Program #0519 for Wednesday, May 1, 2013: Sherry Weddell and Forming Intentional Disciples

May 1, 2013

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Sherry Weddell and Forming Intentional Disciples

Sherry Weddell and Forming Intentional Disciples

Summary of today’s show: Four times as many people are leaving the Church as are entering and most of them are gone by the time they’re 23. Why are they leaving? Where are they going? How can we help them stay? Sherry Weddell joins Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams to talk about her new book about forming intentional disciples and show how parishes can help them cross the threshold to discipleship and learn that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not only possible, but intensely desirable.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams

Today’s guest(s): Sherry Weddell

Links from today’s show:

Today’s topics: Sherry Weddell and Forming Intentional Disciples

1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed everyone to the show and said today’s guest is Sherry Weddell and her new book Forming Intentional Disciples is one of the top 5 books he’s read in the past two years. But first, he welcomed Fr. Matt Williams to the show. They discussed the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults’s annual award dinner last night in which 75 youth, young adults, and parish leaders received awards. The photos are available at

Fr. Matt said he talked last night about the Scripture in which the Lord’s light has entered the world and the darkness has not overcome it. Yet the darkness is still there. He said the people there should be like stained glass windows, showing through Christ’s light into the world.

Scot said Sherry Anne Weddell created the first charism discernment process specifically designed for Catholics in 1993. In 1997, she co-founded the Catherine of Siena Institute, an affiliated international ministry of the Western Dominican Province, and currently serves as Co-Director. Sherry has developed numerous unique formation resources that are used around the world and trained and helps lead an international team who have worked directly with over 85,000 ordained, religious, and lay Catholics in more than 100 dioceses on 5 continents.

Scot said he’s heard a lot about Sherry’s book in the the last few months, particularly among those in the archdiocese working on the new pastoral planning process to help parishes with evangelization. He said there’s a lot of great wisdom in the book. He asked her to share a little of the information contained in her first chapters about the influx and outflow of the Catholic community.

Sherry said most people think people are raised Catholic and stay Catholic. But in general about four times as many people are leaving the Church are entering. She said about 11 percent of people in church on Sunday are converts, but more are leaving, usually silently. Most leave and don’t practice religion or they become Protestant. People are looking for help in their spiritual growth but can’t find someone to help them in their parishes. Most people leave young, most before 18 and nearly all by 23.

Religious change is a young adult thing, and this is true across religions. But our culture rewards faiths that evangelize intentionally and penalize faiths that rely on inherited religious identity. It’s become normal for young adults to decide for themselves as young adults. The difference in other faiths, like evangelical Protestants, is that they evangelize intentionally and have a lot more people entering. The Pew Forum reported that 10% of American adults are former Catholics.

Scot said of those who left the faith to become Protestant, they said their spiritual needs weren’t being met. And they joined evangelical churches because they enjoyed the new faiths’ services and worship in a way that fed them spiritually. Our retention strategy for Catholics is 400 years old, based on our response to he Protestant Reformation.

Sherry said in many ways the Church reinvented herself in response to the Reformation. The whole elementary school system was built to evangelize children, for instance. But the modern culture has changed so drastically. The old belief was that if you have a child until he is 7, you will make the man. Most of our practices presume all of our efforts go into children and the adults will just stay. But statistically at the moment all these practices don’t make much difference for where adults end up. She said less than half of Catholics told the Pew survey that you can have a personal relationship with God. Faith has to be personally meaningful. The encounter with Christ has always been at the center of the Christian faith.

Fr. Matt said when we see that all these programs we’re doing aren’t working or aren’t making a difference, is this because the programs themselves are bad or that whatever happens in the next stage makes them lose whatever they gained? Sherry said there was a study in Canada last year that said four things happened for young adults who practice their faith: 1. They’d seen answered prayer, 2. They’d been able to ask their real questions within the Christian community, 3. They’d encountered the real Christian Gospel story, 4. They’d had other adults around them living this and modeling it for them. If these were ture, they were likely to be there and if they weren’t true, they were likely to be gone.

The key is adult formation. So many of our children’s parents aren’t practicing. In New Zealand, 95% of parents of children in Catholic schools don’t practice. If adults are disciples, they will communicate it in a living way to their children. That which isn’t lived isn’t transmitted.

Scot said we can’t outsource this from ourselves as parents to others.

He said he’d never see someone say we’re on three spiritual journeys at the same time: A personal journey to be an intentional disciple; a journey of being initiated through the sacraments; a journey of active practice of the faith. Going through sacramental formation and attending church only fulfill the last two. Sherry said the first one is always treated as optional in Catholic circles and among Catholics there’s a spiral of silence about talking about your personal relationship with Christ.

