This summer, CatholicMom.com is hosting an on-line book discussion group for Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples. Each session will focus on one chapter of the book, and yours truly is participating. Hit the link above to see all of the participants, and to find the discussion questions.
Chapter 9 of Forming Intentional Disciples is called “Break the Silence,” and it’s all about talking about Jesus in your parish and in your life. We Catholics tend to be willing to talk about the Church, and about doctrine, and about that nun in third grade, but we don’t generally like to talk about Jesus. And since discipleship is all about a vivid, life-giving relationship with Jesus, that’s a problem.
The chapter has a lot to say on the subject, but the core of it is the “Threshold Conversation”, which is a conversation you have with someone to find out where they are among the thresholds of discipleship. And the main thing, the most important thing, is that it’s all about listening. You might ask, formally, “What’s your lived relationship with God to date?” You might ask informally, “So where is God in all of this?” And then you have to listen. You might ask questions, just to encourage the person you’re talking to to keep talking, or to clarify a point, but other than that you listen.
There are a few rules, like “Never accept a label instead of a story.” If someone says, “Well, I’m an atheist,” or “We were very religious when I was a kid,” don’t take that as the final word: find out what they mean, because they might mean almost anything. Ask them.
And then, listen.
And then, listen.
This is not a time for apologetics, or argument, or teaching, or setting the record straight, or talking about your own experience. It’s a time for listening prayerfully in love.
This blew my mind when I first read it. When I was in college I was a member of Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, which is big on witnessing and leading people to Christ. It was about telling people how Jesus had saved me, and how wonderful it was, and encouraging them to try it. I tried to do it, but I was no good at it. Then, while I was Episcopalian my parish was big on evangelism and leading people to Christ. It was more sophisticated than what I’d learned at IVCF, but it was along the same lines. I spent a long time on it, and tried, but I’m not aware of ever having successfully “led someone to Christ”. I might have planted a few seeds here and there, but no more than that.
It was all about talking.
And here, Sherry Weddell says, “Listen.”
Have you noticed that God is very good at listening? You can tell Him anything, and take as long as you want at it, and He’ll go on listening. Part of a Threshold Conversation—ideally, part of any conversation—is loving the other person with God’s love.
You have to listen.