Making disciples ... Growing the Church

The Easter Scriptures tell the story of the early Church's growth after the Resurrection of Christ. The preaching and teaching and hard work of the disciples began to bear fruit. We hear of their successes in the Acts of the Apostles as we are told "the number of disciples continued to grow" (Acts 6:1) and "Those who accepted the message were baptized and about three thousand were added that day." (Acts 2: 41) It is both thrilling and challenging to hear such wonderful stories about the work of the disciples. They took the commissioning that Christ gave them to "go and make disciples" very seriously and were always ready to give witness to their faith in Christ.

The same can be said of the various collaboratives in the archdiocese. Leadership teams, staffs and parishioners are taking Christ's mandate "go and make disciples" to heart and are finding new and old ways of sharing the Good News with others. The work of Disciples in Mission is giving a new sense of energy to God's people. The hesitation of speaking about the importance of one's faith, that some may previously have felt, is being replaced with a courage and commitment that resembles the disciples of the early Church. Parishioners are beginning to see themselves as disciples and along with that realization comes a responsibility to share the ways God is present and active in their lives.

Jesus gave the disciples a task -- make disciples. How they were to achieve that task varied according to the people's needs, yet always keeping in mind the example that Jesus set for them. The local pastoral plans of the collaboratives lay out the vision and methods needed for our time. What each collaborative sets as its vision, and the priorities that are needed to accomplish that vision, will vary from one to another. The needs of one collaborative differ from those of the others and so each plan gives a unique way of growing the faith in the collaborative.

Phases I and II are actively implementing their plans. There will be a future article in the coming weeks that will highlight some of their successes and challenges.

At this point in the process, Phase III is completing their local plans to submit to Cardinal Seán next month. Like the earlier phases, these vision statements are challenging, inspiring and very specific about the growth they hope to see in their collaboratives.

Some of the excerpts for their vision statements are:

"A growing number of parishioners are becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ, realizing that growth in a relationship with Him is a lifelong process."

"We live and share our faith ... with greater joy and ever-growing participation in all aspects of the sacramental life of the parish."

"We Pray. We Serve. We Love. We are intentional disciples devoted to the love of Christ through prayerful liturgy, dynamic youth ministry and welcoming community."

"Building a culture of Catholic Christian identity, parishioners will take ownership of their faith."

"Greater numbers of parishioners will be engaged in parish activities ... opportunities for personal witness ... parishioners reflecting on the faith stories of their lives."

"Each person will be supported and challenged ... through worship, prayer opportunities and catechesis for all ages."

"We have a shared vision of vibrant faith communities that bring people together to know and celebrate Jesus' love and to grow in personal relationship with the Lord."

It is obvious that the people in these collaboratives have caught the fire and enthusiasm of those first disciples. Articulating the vision of who we want to be is the easy part. The hard work that lies ahead will be bringing those vision statements to life! This will not be accomplished in a month or even in a year. But it will happen! The scriptures of this Easter season gives us reason to hope that like the disciples in the early Church, we too will see the fruits of our efforts. Let us not forget -- making disciples, growing in a deeper relationship with Christ is slow, steady one- on-one work that is the responsibility of all of us! Let us pray for all of these collaboratives that their vision will become a reality.

Sister Pat Boyle, CSJ is associate director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.