As parish programs are starting up with the school year, I want to talk about the necessity of one-on-one discipleship. This is something that many people on parish staff have zero experience with. But it’s just spending time with someone listening to them and providing a type of companionship that is ordered towards helping each other become better Christians.
This time 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.
I pause here to note: Discipleship isn’t grooming successors. If you run a parish program, of course you keep your eye out for people who can take on responsibility within your program. But 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.
(Indeed: I find it very fruitful to be in mutual-discipleship relationships with people whose work is entirely separate from mine.)
Discipling someone 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.
Everybody in your parish needs this.
Parish staff cannot, therefore, meet the needs of all parishioners (unless your parish only has four people in it, maybe).
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.
Parish staff can hope to personally disciple a very small number of people. The goal should be to work towards helping those few people in turn be mature enough Christians that they can disciple others, and on and on.
A culture of “discipleship” is not just a culture where growing in one’s Christian faith is highly valued; it’s a culture where personally spending time helping each other grow is a normal activity for all members of the community.
Furthermore, to be successful, the two people in a discipleship relationship must like each other. Otherwise spending time with each other won’t be any fun.
Therefore blind-date discipleship doesn’t work all that well. As a result, the parish culture needs to be one where people meet each other, get to know each other, and form “horizontal” relationships. It’s not 100 parents who each know the DRE and smile at each other in the car line. It’s 100 parents who form friendships in a crystalline network among each other.
You can easily see that it is also therefore necessary that welcoming and incorporating newcomers into that web of parish friendships is essential. We don’t stop at greeting the stranger. We don’t stop at inviting the stranger to the potluck. We learn the stranger’s name, we make sure the stranger has someone to sit with, we create opportunities to get to know the stranger one-on-one, and now the stranger is no longer a stranger and the process of getting involved in discipling one another is underway.
Finally let me clarify that a culture of discipleship doesn’t mean every parishioner is paired with exactly one other parishioner in a formal disciple-teacher relationship. Some people might have that experience, such as if you are working one-on-one as a catechist with an RCIA candidate receiving individual instruction. But what is normal and good is a network of discipling relationships.
For example: Jane gets out and walks every morning with Sue, and they talk about whatever’s on their minds; Sue meets Keisha once a week for Bible study; Keisha and Ann and Sarah have a girls’ night once a month where they talk about their work and family challenges; Jane and Ann do a monthly meeting where they talk about the ministry they run together; Sarah and Maria having a monthly engineering meeting at work (all business), and then they go to lunch afterward and chat about their faith; Maria teaches religious ed on Sunday nights, and her helper Monica learns from her in class, and also they belong to the same quilting club.
Some will be relationships of teacher to student, some will be clearly peer-to-peer relationships, and most will be a combination, because everyone has their strengths and gifts and struggles.
This is copyright Jennifer Fitz 2017. Permission granted to share it around freely for non-profit educational use; I only ask that you attribute and either share in its entirety or provide a link back here so people can read the whole thing if they like. If you’re a glutton for this stuff, the Evangelization and Discipleship page on this site has links to other articles on related topics.