Parish Program vs. Discipleship – A Spiritual Reflection
I wanted to follow up on my article from last week. I mentioned that many parishioners are “interested” in Saint Monica. The question is how many are actually and personally “invested?” “Interested” parishioners come with suggestions, ideas, critiques and programs all of the time. Invested people are personally engaged. This is the difference between being a “member” and being a “disciple.”
Jennifer Fitz is a writer for The Catholic Conspiracy (jenniferfitz.com) and for Patheos (patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz). She writes about this distinction between “member” and “disciple” in her article, “Parish Programs vs. Discipleship Relationships.” Jennifer writes, “If you run a parish program, of course you keep your eye out for people who can take on responsibility within your program. But that’s not discipleship. Discipleship is about helping the other person to daily answer their individual call from God, even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with your program. This could include praying together, talking about problems or personal struggles, answering questions about the faith, sharing good resources, doing a Bible study together, or providing practical how-to help – but it isn’t one thing: It’s paying attention to what the other person needs, and responding to that need.”
And guess what, everybody in St. Monica Parish needs this. Therefore, a parish communal life that consists of bringing in the herd, giving them a message, and then sending them home to their separate lives will not work. This “discipling” thing is time-intensive. You have to spend quantity-time being with each other, and at least some of that time has to be one-on-one time, when personal difficulties can be discussed in confidence. The Parish Staff cannot, therefore, meet the needs of all parishioners.
Let’s clarify that a culture of discipleship doesn’t mean every parishioner is paired with exactly one other parishioner in a formal disciple-teacher relationship. For example: Jane gets out and walks her dog every morning with Sue and her dog. They talk about whatever’s on their minds. Sue meets Keisha every Thursday at Walking with Purpose for Bible study; Keisha and Ann and Sarah have a girls’ night once a month after going to Bikram Yoga where they talk about their work and family challenges. Jane and Ann are both parishioners of St. Monica and help out Jason with Religious Ed. They meet regularly with Jason to do a monthly meeting where they talk about the ministry. Sarah and Maria both work at Vanguard and having a monthly engineering meeting at work (all business). Since Sarah is a member of St. Monica and Maria belongs to Simon and Jude, they often chat about their faith when they go to lunch after the engineering meeting.
Some of these are relationships of mentor-to-student. Some are clearly peer-to-peer relationships. Most are a combination, because everyone has their strengths and gifts and struggles. Through God’s providence, He “sets up the meeting” so that the right people somehow are paired with the other “right” person or people so that all benefit and all grow deeper in their faith while becoming “the best versions of themselves.”