Yesterday I asked an important question at the end of my post: “How do we evangelize church members, both Catholic and Protestant?”
Sherry Weddell, the cofounder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, with Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., is a Christ-centered disciple maker who works to equip Catholic parishes to form lay Catholics for mission in the world. Sherry has been responsible for forming over 85,000 lay, religious and ordained Catholics in 105 dioceses in the art of evangelizing postmoderns, in gaining a better understanding of their spiritual gifts and vocational discernment and in understanding the theology and mission of the laity.
Sherry Weddell notes what every Catholic must honestly face in 2014:
1. Only 30% of American Catholics who were reared in the church are still practicing the Catholic faith in any meaningful way.
2. Fully 10% of all adults in America are now ex-Catholics. (I would guess many have left religion completely but many are evangelicals and charismatics!)
3. The number of marriages celebrated in the Church decreased dramatically, by nearly 60%, between 1972 and 2010.
4. Only 60% of Catholics actually believe in a personal God.
She argues that if the Catholic Church is to reverse these trends, and I pray with her that it will, then Catholics in the pews must make a “conscious choice to know and follow Jesus before they can draw others to him.” Weddell says you cannot draw people to Jesus if you do not know Jesus. To which I ask, “What serious evangelical Christian would disagree with that statement?” Drawing on fifteen years of personal experience Sherry Weddell helps Catholics to identify things such as:
1. Five thresholds of postmodern conversion.
2. How to open a conversation about faith and belief.
3. How to ask thought-provoking questions and establish an atmosphere of trust.
4. When to tell the Great Story of Jesus.
5. How to help someone respond to God’s call to intentional discipleship.
By asking these types of questions Sherry Weddell has written what I believe to be one of the finest Catholic books on mission and evangelism of our time: Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012.) The truth is that I require evangelical students to read this book because it is filled with material that every Christian disciple-maker can utilize.
If I accomplish nothing more in this series of blogs than to introduce you to this amazing book then I will feel I accomplished something worthwhile. Why? We must stop assuming that people inside a church, baptized or otherwise, are real Christians. And we must stop boasting that, “Our converts are real and your converts are not.” The truth is that most modern Western converts, evangelical and otherwise, fall away over time. Few real disciples are being made even by the best evangelical churches. “Let the church, or Christian, without sin cast the first stone” comes to mind here. (I recognize I have taken contextual liberty but you can clearly get my point.)
The majority of Catholics in the United States are sacramentalized but not evangelized. They do not know that an explicit, personal attachment to Christ–personal discipleship–is normative Catholicism as taught by the apostles and reiterated time and time again by popes, councils, and saints of the church (46).
In 2012 a Synod for the New Evangelization was held in Rome. In preparation for this synod a set of guidelines (Lineamenta) was issued for discussion. These were not technical theological abstractions but rather they were talking points for engaging the post-modern West with the gospel. Certain words occur again and again in the Lineamenta: e.g., disciple, transmit, proclaim, encounter, change, missionary, experience, Jesus, live, and Gospel. This was one of the most promising and hopeful gatherings in modern Catholic history. Even a number of respected evangelicals addressed the synod including my good friend Dr. Timothy George. Sherry Weddell notes that the crucial emphasis of this synod can be seen in the word transmit. The faith must become a “whole-person, whole-life concept that goes far beyond instruction in facts and doctrines” (52).
The Lineamenta notes:
What is not believed or lived cannot be transmitted. . . . The Gospel can only be transmitted on the basis of “being” with Jesus and living with Jesus the experience of the Father, in the Spirit; and, in a corresponding way, of “feeling” compelled to proclaim and share what is lived as a good and something positive and beautiful (53).
If there is no living relationship with Christ then we cannot “transmit” the faith to anyone else. This is the problem in the Catholic Church but it is also a problem in many churches, even many evangelical churches. The person of Jesus, and the holy trinity, must be at the center of our life if we would give away a living faith.
