not disciples to proclaim the Gospel. What will they be calling people to? To be a part of a cultural ‘club’, rather than a life-giving relationship with Jesus? Unless we are disciples “in love” with the Lord, we will evangelise no one.

My response to this video, then, is that, for a first step at least, there’s a need to concentrate on programmes and events, of awakening within the baptised their call to holiness and evangelisation, before it is possible for people to be sent, to “go out”.

 

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“Where next?”

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It often happens that you get to the end of a really fruitful programme/course/series in your parish, and people start to ask, “What’s happening next?” “We want to continue, this has been the experience of something new!” If your parish has a strategy for adult formation, then the answer is easy, because perhaps you have a number of options lined up for people who have just dipped their toes in.

But, the reality is, there are few parishes out there with a strategy for adult formation. If only!

And yet, the time at the end of a course that has awakened people’s faith, ignited their enthusiasm, and formed community, is absolutely crucial. All these little ‘sparks’ of faith and enthusiasm have been lit, and we now need to take responsibility to ‘fan’ them into stronger flames, help conversions deepen, mature, and equip people to start reaching out to others.

Firstly, if there is any chance at all of forming a small team of intentional disciples to look at adult formation, if your priest is keen, and together you can draw up a strategy, I think this is ideal. This way, a team can look at the general demographic of the parish in the light of “intentional discipleship” – what do people need? Which ‘thresholds’ are people stuck on? Which particular groups of people do we need to reach out to? There is never a single answer to address everyone’s needs, which is why I think parishes that offer lots of different formation alternatives, at different levels, are the most successful.

Secondly, if there is no possibility of such a strategic approach – perhaps your priest is not really on board, or perhaps it seems you are the sole intentional disciple in your parish! – you can still ask some of the questions above, only on a smaller scale. Above all, pray. Learning how to discern the next steps is essential, and this means frequent prayer to the Holy Spirit to show us the way. We might want to ask ourselves: Which is more urgent – deeper formation for those already committed, or primary evangelisation of the Mass-on-Sunday-Catholics? Perhaps the former needs to happen first, in order to gather a team for the latter? Prayer must underpin our efforts – especially if we are few in number, and especially if we have lots of different ideas – so that the Holy Spirit may lead us to invest our efforts where God wills – and this will be different from parish to parish.

It’s important to remember, too, that the evangelisation and formation of our parish is a matter of pastoral governance, which means that our priest needs to be at the heart of it – he’s the spiritual father of this community. So, while we are free as a bird when it comes to evangelising our friends (in fact, it’s a duty of our Baptism), when it comes to the parish, we need the priest at the centre (even though he’s not the one doing everything – and he shouldn’t be). Maybe in some cases the very first place we need to start is in praying for our priest…

Finally, nearly two years ago, I wrote this post on leadership after being at the HTB Leadership Conference and being blown away (excited to be going again in May!). (There is nothing like a bit of evangelical Christian passion and vision to blow away the negativity and blame-game-approach we often experience in the Church (sorry… but it’s true)!) One of the main points I took away was that you do not need a position to lead. Often we wait for someone to ask us to do something. But if you see something that needs to be done, and you have a passion for it, just go ahead and do it! That was two years ago and it’s still with me…


Three Journeys

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I’m re-reading Forming Intentional Disciples, people… Yes, in fact, I think I could read it three or four times. You might want to revisit with me some of the key points, because often we can read something, think how wonderful/true/insightful that is, and then promptly forget about it. In this instance, the concept that has struck me is the idea that discipleship involves three distinct journeys, which should happen together, but often are treated separately. Just to remind you (from p. 54):

  •  The personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship;

  • The ecclesial journey into the Church through reception of the sacraments of initiation;

  • The journey of active practice (as evidenced by receiving the sacraments, attending Mass, and participating in the life and mission of the Christian community).

The interactions of these three journeys play out in many ways. We all know swathes of Catholics who have completed the middle (sacramental) journey without the first or the third becoming a reality. Perhaps they are even lapsed. We might even know many who are well-advanced in the second and third journeys – they bake cakes for the fundraising event, take their children to and even teach on sacramental programmes, and sit on various parish committees.

But if the evidence of the book is correct and only 5% of parishioners are “intentional disciples”, this means that a staggeringly large percentage (95%?) are ‘stuck’ in this third journey. Perhaps they enjoy the community of their church, perhaps they appreciate the liturgy, perhaps they are keen for their children to be brought up in the faith. But they have not experienced the life-giving and transformative power of a personal, intimate, daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

Which is what it’s all about!

