I’m working with a Catholic diocese that has set a high bar for its parishes and families: that all children and youth grow up and become “intentional disciples.”

The committee with which I am working is well aware of two key research findings:

  1. The first third of life is crucial to the development of disciples in our church today.
  2. Parents and adults must model intentional discipleship for it to “take” with children and youth.
In other words, they know that while their faith formation goal focuses on children and youth, the answer lies with the “big people” in the lives of those kids.

The committee is also well aware of the fact that the Sunday School model of faith formation falls well short of achieving their goal. They see a place for age-specific faith formation, but they question whether it should be the only or even central faith formation effort.

The next meeting of the committee is in just a few weeks, and they have been given an interesting homework assignment, one that I’d like to pass on to you as well. Very simply, they must answer this question: What does an intentional disciple look like? How would you answer that?

In the early pages of her classic book Fashion Me a People, Maria Harris wrote,

“No longer is it enough to be passive members, receiving a word told us by someone else, filing that word away to be taken out for a reading now and then. . . . We are a people called by the Gospel to make a difference in the world. . . . We are called to a particular way of living . . . which implies . . . an active and practical engagement in the work of Christian ministry” (p. 23-24).

With this in mind, I would say that an intentional disciple is a person — child, teen, young adult, adult, or oldster — who has heard the call of the Gospel, is seeking to make a real difference in the world, and therefore lives a particular way. What does that way look like? Well, down through the ages persons, families, and entire Christian communities have done the same or similar things that show they are truly growing in faith. They

  • create communities of care.
  • pray in ways that are comforting and comfortable.
  • break open the Word and apply it to their lives.
  • engage is works of mercy and justice for those less fortunate.
  • worship together in ways that feed and empower them.

These are the things people do when they are genuinely and intentionally growing in faith.The key question then for these Catholic parishes, and your church as well, is are the faith formation programs aligned with and enhancing this particular way of life, or at odds with it? Are people growing in faith because of, or in spite of your faith formation efforts?

It all hinges on how you would describe what an “intentional disciple” looks like.

We’d love to hear from you! Post a comment below and join the conversation in our Community of Curious Leaders and let us know how you would describe an “intentional disciple.”

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