Sherry Weddell rightly says that normative Catholicism must stress three spiritual journeys but it has done a poor job of keeping these three closely connected in the lives of the baptized. First, there must be “a personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship” (54). Second, there needs to be an ecclesial journey into the Church through the reception of the sacraments of initiation. Third, there must be a journey of active practice as evidenced by receiving the sacraments, attending Mass and participating in the mission and life of the community. Evangelicals would do well to consider all three of these journeys even though they would define some of the particulars in different ways; e.g. the nature of the sacraments and how they function in the life of a Christian being one example that immediately comes to mind. The problem, concludes Weddell, is that many Catholics “think one needn’t ask about the first journey if the second and third journeys are in place” (54).
In this last sentence she nails it. Then she hammers the nail in even deeper with a strong quotation from Father Damian J. Ference, a member of the formation faculty at Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio:
All too often those of us in positions of Church leadership presume that all the folks in the pews on Sundays, all the children in our grade schools, high schools and PSR programs, all the kids in our youth groups, all the men in our Men’s Clubs and all the women in our Women’s Guilds, and all the members of our RICA team are already disciples. Many are not. (The same can be said of staffs and faculties of Catholic institutions.) Our people may be very active in the programs of our parishes, such participation does not qualify for discipleship (“Why Vocation Programs Don’t Work,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, February 2011, 55 in Weddell).
If less than half of America’s Catholics do not believe that they have a “personal relationship” with God and nearly 30% don’t believe in a personal God at all what has happened? Again, this is not just a Catholic problem. It is a mission and discipleship issue. This, in the end, is my personal burden. If we concentrate on continuing the “Reformation Wars” then I sincerely believe that we miss the missional moment at hand for Catholics and other Christian churches as well. In so doing we will continue to debate and misunderstand one another and thereby fail to stress what really matters for all churches – making healthy, active, vibrant disciples who possess living faith and share that faith with others because they personally know and love Jesus Christ!
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John, thanks for another great article in this series. So many important points to think about here. I hope that readers will heed your warning and stop assuming that “Our converts are real and your converts are not.” At the beginning of The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight gives some sobering information about the huge numbers of Americans who (mostly in evangelical contexts) make personal decisions for Christ but these decisions have very little discernible impact years later. No denomination or discipleship movement is immune to nominalism and superficiality, not even those who expect high levels of commitment and participation from their members.
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“Few real disciples are being made even by the best evangelical churches.” Assuming a member has a personal relationship with Christ, rather than just a sacramental one, how best do you make a disciple in the way Jesus commanded?
Keep writing John, this is priceless.
Great post John,
If different ecclesial traditions would quit throwing rocks at each other and take seriously the challenge to disciple their own people, now that would be really something different!
Blessings my friend!
Yes Rick. Just think of the implications of a reconciling of viewpoints. True disciples of Jesus will seek unity, even though it will take the Holy Spirit to preface it with an attitude of humility.
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I just completed a book called “Insider” subtitle ‘bringing the Kingdom of God into your everyday world’ by Jim Petersen and Mike Shamy and this is also about a more effective evangelization and discipling but in our everyday world. This is at the level of ALL believers in Jesus Christ and not programatic but simply living the Gospel. In Cursillo we call it “make a friend, be a friend and bring that friend to Christ” . if our efforts of evangelization are just to get notches on our Gospel gun, then we are truly out in left field. It seems that most efforts, while extremely well intentioned, don’t actually get Joe Believer engaged. It requires you to bring people to a special service, listen to a special speaker, attend a homegroup etc. From what I can tell of the early church, what we are doing in this post modern world is counter intuitive to the great commission that Jesus gave us. Love God, love your neighbor as I have loved you, and go and make disciples baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every day believers caused the church to grow, not programs at Jerusalem…….. if we want to see revival we need to look in the mirror, repent, ask for God’s help and live the Gospel every day, then all the folks that we see, work with , volunteer with, etc will have a living example of Christ and that will open doors to share Christ at a deeper level and you will have the credibility and relationship to make disciples. This DOES NOT replace sound teaching, Eph 4 on the ministry of pastors, prophets, evangelists, apostles and teachers is clear that they must equip the saints for the work of the ministry. But we do the ministry……….. When I came to faith in Christ in the mid 70’s, my parents were estatic, a few years later when I told them I was leaving the RC church, they understood but my Mom left me with a statement that eventually was a seed leading me back to this church. She said something like, I am glad you are saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost but you are now leaving the mission field that needs you the most, the pews around you. I can’t tell you how true that has been and why I have embraced the opportunity to share Christ in the Roman Catholic Church as an active member.
