Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry A. Weddell is a very popular book and has remained in the top 5,000 best sellers from all the books available on Amazon. It is popular because first it includes shocking statistical evidence:
- Only 30% of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing (p. 24). 10 percent of all adults in America are ex-Catholics (p. 25).
- 79% of those who have dropped the name “Catholic” and claim no religious affiliation of any kind have done so by age 23 (p. 33).
- In the early 21st century, among Americans raised Catholic, becoming Protestant is the best guarantee of stable church attendance as an adult (p. 35).
- The majority of adult Catholics are not even certain that a personal relationship with God is possible (p. 46).
- Mass attendance is always lower than, and goes up and down with, the percentage of those who are certain that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God (p. 44).
This statistical analysis of the Church in the United States in all probability reflects the situation here in the UK. Furthermore, the old adage that they will come back for the Sacraments no longer holds true. Between 1972 and 2010 the number of marriages celebrated in church has plummeted by 60%. As Sherry Weddell says, ‘God has no grandchildren.’
Next, the author provides a concept of Intentional Disciples that can be easily shared, discussed, and adapted for parishes in England and Wales. She describes an Intentional Disciple by using the analogy of Simon Peter dropping his nets to follow Jesus (p.65).
Intentional is not a matter of following the rules or being a cultural Catholic. It means entrusting one’s life to Jesus Christ and regular participation in the Sacraments as the vessels of grace.
Then, using the Five Thresholds as outlined on pages 129-130, the author explains the stages to conversion, to becoming an Intentional Disciple:
- Initial trust: Someone makes a positive association with Jesus, the Church, or a Christian believer.
- Spiritual curiosity: A person is intrigued by or desiring to know more about Jesus, his life, his teachings or some aspect of the Christian faith.
- Spiritual openness: A person acknowledges to himself or herself and to God that he or she is open to the possibility of personal and spiritual change.
- Spiritual seeking: The person moves from being essentially passive to actively seeking to know the God who is calling him or her.
- Intentional discipleship: This is the decision to ‘drop one’s nets.’ To make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one’s life accordingly.
Once someone has become a disciple of Jesus Christ and has commitments their life to Him, it makes sense that that person would go on to share Christ with others. The Called & Gifted Discernment Process helps intentional disciples learn how to do this. The author has gained an immense amount of experience and knowledge by training thousands of people with her Called & Gifted Discernment Process. Bishop Philip Egan recently hosted such a weekend workshop in the Portsmouth Diocese.
If we in the UK adopt the principles outlined in this book, we may well move the Church from its current ‘maintenance’ or even ‘managing decline’ mode to one where parish communities begin to thrive and rebuild.
In a world that is suffering from moral relativism and apathy whilst under the serious threat of militant and violent forms of Islam, as Catholic Christians we can no longer afford to do nothing.