How to Live as Missionary Disciples
Wondering just how Catholics can be missionary disciples? Pope Francis’ suggests that we do it by visiting with those at the margins. In other words, we learn to be missionaries by spending time in the company of those with whom church insiders can find it most difficult. Sound hard? Maybe not as hard as it sounds. And, if we truly want our parishes to thrive and not merely survive, we need to be more attention to those who are on the outside, than to those on the inside. Why? Because numerically speaking, that is where many of God’s people are. It is our purpose as insiders to connect, welcome and engage with outsiders.
The method is simple: listen. Then listen until trust and empathy grows. Why? What is in it for us? Just God’s people – who may be the ones with the cure for parish malaise. Beware: the commitment to listen is not intended to be a one-off event, rather, it leads down a path toward re-investing and re-directing our energies, on behalf of those who, Jesus insists, are at the heart of our mission as church. The success of so many of our plans for a new evangelization, just might come from what we learn from those at the margins.
Do you wonder to whom then do we listen? Consider those with disabilities (at least one in five Americans), or those who feel discarded by the church - “Nones” (another one in five folks), or our young (yep, a similar percentage), or the incarcerated, or those struggling to live, or those wounded by church-folk, many of whom are in non-traditional households - “Dones”. With the help of those who already travel at the margins, it is still possible to hear from those who live there. Admittedly this will call us beyond our comfort zone, but I recall Jesus doing that when he called his contemporaries beyond the confines of the congregations and campuses of his day. Is it possible that God still has some that the church does not, and the church still has some that God does not?
Wondering how and where to listen? Listening can occur in conversations: one-to-one, tabletop conversation or facilitated small groups. It can happen at home, in the market, on break at work, etc. The purpose of these conversations is to learn about the personal needs, hopes and aspirations of anyone. It is essential to set aside ulterior motivations, along with pre-mature expectations (e.g. immediate results), when we listen. There can be no intentions for the person from whom we trying to learn. We only hope to grow and appreciate those who we once saw more as different, but may soon come to see as more the same. Once trust is established, we are in a sacred space with one another. This is the place from which to receive a truth about their relationship with the church. But it helps to have a few good conversation starters. These questions might include:
- What do you most enjoy doing lately? With whom do you enjoy spending time? Why?
- For what do you most hope - for yourself, and for those you love?
- From where do you draw your strength... or find meaning or joy in life?
- Have people of faith helped or hindered you?
- How might people of faith help you, or those who you care about most, in the future?
- How has your life, or your experience with people of faith, impacted how you see God?
You might be surprised by what you hear. Interested in doing some listening? Contact Dennis Mahaney firstname.lastname@example.org or call 716-847-8393.
The Secret of Missionary Discipleship
Wondering what that secret is? It has alot to do with being sent and being with. There is a story about a church in decline. The baffled pastor of this aging congregation sent emissaries to a famous monk for advice. After hearing of their distress, the wise monk went off to pray. The next morning when they returned, the monk whispered five words of advice - "The Messiah is among you." and bid them farewell.
The emissaries were not sure if they fully understood this message, but they were overjoyed by the promise and brought it back to their congregation, each one wondering who the Messiah might be. Almost imperceptibly, the promise that one in this community was the Messiah, changed the way they treated one another.
There was a new vitality in the group. Worship grew in passion and purpose. The congregation began to attract people who wanted to join in their ministries of caring and compassion, which touched people well beyond the community. The secret to their success? Simply a joy for God's presence, which was there all along.
What about us? Are we not the body of Christ? Are we not an Easter and Eucharistic people, who know that ALL people are God's people? Any reading of the Gospel reveals that Jesus displayed a divine generosity and He spent most of his time with those least likely to be at church. Hospitality is the hallmark of anyone moved by joy for the Gospel.
Joy for the Gospel is much more than right belief and right behavior. It is an act of self-donation to God's merciful plan for all people. Missionary disciples see the church, not as a refuge from the world, but as a campaign headquarters for a mission in the world. Sabbath is when we pause and prepare for that campaign, which is either won or lost off church property. Therefore, parish is not a building but a mission field.
A missionary people listens to the signs of the times. They break open God's Word and give witness to their joy and hope at times, and in spaces, that are convenient and comfortable to outsiders and newcomers. They gather to praise God before being sent out, two by two (Lk. 10) and establish small groups which, by design, receive and welcome newcomers.
When Pope Francis insists that we are either missionaries or imposters, he is calling our attention to these divine realities. Do our catechists only address those who come to classes? Do our homilies only echo in the hearts of regular church goers? Does everyone at church see themselves as an ambassador of welcome to newcomers and visitors? Do our youth ministers and campus ministers spend an inordinate amount of their time and energy with those who already belong, believe and behave as we expect?
The mission of those who are saved is to be sent (the definition of "apostle"). Missionaries realize that God has some that churches do not, and that churches have some that God does not. Apostles are sent to be with those least likely to like us. What steps can you take to journey closer to Christ in your own life? And what about your parish - do you sense a joy for the Gospel? If you are wondering what this missionary discipleship looks like view this schema for what Pope Francis calls a Missionary Discipleship and find where you are along the road... by Dennis Mahaney
These sites are not an endpoint, but rather a first step toward encountering, following, finding joy with Christ in your life, and sharing Christ with others. Read through the sites, reflect and pray on what you see. Then act! If you feel so inspired, you may will wish to share something with a close friend, and perhaps ask them to consider how much better life can be with Christ.
Video: If I Could See Through Your Eyes - used with permission and brought to you by Array of Hope.