Rebuilt and Forming Intentional Disciples: In Conversation on Discipleship

Without a doubt, Rebuilt (White and Corcoran) and Forming Intentional Disciples (Weddell) are two of the most important books on doing ministry that have come out in recent years. Yet, the books are quite different in focus. Forming Intentional Disciples provides an in-depth look at the movements and thresholds leading up to a person’s “drop the net” decision to be a disciple (and thus an intentional disciple) of Jesus Christ. Rebuilt, on the other hand, is a book about ministerial leadership and the role the Catholic parish should play in the lives of individuals and communities [Tools for Rebuilding, a follow-up guide of leadership/managerial applications, makes this focus even more clear].

The books do overlap when it comes to the theme of discipleship. The question is, are the visions for mature discipleship the same? Or different?

First turning to Weddell’s work, we find that intentional discipleship includes:

  • a “drop the net” decision
  • primary motivation from within, a “Holy Spirit-given hunger and thirst for righteousness”
  • worship and love of the Blessed Trinity with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love of neighbor as one’s self as source and end of all things (p. 65-66)

The authors of Rebuilt use similar concepts to describe discipleship, explaining:

  • “Disciples are students who are growing to love God and love others as Jesus taught us”
  • Disciples experience conversion and on-going conversion (p. 68).

For both Weddell and White/Corcoran, discipleship begins with a decision/conversion, and then a willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit (Weddell) and Jesus as Teacher (White/Corcoran) into ongoing conversion and desire for righteousness lived out in love for God and neighbor. Seems pretty congruent. 

Okay, so how do Forming Intentional Disciples and Rebuilt envision the life of discipleship?

Weddell’s book specifically focuses on the growth leading up to the “drop the nets” decision of intentional discipleship, not a detailed analysis of what comes afterwards (and this is good! books need focus). However, she does explain that intentional discipleship is recognizable by its fruits.

FruitsofIntentionalDiscipleship

In comparison, White and Corcoran use the language of actions. That disciples do certain things. Disciples…

Love God. As put into action in both corporate worship and daily quiet prayer. “Daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours, Marian devotion, especially the Rosary, and regular disciplines of Confession, penance, giving, and fasting can be serious tools for the mature disciple. On the other hand, a few minutes alone with God each day, away from texting and technology, can be a great place to start”  (p. 68-69).

Love People. Friends, family, neighbors, the oppressed, the lost–everyone. Self-care is important preparation to loving one another.

Make Disciples. This is the single promise Jesus made to the first disciples–“they’d be disciple makers” (p. 70).

I see huge overlap between the “fruits” Weddell names and the “actions” White/Corcoran discuss. Though some of the fruits are more specific, they all fit into the three much broader categories of Loving God, Loving People, and Making Disciples. Again, the vision for discipleship in both books seems highly compatible.

When it comes to naming what doesn’t make disciples. Weddell and White/Corcoran again seem to be on the same page. Both agree that Church/Mass attendance and parish/group membership (e.g. Knights of Columbus, Rosary Society) are no automatic indicator of discipleship. Both specifically push against the misconception of the liturgical Sacraments as some type of “magic” that makes a disciple without the proper disposition of the recipient. Both agree that knowing Catholic doctrine in an intellectual/academic sense does not necessarily lead to decision/conversion–and has been a downfall of much of the “religious education” in our country.

White and Corcoran have a slightly humorous, but very real section on p. 81 where they point out the [obvious] that even building campaigns don’t make disciples 🙂 I think the deeper point here is that there is no silver bullet. The only thing that makes disciples is [drumroll…] making disciples. Or, as Forming Intentional Disciples might teach us, the only thing that actually breaks the silence regarding relationship with Jesus in parish life, is breaking the silence. No new building, no one curriculum, etc. can do it. Bottom line, there’s no substitute, no way around the essentials when it comes to these central challenges in ministry. 

Overall, I’d say that Forming Intentional Disciples and Rebuilt are quite compatible and affirmatively Catholic on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  The challenge is this: Both are mere books. They’re conversation starters, not solutions. It’s up to each of us to prayerfully discern and creatively adapt and apply these critical messages to our particular setting.

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