What Catholics are Reading: Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell

This book review continues our series on “What Catholics are Reading.” For more Catholic book reviews, check out this one on Matthew Kelly’s The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic.

Book Introduction

Forming Intentional Disciples has been a blockbuster bestseller. Over a year after its release, it is still in the top 5,000 books on Amazon.com! That’s out of all books on Amazon.com.

Why Forming Intentional Disciples is so popular? Here are three reasons:

1. Research

Weddell takes many felt thoughts by faithful Catholics and gives us the statistics and logic to show they are not just feelings, but facts. The statistical analysis of the Church in chapter 1 alone is worth the price of the book.

2. The concept of Intentional Disciples

Her concept of Intentional Disciples is something that resonates with people as a concept that can be easily shared, discussed, and acted upon.

3. Five thresholds

Her five thresholds are something that very practical and meaningful for those who are trying to evangelize in the Catholic Church.

I’m sure there are many more, but those are the ones that stuck out to me. Let’s look at these further in the book synopsis.

Book Synopsis

Sherry Weddell begins her book by quickly and systematically outlining the problem that the Church faces today.

Some alarming statistics:

  • Only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing (p. 24).
  • 10 percent of all adults in America are ex-Catholics (p. 25).
  • 79 percent of those who have dropped the name “Catholic” and claim no religious affliation of any kind, have done so by age 23  (p. 33).
  • In the early 21st century, among Americans raised Catholic, becoming Protestant is the best guarantee of stable church attendance as an adult (p. 35).
  • The majority of adult Catholics are not even certain that a personal relationship with God is possible (p. 46)
  • Mass attendance is always lower than, and goes up and down with, the percentage of those who are certain that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God (p. 44).

[Editor note: Previously, the third statistic above read “Nearly 80 percent of cradle Catholic are no longer Catholic by the age of 23.” This statistic was inaccurate and was corrected above. Thank you Sherry for pointing this out!]

Those are alarming statistics no matter how you look at them. Even those in the Church, who know the real problems that we face can be both brought to despair looking at them (or on a good day be inspired to think that what they do matters.)

Weddell clearly outlines the problem, but what is her solution?

Sherry has a number of solutions in the book. I don’t want to minimize her work with the following, but I would like to put forward three solutions that she advocates:

1. Become an intentional disciple.

What does Weddell mean by intentional disciple? She notes, “Simon Peter’s ‘drop the net’ decision is what we mean by intentional” (p. 65). Intentional is not a matter of following the rules or being a cultural Catholic. It means entrusting one’s life to Jesus Christ. Weddell does a great job of showing how important the sacraments of the Church are. But, at the same time, she notes that the sacraments are not magic; they are vessels of grace that we need to actively receive.

2. Discern your gifts.

Sherry has gained an immense amount of experience and knowledge by training over 65,000 people with her Called & Gifted Discernment Process. Once someone has become a disciple of Jesus Christ and has commitments their life to Him, it makes sense that that person would go on to share Christ with others. The Called & Gifted Discernment Process helps intentional disciples learn how to do this. You can find out more on these workshops here.

3. Make intentional disciples out of unevangelized Catholics by using the five thresholds.

Taking some research done by missionaries with Intervarsity, Weddell identifies five thresholds or stages that one goes through before a conversion.

Here they are (p.129-130):

  1. Initial trust: Someone makes a positive association with Jesus, the Church, or a Christian believer.
  2. Spiritual curiosity: A person is intrigued by or desiring to know more about Jesus, his life, his teachings or some aspect of the Christian faith.
  3. Spiritual openness: A person acknowledges to himself or herself and to God that he or she is open to the possibility of personal and spiritual change.
  4. Spiritual seeking: The person moves from being essentially passive to actively seeking to know the God who is calling him or her.
  5. Intentional discipleship: This is the decision to ‘drop one’s nets.’ To make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one’s life accordingly.

Quotes from the book

Here is a selection of quotes from the book that I thought were especially good:

“Kerygma is what Pope John Paul II described as ‘the initial ardent proclamation by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by faith’” (p. 66-67).

“We must be convinced that all the baptized – unless they die early or are incapable of making such a decision – will eventually be called to make a personal choice to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church” (p. 70).

“If we do not see the parish as a center of evangelization and apostolic formation, we are denying priest and their pastoral collaborators one of the great, abiding joys of ministry and one of the most powerful protections against cynicism and burnout” (p. 95).

“In recent decades, there has been little or no serious discussion at the parish level about how an individual receiving the sacraments can prepare his or her heart, soul, and life to do so fruitfully” (p. 98-99).

Where you can buy the book

I’ve included this section in my book review because the purpose of these reviews is not so that you can read the review and think that you don’t have to read the book. In fact, it is in hope that the review will cause you to read the book!

Buy the book here!

Last thoughts

Sherry’s work is invaluable for evangelization and the renewal of the Church in America. She has discerned and used her own gifts very well! We need more and more books like this and I am very excited that so many people are reading, discussing, and living out her work.

Kevin Cotter
Kevin Cotter
Kevin Cotter is the Executive Director of Programming at Amazing Parish. He previously served with FOCUS for 11 years as a missionary and Sr. Director of Curriculum. Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Benedictine College and a master’s degree in Sacred Scripture from the Augustine Institute. He is the author of numerous FOCUS resources and Bible studies and several books, including Dating Detox with his wife Lisa and Called: Becoming a Disciple in a Post-Christian World. Kevin currently resides in Denver, CO with his wife, Lisa, and their children.

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