Personal Discipleship and Life as Church

Discipleship. Intentional Discipleship. Personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

These phrases are becoming more and more common in parishes as we embrace the New Evangelization more and more! And that’s great since all of our recent popes have emphasized the essential importance of Christianity as a relationship with Jesus Christ, following Him as as disciple, and making foundational, life-changing decisions. But is it too much “me and Jesus” spirituality? Where does life in the Church fit in?

Sherry Weddell’s best-selling book Forming Intentional Disciples (2012) talks a lot about the importance of the process of becoming an “intentional disciple,” having a personal relationship with God. It also provides a useful framework for discussing personal discipleship and the Church in an integrated, not competitive way.

The idea is that for every Catholic Christian there are three spiritual journeys, all equally essential. Ideally, they’d occur concurrently or with some overlap. But, our lives as human beings and our responses to God’s grace can get a little messy (to say the least!) and so our job isn’t to “enforce” a certain order, but simply to recognize that all three do need to occur. Consider these three journeys in your life:


These three spiritual journeys are going to look different for just about every person. And it’s not just coming to a “yes/no” sense of completion on a spiritual journey–there are stages, phases, different levels of enthusiasm, etc. The point is, there’s an incompleteness without all three in place. Weddell writes that ideally, “every Catholic would be making all three journeys–to be a conscious disciple of Jesus Christ, a fully initiated Catholic, and an active parishioner–as an integrated whole” (p. 54). This is the fullness of our Catholic faith, in its full glory, made present in each of our lives! 

But, it’s okay (and necessary) to understand and acknowledge that for many of us, these three spiritual journeys do not begin in an integrated way, and sometimes take decades to converge or even begin! As evangelizers, one of the most important things we can do is help others recognize the three spiritual journeys in their own lives, and be a companion to those who may be “missing” one of the journeys or have a very diminished sense of the deeper meaning or relationship of that journey to their life as a whole.

Without a doubt, I think the idea of our 3 Spiritual Journeys is the most underrated concepts from Forming Intentional Disciples. Talking about these 3 Spiritual Journeys is a vital part of connecting personal discipleship with our liturgical life and mission as Church.

Copyright 2014, Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Reiss Vermeulen, M.Div., M.N.A., blogs, ministers in parish life and lay/deacon formation, and serves as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. She and her husband, Luke, have been married since 2011 and live in Ypsilanti, MI with their two young sons.

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