Do you want make disciples in the lives of children and young people? Today, there is a lot of discussion about how to make disciples of adults, however, there is little about discipleship for children and young people. This past summer I had the privilege of presenting on this topic at the St. John Bosco Catechetical Conference. What do we need to do today to disciple young people?
Catechesis for discipleship must involve parents. They are called to be the first heralds of the Gospel, the first witnesses of a life lived in and for Christ. How parents talk about their faith and share about it in the home makes a huge difference. The Church has been saying this for two millennia. Now Social Science is also providing the empirical research to back up what the Church as always known, even if at times in her history too much emphasis has been given to the cognitive development of teaching children the faith (but that’s a blog post for another day). Check out Christian Smith and Justin Bartkus’ research on the impact of parents. The research is compelling in regards to how parents have the greatest effect on the life-long practice of the faith of their children. Nothing comes close to their impact. Therefore, in order to make disciples of young people parents must be involved. This is, in my opinion, where we need to do a “rethink” on our approach. Too often parish director’s of religious education have been hesitant to give too much of the formation/content over to the parents to do at home because they worry that the parents probably won’t take the time to teach and cover the material so it’s better for kids to come to the parish so they can at least get something. Does that sound familiar to anyone? If we don’t break out of this mentality and foster programming that empowers the parents to hand on the faith to their children then we will perpetuate a disintegrated catechesis. Discipleship of children and young people necessarily requires the involvement of parents.
#2 The Kerygma
Catechesis must constantly incorporate the Kerygma. Pope Francis “nailed it” when he said:
In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment. For this reason too, “the priest – like every other member of the Church – ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized”.
Therefore, every doctrine of the faith that is taught should incorporate the kerygma and refer to it. For example, if the topic is the Commandments, it is important to speak of them with reference to the kerygma by sharing how God’s grace assists us to live the Commandments. Christ’s death and resurrection allows us to find freedom from sin and that which binds us. Catechesis for Discipleship necessitates proclamation of the kerygma.
The characteristics that are necessary for the discipleship for both children and adults need to be invitational, personal, authentic, organic, always pointing to Christ and grounded in relationship. Keeping these things in mind and putting them into practice (along with involving parents and proclaiming the kerygma) is necessary for an authentic formation of making disciples. I close with words from one of my favorite authors, Erasmo Levi-Merikakis from his book The Way of the Disciple, who said:
“Mature Christian freedom…is my total availability and obedience to the will of the all-wise God. We may initially find any disciplinary structure difficult, but with time we may so internalize it and identify with it that it becomes a new and comfortably improved self-image. But that would be too bad, because this accommodation would defeat the purpose of Christian discipline as a permanent instrument of openness to the work of the Spirit within us. It is not enough by far to have taken radical initial steps of conversion and to be a reasonably observant and faithful Christian. At the center of our being we must remain poor and free and available to God, rather than barricade ourselves through habit to the approaches of God’s ever-surprising grace.” Page 29 of The Way of the Disciple
Check out this helpful discipleship inventory I created for considering an environment of discipleship:
Do you have anything to add regarding necessary components for the discipleship of children and young people?