“Few real disciples are being made even by the best evangelical churches.”
I realize that there are churches that are pitiful at making disciples, I “know” I was in them years ago.
Yet, I’ve seen and been a part of making disciples in churches that are doing this well.
I’m glad you are seeing this Ivan. I’d love to know how since I am personally persuaded it has little to do with methods and learning as we know it in the West and in Reformed circles. Cf. Matthew 5:48, which I believe is the measure of discipleship.
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Because simply learning / increasing knowledge can only lead to the knowledge Paul warned about that puffs up, is arrogant and self-righteous. Discipleship is more exhaustive in that it assumes sharing your life, making Jesus permeate all areas of life; you know, authenticity.
Wow, be careful John, that’s quite the broad brush swipe there that assumes we are all cookie cutters…
You and I have been talking enough privately, come on, John.
Great job John!
I’m buying the book! Funny because I had just seen it advertised and it looked great but wondered if anyone I knew had read it!!?? Perfect timing John!
Ivan R Lambert Jr, making “general” statements is fair when one sees the church from 30,000 feet. I’ve had had that calling for decades now. I see churches of all kinds, stripes and beliefs. The “general” fact is few are making disciples. Barna, Baylor, Pew and every bit of serious research I’ve seen supports this general comment. I am not trying to paint anyone into a corner and since you know me you should also know that by talking to me. I am dealing in broad categories, not aiming stones at you or any particular congregation.
Is it possible to be so busy “planting churches” or “growing our church” that there is not enough time or energy left to invest in the labor of making disciples? What if the infrastructures we create to “do church” end up being equated with the advancing of the gospel, when in fact they hinder it (Rev 3)? I think there are boxes outside of which we need to think!
John, After your flattering compliment of my attitude in my comment(s) on the last post in this series, I hesitate to write this one, which may be interpreted by some as more strident; but I write it sincerely and out of what I understand to be love. Aside from the matter of whether the RC ex opere operato approach to the sacraments is ultimately salvific, I ask if whether there is something inherent in the RC sacramental approach vis-a-vis the evangelical heart disposition approach that ultimately tends toward weak discipleship. I am aware that evangelicals of all stripes do not have a sterling track record of their own, when it comes to discipleship. But my observation (although doubtless, to some degree, biased) is that societies and settings historically dominated by the inluence of RC soteriological teaching (like Spain, for instance) have not had the same level of comparative success at producing sincere, faithful followers of Christ as those societies and settings predominantly influenced by evangelical soteriological teaching.
This, of course, raises the question of the generally morally bankrupt present-day North American context. But it seems to me that, despite the great moral reverses of recent times in all Western societies, both of Catholic and Protestant heritage, there are more sincere, faithful followers of Christ per capita in places with a comparatively greater evangelical than Catholic heritage.
John, I have to say that I have really enjoyed these posts as well. I have a couple thoughts.
I was hoping that in the above post you were going to address more specifically the ‘How?’ question of your query, “How do we evangelize church members, both Catholic and Protestant?” This is very pertinent to ministering in a country like Spain as someone else has mentioned, or in Ireland/Northern Ireland as I do. How do you call/challenge church members to discipleship?
