Creating a culture of intentional discipleship

''There's no silver bullet in forming intentional disciples," said Catholic evangelist Bobby Vidal at the Archdiocese of Boston's recent conference Intentional Discipleship: Moving from Maintenance to Mission, held Nov. 18 at Fontbonne Academy. Hosted by the Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship, the conference attracted over 200 people from around the archdiocese (and beyond) who came to learn more about how to evangelize and help form disciples in their own parish communities.

Vidal and "Papal Ninja" Sean Bryan anchored the conference with keynote talks. Additionally, there were 16 breakout sessions in three languages led by archdiocesan staff, clergy, and parish leaders on faith formation and evangelization topics such as small groups, youth ministry, missionary discipleship, and engaging parents in the parish.

Vidal, director of evangelization at St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Santa Clarita, California, spoke about the importance of having a vision for your parish. We need to have a vision and know why we exist as a Church. Quoting Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi, he said the Church "exists to evangelize." Once we know that and set about our task of evangelization, Vidal added, we'll begin to see the fruit of our evangelization efforts when we start seeing disciples springing up in our parishes, each discovering their charisms and living out their vocations.

Working to develop a culture of discipleship bears spiritual fruit in our parishes, but it also bears financial fruit. "When we spend our energy and efforts to call forth discipleship in others, they will take care of our (parishes) because disciples give generously," Vidal said. He shared his own parish's experience and said, despite the challenge of having three pastors and three administrators in the last 10 years, their parish has grown to 6,000 families with a monthly giving amount of $160,000.

He then talked about mission, saying the mission of the parish is three-fold. First, parishioners need to hear Jesus' call to be his disciples. Second, once we hear the call, we need to decide to give our lives entirely over to Jesus. And third, then we share in his ministry.

Vidal illustrated the path to discipleship by means of the thresholds of conversion. To hear Jesus' call, there needs to be trust -- trust in the Church or trust in someone who is Catholic. The individual then moves to spiritual curiosity, wanting to know more about Jesus and his Church. Then they become open to where the Lord may be leading them. These first three movements in the spiritual thresholds are passive, he explained, but as the person matures and moves to the next threshold, they become active seekers of the Lord. Finally, they make a decision to drop their nets and share in Jesus' mission.

Sean Bryan, team member of the Lay Mission Project and participant in the popular television show, "American Ninja Warrior," said if Catholics took the call to holiness seriously we would encounter Christ Risen and the power of love that radiates from the truth of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is not just one moment in history, he explained. "It's a continual event, and it's manifested in the Church through you."

This call to discipleship is not just learning facts about Jesus -- it's learning who he is, how he acts, and why he acts. We can't be effective in our apostolates unless and until we have a relationship with our Lord and, by engaging in everyday things, the laity's call is to make Christ known through the ordinary, Bryan said.

"Our hope for this conference was to offer a day that would bring together disciples to celebrate where we've been and where we're going in creating a culture of intentional disciples in the archdiocese," said Michael Lavigne, Assistant Cabinet Secretary of Evangelization and Discipleship. "Bobby Vidal's talk was an affirmation of the best practices we've been sharing in our Forming Disciples in Mission Workshops and shows us that a parish that commits to this vision will begin to see fruits. And Sean Bryan's talk illustrates that it's possible to live out a life of discipleship in front of a national audience, as well as in the trenches with his work for the Lay Mission Project."