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Posted May 10, 2015

Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples
Editor: Sherry A. Weddell
Our Sunday Visitor. Huntington, IN. 2015. Pp. 143

An excerpt from the jacket:

In her first book, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, Sherry Weddell captured the attention of Catholics across the globe as she described the life-changing power that accompanies the conscious decision of individual and parishes to follow Jesus as his disciple.

Now, in the groundbreaking Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples, she has gathered experienced leaders and collaborators, whose field-tested wisdom and enthusiasm for transforming Catholic parishes into centers of discipleship and apostolic outreach is both inspirational and practical. The practitioner-authors share:

The role of intercessory prayer in parish transformation
How "fireside chats" can help a pastor connect with his parishioners and call them to personal discipleship and mission.
The co-responsibility of pastors and laypeople in the work of making disciples
The revolutionary impact of a discipleship approach to youth ministry
How one parish successfully fostered a culture of intentional discipleship

An excerpt from the book:

In order to build a culture of discipleship and to bear long-lasting fruit, the parish must develop, facilitate, and sustain each of these three areas simultaneously. Jesus asked his followers not merely to bear fruit but to "bear fruit that will remain." This demands our stewardship if we are to sustain the spiritual fruit God wants to produce through us. This is precisely the reason we were chosen and appointed in the first place --- to bear fruit that will remain! Yet in our pastoral practice, we tend to focus on only one or two areas of the new evangelization rather than all three. The result? Limited, or poorly sustained, or no spiritual fruit. In order to form long-lasting fruit that is evident in the spiritual growth of the individual and the community, we must care for all three areas.

When we focus only on new ardor, we end up with individuals who encounter Jesus and become disciples but have no visible community to support them. Without ecclesial structures that are "owned" and recognized by the whole community, the work of evangelization becomes compartmentalized, something cared for by a few people. Evangelization, siloed, becomes "just another ministry" the parish does. Communities that have evangelization retreats or evangelization teams that are divorced from the whole of parish life frequently experience this stunted growth. Their evangelizing experiences yield fruits of conversion and the release of baptismal grace, but the small fire they have stirred up has no way to sustain itself without a community to support it.

When we focus on new method alone, we merely adjust our parish programs and structures but fail to center on or impact an individual's personal relationship with Jesus. A parish that approaches its transformation from this standpoint isn't really developing an evangelistic approach centered on discipleship; it is trying to answer the challenges merely by doing things differently. As Pope Francis cautions in The Joy of the Gospel:

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church's "fidelity to her own calling," any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

When we focus on new expressions alone --- and this is perhaps the most deceiving hazard --- we can find that our community is talking about evangelization and discipleship but is taking no long-term action. Discipleship simply becomes something we think and talk about, not something actually transforming people or the way we do things.

Table of contents:

1. The generation of saints
2. Praying it forward: intercession and the transformation of your parish
3. Co-responsible for the mission of Christ
4. Intentional disciples: bearing spiritual fruit that sustains
5. A parish moves ahead
6. "Fireside chats" and the formation of the laity
7. Rethinking youth ministry