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Making disciples requires moving beyond simply observing the rules in our own lives

There is a difference between knowing the rulebook for baseball and being an effective player. We can use that lesson as we build vibrant parishes

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

In January 1999, St. John Paul II conducted his historic visit to St. Louis. We look back on that event with enormous gratitude. It was a shot of adrenaline for the local Church.

This past January, 25 years later, in the same dome that hosted St. John Paul II, we hosted the SEEK24 conference. About 20,000 people — mostly young adults — came to St. Louis to learn how to follow Jesus more closely and proclaim Him more boldly. It was another shot of adrenaline for the local Church. I think we’ll look back 25 years from now and tell the same kind of stories: “I was there!”

One of the lessons we learned from SEEK24 is that the young Church is vibrant! Now, let’s be careful how we construe that: The vibrancy is not measured simply by counting numbers (even if the numbers were good). The key metrics for vibrancy at SEEK24 were: (1) the depth of commitment to following Jesus — in other words, discipleship; and (2) the willingness of disciples to invite others to follow Jesus — that is, disciples making disciples.

That’s an important lesson for us as we seek to make our parishes more vibrant.

Another lesson we learned from SEEK24 was an analogy that one of the speakers offered. Consider any game: baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, football, etc. In all of those games, studying the rulebook is not the same as playing the game, and simply staying within the rules doesn’t make one a great player.

Let’s be clear: The rules are important! Without rules there’s no game, only chaos. The speaker’s point was this: Playing the game requires more than understanding the rules (not less), and being good at the game requires more than following them.

For too long we’ve thought that simply following the rules means we’re “playing the Gospel game” well. But in no other area of life would we say this! If we’re going to be an evangelizing Church it requires more — not less, but more!

Jesus commanded us to go forth and make disciples of all nations. We’ll never do that by breaking the rules. But keeping the rules in our own lives is not the same as making disciples. And making disciples — that’s the name of the game!

There are many discouraging things in the world and some discouraging things in the Church. I’m not naïve about any of those. But I remain encouraged. I’m encouraged because I’ve experienced the vibrancy of the young Church. And I’m encouraged because I believe we can bring that same vibrancy to our parishes.

To be vibrant disciples, however, and to become vibrant parishes, we have to “play the game.”

For more on what that could look like, I encourage you to read my document “Disciples Make Disciples,” and to visit our new website with follow-up suggestions and resources: theway.archstl.org

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