Secondly, and related to the above, I think David’s last post makes an important point. Having grown up in America but now living in Northern Ireland, it is clear to me that there are real differences between RC in America and the RC in Ireland. I think much of the difference is down to the fact that the RC in America has had a lot more interaction with evangelicalism (even if it has been negative at times), and this has challenged it more and made the RC more open and more likely to promote the personal relationships with Christ you have been talking about in your blog. In Ireland, though, the RC was virtually unchallenged and was the only source for religious knowledge that most Irish would have had. Consequently, it seems to me that even if it is granted (as I think we should) that the true teaching of the RC is not at odds with true faith in Christ, it appears that the RC in Ireland drifted farther than other geographic areas (such as America). It seems that more evangelization of church members has to be done here than in Ireland. This brings up the question then, how do you be realistic about the spiritual needs of the geographic area you are working in without engaging in inappropriate proselytizing?
David Rogers, please never hesitate to ask more questions even if they “seem” disagreeable. I am a learner and these questions help me too. Your life experience is one I respect and your inout always welcome. You ask of these is something in the Catholic sacramental approach that “tend(s) toward weak discipleship?” I would say the danger towards this is present in every system. Strict “decisionism” has a problem in this area but I still seek a decision/commitment. I do not actually think sacramentalism is the real problem. It is the absence of the Spirit’s work in bringing about a real change which results in what Pope Francis calls the “joy of the gospel.” Especially after the Protestant Reformation these various countries “chose” one side or the other based on princes and Christendom. Spain thus became Catholic and this has had both positive and seriously deleterious impact long term. But then Germany chose Protestant and look where this state church got the disciples of Martin Luther, at least the large majority of them. If the distinctive doctrines of the Reformation could preserve a culture then Germany should have been the place but today it is “seemingly” as far from Christ as Spain. I think the greater problem is Christendom cultures and gospel resistant patterns in Europe. I also think America, though increasingly secular, is not going to pattern itself after this model because of church-state and the (are you ready) fantastically positive impact of the Baptist (free church) model in our national history.
Jordan Litchfield, two good questions. First, the how do we evangelize question? I answer, in short, “By incarnating the life of Christ in community.” I do not believe any other way works well in the West, especially in a place like Spain. I had friends in Sicily and this was precisely the issue they faced. They spent a lot of time in the markets and over food and friendships to even begin a work there.
Your second question, Jordan Litchfield, is fairly broad. I have several Catholic friends who are lay and priests inside Ireland. They would agree with you and incarnation is the way they must work. They seek to “be” before they can speak about these things. A gospel campaign would not work in this context but then it would not in most contexts down through church history. We need a big picture view of Christian history and how the West was won, and then lost. Godly lives by a few had the most impact if I read history correctly.
My impression is that there is a difference more between state churches and non-state churches than particularly RC/non-RC in discipleship. It just happens to be that RC has a broader history of being the state church, which has lead to a complacency about discipleship that isn’t the case for non-state churches because of the requirements of discipleship for continuity.
I agree that the state/non-state church divide does indeed play an important role in all this. Thus, contexts with Protestant state-churches don’t appear to be much more effective at making disciples than those with Catholic state-churches. But it seems to me there is something inherent in Catholic theology/ecclesiology that expresses itslef more naturally within a state-church setting than in a free-church setting. To the degree Catholic groups here and there (both in history and around the world) have been influenced and challenged by free-church theology/practice, it is possible to see some progress in disciple-making. In Spain, for example, you have groups like the Charismatic Renewal movement, Kiko Argüello’s neo-catechumenal movement, and Opus Dei, which all, to one degree or another, have been influenced and/or challenged by Protestantism, and which each take different approaches to discipleship. I believe it is a theology of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone in a context of free churches and individual liberty to follow Christ according to the dictates of one’s conscience that has consistently had the best effect at producing true followers of Jesus down through history and around the world. The soteriology and the ecclesiology go hand in hand.
