By: Dave Nodar
The Lord's way of making disciples is very different than what is experienced in most adult faith settings at the parish level. Nowadays, catechesis is most often taught with an academic pedagogy. While educational formation has importance, there is a need for a renewal of a relational model of discipleship that we see in the New Testament, the early church, and in the lives of many of the Saints.
Dr. Robert Coleman, formerly a professor of discipleship and evangelism at several major evangelical seminaries and divinity schools, highlights the uniqueness of Jesus' approach to making disciples in his book The Master Plan of Evangelism:
"Having called his men, Jesus made a practice of being with them. This was the essence of his training program—just letting his disciples follow him. Jesus had no formal school, no seminaries, no outlined course of study… Amazing as it may seem, all Jesus did to teach these men his way was to draw them close to himself. He was his own school and curriculum."
Jesus model was to have his disciples 'be with him' (Mark 3:14), seeing how he lived, receiving his teachings, witnessing his healings and authority over evil spirits, and finally being empowered with the Holy Spirit to make disciples for him.
The unfortunate lived reality in most parish settings is that the basics of growing in union with Christ (the goal of catechesis) and becoming his disciple is not passed on in a relational manner. That is, from someone who is a disciple and is passing on to another a lifestyle of living for Christ.
Think of children learning to play soccer. The coach doesn't hand out a large manual to a 10-year-old and tell her to come back in a week and receive the next lesson. Rather, the coach is enthusiastic about the sport. He gets out on the field with the kids and shows them how to play. He has them learn to do it as a team, encourages and corrects them, and helps them apply the principles of the sport. They learn from his personal passion for the game, from what he shows and tells them, and by actually playing the game together.
In ChristLife's Following Christ course, we intentionally create a relational atmosphere for making disciples that is more akin to a coach on the field than a teacher in the classroom. We have found that some of the most formative means of helping a person grow as a disciple are the experiences of personal and group prayer, the application of practical teaching with opportunity for small group discussion and relationships that support the development of a Catholic lifestyle, worldview, and mission.
Jim, whose story is highlighted in the Why ChristLife? video, shared how the Following Christ course impacted his entire worldview:
"It's dramatically changed how I think, its affected what I watch on TV. It affects what I read, what I watch in the movies. It's affected how I relate with my wife, my kids, with my friends, with how I conduct business at work."
To affect this type of change, parishes need to move from a model that is primarily focused on passing on information about the Catholic faith, to a relational model that brings about personal transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result of the Following Christ course, another participant shared, "A large amount of my spiritual knowledge went from being strictly intellectual to primarily personal."
Fr. Tony Mugavero, pastor of Holy Apostles Church in downtown Rochester, New York has seen a real transformation in the lives of many of his parishioners through ChristLife. This transformation is beginning to impact the whole parish:
"I feel ChristLife is moving us towards the essence of what a parish is really about—a community of faith that is able to help each other along the way to grow closer to the Lord; to be able to pray and share with each other in a very practical and heartfelt way. Through ChristLife, Holy Apostles Church is progressing toward our goal of becoming and making disciples."
Today a new model of making disciples is sorely needed in most Catholic parishes and institutions. And while much needs to change to make this a reality, we are excited that the new Following Christ course, as part of the larger ChristLife process of evangelization, can contribute by providing parishes with a relational model of disciple-making, faithful to the Lord Jesus' own example.
Learn more at www.christlife.org/follow