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Foundations for Discipleship: Skills for witness and accompaniment

Foundations of Discipleship promotional image

Photo Courtesy of OSV

Susan Timoney - published on 08/26/21

A new book by Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS, and theologian Ed Sri, aims to help prepare Catholics for the work of discipleship.

“We are All Missionary Disciples”—For many American Catholics, this statement by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium would come as breaking news! In fact, Barna, an American Christian research group did a study in 2013 which found that among Christians, Catholics scored the lowest when asked if they thought sharing faith with other people is a responsibility of being a Christian, a responsibility of discipleship. 

And yet, Pope Francis, writing of his vision for the Church and its work in the world today, reminds us quite emphatically, that “…Evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120).

A challenge for church leaders

For church leaders involved in the field of evangelization, they would quickly add that even those who agree sharing faith is part of the life of a disciple of Jesus, admit to a lack of courage and confidence when it comes to conversations about faith.  As Pope Francis said, by virtue of baptism, no matter, our knowledge of the faith, we must see ourselves as agents in the missionary work of the Church. Not missionary in the sense of going to places far away where the Church may still be growing its ministry but evangelization in the sense that all of us has have opportunities at home, in the office, among friends, to talk about our faith.

If we believe the Gospel is really the “Good News”—translated from the Greek, evangelium, by the way, like any good news we hear, our natural reaction is to share it! When was the last time you had really good news and didn’t share it? Why is it so hard when it comes to our faith to feel comfortable sharing it?

The Church knows it has a real challenge in helping Catholics—who know what it means to be loved by Jesus, and to love Jesus—to become confident and courageous sharers of their faith, to become missionary disciples. Parishes, prayer groups, Catholic outreach programs are all trying to develop initiatives and programs that help Catholics to be better evangelizers.

Into this mix, comes Foundations for Discipleship, a book for adult Catholics to reflect on what it means to be a disciple, a Catholic, and an evangelizer.  Foundations for Discipleship builds on the experience of FOCUS Missions. Co-author and founder of FOCUS, Curtis Martin and theologian, Edward Sri, share the principles of formation FOCUS uses to prepare and send young missionaries out onto college campuses in a format that can be used more broadly among adult formation programs.

Foundations for Discipleship

Foundations for Discipleship achieves many things that often are a challenge for adult formation programs.  It recognizes that one grows into discipleship through the grace of baptism. Just as Jesus formed his disciples for mission in the three years he spent with them, adult Catholics need to grow in their relationship with Jesus and be prepared for the work of evangelization.  

In a series of articles grouped around a particular theme, one finds conversational style writing that is accessible and free of the sometimes-unfamiliar catechetical language of church documents. Each section of the book has a list of additional resources for reading, discussion and taking action which offers leaders and participants a well-rounded adult education experience. Of particular note is the inclusion of story. Our faith is told and shared in story and Foundations for Discipleship sets the theme for each chapter through a story drawn from Scripture, the lives of saints, or the lives of Catholics through the ages. 

Three missionary principles

Foundations for Discipleship

The structure of the formation experience centers on three principles of missionary discipleship (win-build-send) that draw from Pope Francis’s vision for a renewed missionary spirit within the Church and the U.S. Bishops’ vision for the Church in the United States.

Living as Missionary Disciples, speaks of four movements in the formation of a missionary disciple. Discipleship begins in an encounter with Jesus, that is life changing—that is that one’s relationship with Jesus is personal and intimate. Accompany is central to the U.S. Church’s hope for renewal and to Foundations for Discipleship. Accompaniment speaks to the need to educate and form adults to live as disciples. Accompaniment asks of our parishes to provide intellectual, spiritual and human formation so people can grow in their knowledge and understanding of their faith. Community highlights the indispensable roll of the parish in the life of the Catholic. We experience communion with the Lord in the celebration of the sacraments and in the work we do together in parish communities. From the community, we send people out from Mass and into the world to be witnesses to the joy of the Gospel. 

Foundations of Discipleship translates the four characteristics of discipleship into their own language of formation that suitably speaks to the youthful energy of FOCUS missionaries. Win, Build, Send describes the core of the formation program.

Relationship with Christ

Participants begin by reflecting on their relationship with Jesus,  asking the question “How well do I know Jesus?” and then move through a series of reflections to consider ways that they can come to know Our Lord more deeply. “Build” focuses on our lives in the Christian community, actively participating in liturgy and the sacraments, making the church and a parish or other Catholic community, a spiritual home. The third section, “send” attends to the heart of the challenge for the Church today. “Send” articles are designed to teach the vision, skills, and formation necessary to evangelize and accompany others effectively on the path of discipleship.”  

Preparation for witness and accompaniment

My hope is the FOCUS will not be the only group developing education and formation material focused on preparation and skill building for the practice of witness and accompaniment.

Following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI cast a vision for the renewal of the evangelizing mission of the Church. Writing in Evangelii Nuntiandi on what the modern world might find most compelling in the Gospel, he reflects that “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

In an age in which people are very hesitant to believe the credibility of witnesses, especially witnesses to faith, the Church needs to call forth, prepare and send witnesses into the world. Foundations of Discipleship is a resource for just that and a resource that can serve as a template for parishes, organizations and dioceses looking to develop its own resources for a particular community. 

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