David Rogers, this may be true but it is not the whole story. Catholicism does quite well under persecution and even has deeper faith experience in such settings, as is true of our churches as well. Consider Poland where John Paul II welcomed Campus Crusade on to campuses after 1989 and where many have deep and aiding faith, unlike what you saw in Spain. I just think this caries more than your experience in Spain means. I am in complete agreement about Spain and have a few strong Catholic friends from Spain who would agree with you.
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What he’s saying is true, and Christians need to work together to better understand how to help people come to Christ in a more conscious and deeper way.
I attended a meeting recently and talked to a couple of people, who years ago, went to the Life in the Spirit seminar in their parish. They are “soft disciples,” in other words, they bear many of the marks of a disciple but are not consciously aware of some of the things that discipleship usually entails. They were also not aware in a literal sense of the history or much about the Charismatic Renewal. They did it because it was in their parish and they were looking for something to do. Regarding the relationship with God, the consent is there but semi-consciously. There are also other more ordinary Catholic engagement-oriented features firmly there. There is a tendency to hold scripture at arm’s length yet, and not yet realize the meaning of God’s Offer and their Response fully. And yet, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and they are willing to proclaim God as important in their lives. They have made a commitment, albeit a somewhat implicit one, “soft” one. This is what Catholic discipleship sometimes looks like.
Most Catholics are not this advanced in their spiritual lives. In our teaching, which pulls out probably the 5% who are most willing to attend things (which is not necessarily all the disciples) we always find a small number of people like this.
Occasionally we do find someone totally on board and able to articulate it in a more global and conscious way, but this is not common.
In addition, I know, because I have a lot of protestant experience, that protestant confession of faith in Christ is often very explicit but sometimes not literal down to the level of infusion into the soul. Just getting people to say the words, “I give my life to you,” at the altar call is not enough. There are problems with how that works out too. There are many Protestants who aren’t disciples as well.
I don’t say this to offend but merely to reiterate that we need to work together to better understand how to help people come to Christ in a more conscious way so that we can all encourage and facilitate their spiritual growth in Christ. This isn’t really about differences of doctrine or polity or culture. This transcends all of that but for the good of the Christian confession in general, because people need Christ, it needs to happen.
Thanks John, for your response. Maybe it’s because of my vocal evangelical/revivalist background that I’m still struggling to understand what mission is supposed to mean on the ground. If the model for mission is Acts, in which the movers and players assume the need of their diverse audiences to repent and trust in Christ, how do I translate that into ministry on the ground in a context here in Ireland where so many classify themselves as Christian because they were born and raised RC? Unless I am going to assume that they are all disciples, then I have to assume otherwise and act accordingly. But then that runs the danger of proselytizing people who are already genuine believers.
I don’t know if I am making sense. Living incarnationally is certainly the goal, but that still doesn’t help me understand how I am to frame proclamation. How I proclaim is at least partially determined by my understanding of my audience’s current relationship with God. Am I making sense?
I’m late to this conversation (am in a narrow window of garden planting here high in the Colorado Rockies where it was still snowing a week ago!) but I hope to add some insights from within the Catholic tradition and experience – especially regarding the Church’s theology of personal faith and sacramental grace which I am now regularly presenting to large groups of clergy in what are called “clergy days” – the semi annual gathering of diocesan clergy with their bishops. There is a new, tremendous openness in the American Catholic scene but also – in very early stages in Europe – as well. (I was teaching on FID in both Ireland and Northern Ireland in February). I hope I can get back to this Monday, Memorial Day. and share in greater depth.
I can’t speak to your specific location but one thing I used to do in a town or area if there are many nominal (non-practicing Catholics) was first to ask them what is the name of the current priest in the local church area? If they did not even know the name of their priest or minister, one can either encourage them to practice their faith or simply see them as an un-churched person since the next question is how long has it been since you have been to church and they are stuttering and saying things like was it 10 years ago or longer?