Let’s be clear that this is the main reason of existence for our parishes. We can draw people in to sing in the choir, be on a buildings committee, help with a First Communion programme. But unless these are the first steps into a living relationship with Jesus, we seem to be missing the point.

What do you think? In your experience, how do you see the interactions of these three journeys in your own parish life? 


Happy New … Evangelisation

A Happy New Year, 2014, to all my readers!

Occasionally, I hear someone speak – in a homily or a talk – about evangelising, and I get the feeling that all my efforts at evangelising up to now have been pitiful, but that, starting NOW, things are going to be different. These are people I know who have such a charism for evangelisation that every taxi ride or hair appointment or chance encounter becomes an evangelising moment. People who are not only in love with Jesus but who are also so forgetful of self and so focussed on the other in front of them that they will engage and attract them. We’re all called to be evangelists by our Baptism. It comes more naturally to some people, though. So we need to learn from them…

Right now, we have a Pope who is certainly one of these Christians. Pope Francis embodies evangelisation, as we have seen over the last few months, and Evangelii Gaudium is bursting with priceless wisdom we can learn from. He coaxes us out of our comfort zones, away from from the “idols” we have made for ourselves – personal space, self-imposed limitations – and invites us to discover the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelising” (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80). He calls us to leave our “security on the shore” and to receive new life precisely by giving it away.

If we are not challenged by this, either we are not letting it penetrate our hearts, or we have fallen into the trap of thinking that it is not written for us.

These words are so challenging because not one of us can deny that we surround ourselves with certain comforts and securities. We will give a certain amount when it comes to evangelisation – but this is our limit, we can’t give any more beyond this.

Pope Francis’s direct, no-excuses approach to evangelisation is precisely needed now for us in the Church in the West because the situation has got way beyond the point where we could pretend everything is well and good in the Church. If we as faithful Catholics don’t have a sense of urgency regarding souls, something is definitely wrong. The cure? We need to get out of our own concerns, and make the Lord’s concern for souls our own.

A friend I have once said that if we have constant concern for bringing souls to Jesus, we would go to bed each day “exhausted”. In the words of EG, we would be tireless in “patient expectation and apostolic endurance” (24). I am not saying that we need to stop taking any care of ourselves, because we do, in order to be attractive, joyful witnesses to the Lord. But perhaps this is what Pope Francis means when he says, “The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line…”

As we enter a new year, what better time could there be to make some new year’s resolutions about evangelisation? Here are just a few ideas… Leave any other ideas you have in the comments…

  • Intercessory Prayer: If I don’t already have one, perhaps I could begin an intercessory prayer list with all the names of those in my life who do not know the Lord, those who I would desire to have a living relationship with Him. We can keep this list in the place where we pray and try to pray for these people daily, if possible.
  • Family and Friends: How can my family or group of friends be more evangelistic? Can we draw people in, avoid being exclusive or cliquey? If my family or group of friends is a place where we encounter the Lord, how can we open ourselves more to others, where others may meet him too? How can we draw in the lost, the outsider, the lonely?
  • Workplace: How can I reach out more to people I work with? Can I develop friendships with my colleagues, show concern for their lives, remember their birthdays? As friendships grow, trust develops, and eventually, they may want to ask us more about our faith.
  • Strangers: Perhaps our parish could begin an evangelisation initiative such as Nightfever, or street evangelisation, or a service specifically dedicated to the poor, e.g. a soup run. Perhaps we could make a conscious effort to engage with those we have regular contact with, e.g. those who serve us in shops or pubs, people at our gym…

What other ideas do you have? What do you find particularly hard about evangelisation?


The New Evangelisation and the Desert

Death Valley

Death Valley

Well, readers, I’m aware I’ve been ‘missing in action’ for a while now, without any blogging. To tell you the truth, I’ve been working on an exciting project that I hope to tell you all about before long. It has been taking up my every spare moment. But for now, I wanted just to break the silence with some thoughts on evangelisation…

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But, first! Just to keep you up to speed – a couple of things I’ve been up to… I graduated! Here I am with three truly amazing ladies, all working in different fields for the new evangelisation, on our graduation day…

And here I am with a certain Jeff Cavins, who gave a wonderful talk at Portsmouth Cathedral last week, which was exciting for so many reasons. He gave us a pot of his own ‘Cavins’ Blend’ English Breakfast tea!

