Vicki Compton recently sent the priests of the house an article by a pastor who offered some reflections on the struggles that every church faces when it comes to those who make up their congregation. He makes the following interesting observation:
Like the American economy, local churches have plenty of jobs, but we don’t have the people who are willing and trained to do those jobs.
The pastor points to the often-misdirected efforts to focus primarily on driving up attendance, but that in itself is not sufficient. He writes: “We got really good at driving attendance, but we were lousy at making disciples.” He then proceeds to provide a sketch of what it looks like to be an active disciple, as opposed to being just a passive observer:
A disciple is very different from a church member. A disciple may be a church member but a church member doesn’t have to be a disciple. What’s the difference? A disciple understands the Grand Arc of Salvation History and the ultimate purpose of God’s heart that drives our evangelistic mission…Second, a disciple understands their role in the mission. All of us have gifts. No one has all of the gifts. Each of us is created to play a significant, yet particular, role in that mission. Each disciple understands their giftedness…Lastly, each disciple is constantly being refreshed, retrained, and refocused as their mission evolves. Every disciple knows they need a regular routine of worship, deep study, and prayer to refresh their soul and inner life. Without this routine of soul care, the disciple will either burn out or flame out. Neither is a desirable outcome.
These words really convicted me and reiterated the direction we have been trying to take here at our Cathedral Parish. Our efforts to offer various types of formation for our entire parish family (not just out students) are aimed toward building a culture of discipleship, so that our pews are not filled just with church members, but with disciples who realize their importance to this community and who willingly and generously offer their gifts for the good of the community.
The author’s final point about the importance of having “a regular routine of worship, deep study, and prayer to refresh their soul and inner life” is so key, because these are the activities of a disciple that help us to keep our eyes constantly fixed on Christ, who must always remain at the heart of discipleship. The moment it ceases to be about Him and our relationship with Him, it is already on the path toward failure. This is the point made in the Catechism at the end of the introductory paragraphs of Section Three on Life in Chris which will be our focus for this year:
The first and last point of reference of this catechesis will always be Jesus Christ Himself, who is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” It is by looking to Him in faith that Christ’s faithful can hope that He Himself fulfills His promises in them, and that, by loving Him with the same love with which He has loved them, they may perform works in keeping with their dignity. (CCC 1698)
May we all renew (or proclaim for the first time) our desire to not be content with just being a member of the Cathedral Parish, but to commit to being “disciples of the Risen Lord and steadfast stewards of God’s creation who seek to become saints” by making “a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves” for the good of the Church. (quotes from Declarations 1 and 4 of the Fourth Diocesan Synod)