Sherry said people tell her that they feel like they’re betraying their Catholicism if they have a personal relationship with Christ and so they hide it from the rest of their parish. In the typical parish, when parish leaders are asked to estimate the percentage of intentional disciples, the answer comes back as 5%. What happens to this 5% is that they have pressure to conform. Our brains are wired to see standing out as being wrong. People respond by going underground or backtracking or leaving. She’s heard multiple stories of Catholics who had a spiritual awakening in their life and were thinking of leaving because they couldn’t find anyone to talk to about it.

Sherry said when they talk to parishes, they tell them they have to break the silence so people know that it’s possible to talk about a personal relationship with God. We need to be talking with each other about the challenge of saying Yes or No to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. She said she challenges a parish based on their estimated percentage of intentional disciples to double it in five years. What would be the result in the parish, not because the numbers aren’t important but because each person is important.

Scot said in the typical parish there are two tracks: the ordinary track and the saint track, which most people don’t feel worthy of. What we don’t have is the intentional disciple track where people are on a journey but aren’t saints yet. Sherry shared the story of someone she worked with who wanted to be on the intentional disciple track and people didn’t know what to do with him except say he should study for the priesthood.

Sherry said we’re supposed to expect conversion and plan for it. We react as if we’re surprised by it. She said the young man in the story had a dramatic conversion, having been a meth addict and converting on Divine Mercy Sunday. He was on fire for Christ and the parish just didn’t know what to do with him. Disciples understand the journey of a disciple. You can’t only understand and facilitate someone else’s journey depending on how far you’ve journeyed. She said some of her collaborators are finding ways to let intentional disciples help form other disciples. This should be essential to post-RCIA, after retreats.

Even after you become a disciple, so much of what the Church calls us to do is dependent on what we do developmentally, not on theological categories. It’s as much about our interior journey with God as it is with the sacraments we’ve checked out in order to release the graces in those sacraments. To go public with it requires a maturity as a disciple. Even the most basic witness is dependent on a level of growth.

Fr. Matt said we can’t just assume that because people go to church that they’re disciples. Fr. Matt said that as a priest he has to remember there might be people in the pews who are on the verge of leaving or on the threshold of faith. He has begun thinking about he can help people move on to the next step toward intentional discipleship.

Sherry said typically there is someone in our pews. About 2% of people in pews each Sunday are non-Catholics and 2% more are inactive Catholics. We need first to have a bridge of trust. That means that they have some positive association with the Church or Jesus or God or even just a particular Christian. Does a person have that trust in something? It doesn’t have to make sense. Some people trust the Virgin Mary, but not God or the Church, for example. If it doesn’t exist we have to build it.

The second threshold is curiosity. For example, they can be interested in the possibility of having a personal relationship with God. We want to stir their curiosity about Jesus Christ. We want to avoid giving them factual answers to their questions. We want to rouse them to greater curiosity through new questions.

The third threshold is openness. The person is acknowledging the possibility of a personal relationship. There is no commitment here. This can be very scary. We have to understand how scary the Church can be from the outside.

The fourth threshold is seeking. This is serious wrestling. This isn’t casual anymore. They are considering a commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church. It can feel like a quest and there can be an urgency in it for the person who is seeking. They have moved from passive to active.

The fifth threshold is intentional discipleship, making a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. This is just the beginning of the journey of discipleship.

Scot asked Sherry what makes an intentional disciple. Sherry said when she was 21 living in New York City, what she said was “OK, Jesus” and what she meant was “I am saying Yes to following you now.” Because she didn’t know much about him, she set out to find out. So an intentional disciple should set out to get to know him. Start with a New Testament and read it. If she was seeking, she would pray to God with whatever faith she had now, without pretending, asking Him to show Himself to her. Offer yourself to him with the faith you have now and for what’s real and no substitutes. If he is a loving God and Jesus Christ is his son who lived among us and taught and healed and forgave and suffered on the Cross for us and was risen for us, if all that’s real, then say you want it and that you need God to lead you. Then find a Catholic parish and ask the possibility of taking part in RCIA, which isn’t a commitment but is designed for people who are seeking. But the first step is declaring your openness to God.

Scot said the best part of the book is pages 207-217, which is about the great story of Jesus in nine acts.

2nd segment: This week’s benefactor card raffle winner is Barbara Wojciechowski from Lynn

She wins the book “Mothering: An Art of the Heart”

If you would like to be eligible to win in an upcoming week, please visit For a one-time $50 donation, you’ll receive the Station of the Cross benefactor card and key tag, making you eligible for WQOM’s weekly raffle of books, DVDs, CDs and religious items. We’ll be announcing the winner each Wednesday during “The Good Catholic Life” program.

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