The joke goes, what is the difference between ignorance and apathy? The answer is I don’t know and I don’t care.
The Catholic Church is in a crisis of membership, and we can’t remain ignorant and we can’t surrender to apathy. There are about 100 million Catholics in the United States. It is an amount that should make a tremendous difference, but we don’t. Statistically, we are just like every other group that doesn’t believe.
It seems like a large group because, after all, it takes only about 5 million people to sway a vote for a president. But let’s look closer at these 100 million Catholics.
Of the 100 million Catholics, 30 million have publicly renounced their Catholic faith. When asked if they are Catholic, their answer is no. That is a larger population than Canada. Of the remaining 70 million Catholics, 40 million don’t go to Mass. So if asked, they might say yes, I am Catholic. But when asked what church do you go to, they say I don’t go to church anymore. Those 40 million Catholics are equal to the population of Australia. So of the 100 million Catholics, we have hemorrhaged two first-world countries in one generation.
So, of the remaining 30 million, approximately only half go irregularly to Sunday Mass. The other 15 million go to Mass on Sundays, but only 5 million of the 15 million donate 80% of the time and money.
So out of 100 million Catholics, only about 1 million would consider themselves serious disciples of Christ. Of the million, only 100,000 can actually seek to share their faith and new disciples. And some say that is an overestimation, and say it is more like 25,000.
So, where do we begin? I want to multiply the 25,000 who are ready to make other Catholics, who want others to know God and his Son, and find the treasure of our faith. I want to work with those who are already disciples and make them into discipleship makers.
Have you ever been in a situation when the lights went out? Do you wonder what to do? And then you remember there is a master switch in the garage. You go there and turn on the switch and the lights come on. We need to turn on the master switch of our faith. I am going to work one on one with folks who want to throw on the master switch of their faith. I want to make disciples of Jesus who want to make disciples. Unfortunately, many Christians don’t view themselves as disciples.
“I’m just a normal Christian. I go to church. I believe. I try to be a good person. But I’m not good enough to be a disciple.” Too often, we view “ordinary Christians” and “disciples” as being in two separate categories.
Disciples are those super-Christians, those who are part of an elite group of religious leaders or exceptionally spiritual people. Bishops, priests, Mother Teresa, lay leaders, and those “very religious” people who show up at every event at my parish—those are disciples.
“But I’m just an ordinary guy in the pew. I could never be a disciple.” What if I were to tell you that learning how to live more intentionally as a disciple can make all the difference in your spiritual life? You want your faith life lit up? If you desire a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus—if you desire your spiritual life to grow more profoundly and go far beyond the humdrum existence of a Christian who is just going through the motions—then consider what it means to follow Jesus intentionally as a disciple.
You need to flip the switch of your faith life to on. Remember the parable of the lost pearl of great price? The disciple found the pearl, and it was so amazing he sold everything to get it. The master switch to our faith is that relationship with Jesus Christ. I think we believe the spiritual life is working and working and getting enough finally to get the pearl. But the pearl comes first. We don’t earn Christ’s forgiveness or the Father’s love. We discover the treasure and say it is worth everything I have to live this life in Christ. The switch comes on, and I say, let me follow you. I want to follow you, Jesus. And that is what a disciple is. A follower of Jesus.
The essence of discipleship is imitation—imitating the life of the teacher. Though the word disciple (mathetes in Greek) means “learner,” a Jewish disciple gained more from his rabbi than just book knowledge. Discipleship was more of an apprenticeship—an immersion into the rabbi’s whole way of life. A disciple would live with the rabbi, share meals with the rabbi, pray with the rabbi, and observe the way the rabbi studied, taught, served the poor, interacted with his friends, and debated other teachers. And the goal of discipleship was to emulate the master’s entire way of living.
Jesus sums up this point, saying, “Everyone, when he is fully taught, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
Notice the emphasis is not merely on head knowledge. While disciples certainly need to know the content of his message, Jesus stresses the importance of observing his teachings, and putting them into practice in their daily lives.
Living out the teachings was more important than merely knowing them. It is the lifelong process of encountering Jesus anew each day. Over time, we start to think as he thinks, see as he sees, love as he loves, and act as he acts.
When Christians talk about “growing in holiness” or “pursuing sanctity” or “becoming saints,” they are, in essence, talking about the imitatio Christi, or what the Scriptures would call discipleship.
Just give me twelve disciples who want to follow Jesus like that, and we can set the world on fire. Who wants to join me?