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So – back to the topic. ‘The New Evangelisation and the Desert’. It is something I’ve reflected on a lot recently. I believe it is also the experience of many, many ‘intentional disciple’ Catholics living in the UK. We are hearing, reading, talking a lot about the new evangelisation. But our daily reality, the communities we are living in, are more like a spiritual desert.

As many of you know, I used to belong to a parish where there was a ‘higher-proportion-than-usual’ of truly intentional disciples – people who had ‘dropped their nets’, who were intentionally living for the Lord and raising their families that way. Many people moved to live in the parish precisely because of this vibrant, community life. There was also a high proportion of young adults living real discipleship. Shortly after I moved to Portsmouth, I discovered that I’d been living in some kind of ‘Catholic Disney World’ (or Rivendell, as we used to joke). I guess I already ‘knew’ the reality of other ordinary parishes in this country. But now, I really knew it. And I admit it has been a struggle. I feel I can now really empathise with the majority of lay Catholic real disciples who struggle on in their parishes.

The reality in most of our parishes – let’s be honest – is that “personal discipleship” – where we earnestly try to commit our whole lives, our decisions, our will, to Jesus –  is treated as a kind of “optional accessory” (in the words of Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples). You’re looked on as slightly eccentric if you express a passion for the Lord, or for evangelisation. Being a ‘good Catholic’ means going to Mass on Sundays, Confession once a year, being involved with a charity, making a lasagne for the parish social. It rarely means ‘discipleship’. It’s why increasing numbers of young, committed Catholics are – understandably – finding more formation for discipleship in evangelical churches.

There are many issues here, but what I wanted to focus on in this post, is ‘survival tactics’ – how we cope with being in this desert, and how God can use us to make it a place which is eventually life-giving. These are just some thoughts from my experience over the last nine months:

  1. Open your heart more attentively in prayer: In Scripture, the desert is repeatedly the symbol of where God leads us to (indeed, seduces us) in order to “speak to our heart”. Just because no one arounds us seems to be committed to prayer doesn’t mean we should not be – in fact, all the more reason to be deeply committed to daily prayer! Only with a solid foundation of prayer and sacrifice can God begin to grow new life. There will be many more reasons to surrender ourselves completely to God in the desert – discouragements, setbacks, disappointment… As we give ourselves more completely to God in all of this, he is actually using the situation to help us grow in holiness, so that we can be more effective evangelists for him.
  2. Pray for ‘kindred spirits’, like-minded friends: Three or four intentional disciples can be so much more effective than one. For one thing, you can encourage each other – your stamina will be far greater in a small group than alone. Discern together where you can start. Remember you need no one’s “permission” to start a prayer group or a Bible study in your own homes. I truly believe, if we ask God earnestly enough, he will never leave one of his ‘intentional disciples’ alone… he is good, and will always gather two or three together in the same place – even if in a way we don’t expect.
  3. Evangelists go out in search of the lost: Have an open heart in all your encounters and conversations with people. Even in the places you’re least likely to expect. You’ll be amazed at the people he will bring into your path. Be proactive in inviting people to things, keeping in touch. Before long, you’ll realise the large numbers of people the Lord has ‘gathered’.
  4. Disciples need formation: Ensure you’re receiving regular formation, nourishment of your mind and heart. In the desert analogy, we need continually to return to the ‘springs’ of water that refresh us and set us on our way again. Perhaps we might need to travel a long distance for this. But it’s vital if we’re going to keep on track.
  5. Discouragement does not come from the Lord: If you’re feeling you’re losing hope in your particular situation, this cannot be “of God”. This is why regular Confession, spiritual direction, and formation helps – it helps us dispel discouragement quite quickly. The worst thing we can do is let it weaken our focus and determination.
  6. Discern the initial plans God has for your area: For me, it seemed quite simple when a friend phoned up and asked if we wanted to host Jeff Cavins at the cathedral. “YES!” was the clear answer. This event will now (with God’s grace) kick-start some adult formation in our parish.
  7. Nurturing new disciples: Emerging disciples and new, growing communities of people seeking to be fed require wise pastoral leadership. Sooner or later, you will need the help of a priest to cultivate the initial work you’ve been doing. The parish (or a new movement) will need to offer opportunities for ongoing deeper formation, for works of service and charity, opportunities for more evangelisation and outreach. Pastoral guidance is needed to cultivate the initial signs of growth, help this new life grow strong, and then equip these new disciples to go out to evangelise others.

A few thoughts. Do you have any ideas to add? How do you survive in the ‘new evangelisation desert’?