Church Life

Informal Discipleship is Still Intentional!

In a wonderful article by Jen Fitz (Parish Programs vs Discipleship Relationships) she explores the importance of getting a culture of discipleship going at your parish, instead of merely having staff members attempt to "disciple" the parish. When this becomes the function of staff members only, the process of discipleship becomes the program of classes and studies. That is to say, it ceases to be discipleship. 

Someone asked me recently to lead a group of RCIA leaders through a discipleship process so that they can turn their own programs into a discipleship process. Now, surely this task is too difficult for a one day retreat, but you can do a few helpful things.

First, you evangelize them with the gospel while illustrating biblical discipleship. I do this with the story of the call of Simon in Luke's Gospel (Luke 5:1-11). This gives me time to talk about the kerygma, repentance, and mercy and their roles in evangelization. Second, you talk systematically about the Church's notion of the various moments of evangelization (pre-evangelization, initial proclamation, catechesis, etc.) and outline good examples of each in an RCIA format. Thirdly, you line up practical illustrations from your own discipling process and hope that it begins their thinking outside the box.

My dream of the RCIA is monthly classes with weekly one-on-one. I would love to build a team of evangelists who work with each person over coffee and are there during the whole catechumenate. But I have two things working against me: I'm terrible at building teams and most of my intentional disciples are just too busy.

Our parish is large and busy. I fear the busyness is draining the best of my parish's people with the work of running and maintaining programs instead of doing what I think they would be best at, which is making disciples one-on-one. Many people are terrible at giving large group presentations that are good and engaging. That's my wheelhouse. However, most people are capable of having good and engaging conversations. How many times have you seen hilarious and dynamic people give stale talks or freeze in front of a camera? This is why shifting away from the program and focusing more on the process of discipleship works better for a majority of your people.

Here's a quote from Jen's article that I loved:

You can easily see that it is also therefore necessary that welcoming and incorporating newcomers into that web of parish friendships is essential. We don’t stop at greeting the stranger. We don’t stop at inviting the stranger to the potluck. We learn the stranger’s name, we make sure the stranger has someone to sit with, we create opportunities to get to know the stranger one-on-one, and now the stranger is no longer a stranger and the process of getting involved in discipling one another is underway.
— Jennifer Fitz, Parish Programs vs Discipleship Relationships

This is important because the one-on-one in a formal setting is fine for the RCIA, but not necessarily for the rest of the parish. Formal relationships can quickly devolve into yet another program. I was just speaking with another parish evangelist yesterday on the phone as we both were lamenting our best laid plans at parish-wide strategizing for making disciples. At one point in the conversation my friend asks about my Community Groups and its relationship to discipleship, which was funny because two days earlier the guy that brought me in for the RCIA training asked the exact same question. "Do we first do Community Groups and then Discipleship Groups? What does a Discipleship Group look like? Should a Missionary Disciple belong to two groups at once- one for their own peer support and one to disciple others?"

I believe that community is so empty and void at most suburban parishes that Community Groups are worth the time and effort to just build Christian community. So what is the solution with discipling others? It is informal discipleship. A protestant megachurch pastor once told the story that his professor in seminary said, "When I come and visit you in the next few decades as you go off and become pastors, I will ask you one thing: show me your men." By this he meant, show me the 4 or 5 men that you are personally discipling in the midst of the busyness of pastoral work.

If we are doing our job in faith formation, then we are forming missionary disciples and not just students. They need to belong to a Community Group to get that support, edification, and accountability. At the same time they do not need to belong to a formal discipleship group or process. Jen's quote from above illustrates the beautiful of informal discipling. You can call them "friendships" (crazy, right?). You can call it "being a neighbor" (do we still have those?). However you see it or whatever you call it, it comes down to relationships.