Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review: Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell

I finally finished this book. It wasn't the one (in my stack of books) that I thought I would finish first. 

I highly recommend it to anyone who does anything at their parish (CCD teacher, administration, parish council, welcoming committee, donuts, etc.) Actually, even if you don't do anything, I highly recommend reading it. There is so much valuable information on the state of the Church right now and what God calls us to do about it. 

That being said, I have a very mixed reaction to the book. For one thing, some of the statistical information (it is not dry stastitic-- the numbers are very well presented) will make you sad----or maybe even frustrated and angry. 

Yet, the focus on DISCIPLESHIP is so important and so hopeful. 

But, I am getting ahead of myself. The way that I came to this book is an interesting story (at least to me!) and may explain my reactions. 

I was surfing one day looking for discussions on one of my favorite topics, Sacramental Preparation. I found a discussion of the age of Confirmation (an issue I love to go on and on about) and I scanned the comments to see where I fit into the discussion. 

I have been out of the world of parish/school catechesis since my kids were born and part of the reason I backed away (aside from the obvious motherhood aspects) was a growing dissatisfaction---even feelings of hopelessness---about the way catechesis plays itself out in parishes. So, for a decade now those thoughts have developed and morphed. But I wasn't sure whether I had drifted so far from my former colleagues that we were no longer on the same page. 

Back to the online discussion. I found a comment that went something like this: If we move the age of Confirmation back, we will lose these kids at a younger age (since so few kids remain active in parish life after Confirmation) and will essentially see the end of catechesis for children at the parish level---the programs will die. 

And my gut reaction was to say--Okay! Let them die! Lets start over with something that works. 

At the root of my reaction is a belief that the grace of the Sacrament of Confirmation is needed earlier in life and so waiting until the teen years means that kids are faced with overwhelming challenges without the grace needed.

In addition is the firm conviction that parents are "the primary educators" of their children for a reason---the atmosphere of the home is the best place to foster a relationship with God, especially in a child. Children do not often take the content of a 1-2 hour class and transform their lives with it. Yet, this is the goal of Catechesis: transformation in Christ. 

I have felt for a long time that CCD-type programs are only successful if they build on a strong family life--in which case they are almost not necessary. 

Thus my reaction to the fear that parish level catechesis for children will pass away if we give kids the Sacrament of Confirmation too early. And of course the flip side of the argument is that we must postpone such a crucial sacrament of initiation in order to be sure those programs remain full and active. 

But…back to the book. I found myself wondering about the background of the commenter in this case. So I googled her. Then I found she had a blog. Then I found she wrote a book. Long story short, I bought her book. 

The commenters name was Sherry Weddell and her book is called “Forming Intentional Disciples”.

So I started this whole mental journey in disagreement with the author on a point of strategy…not a point of Faith. And this is where I still find myself. Though I am less confident in my own approach than I was when I first stumbled upon her comment in the Confirmation discussion. 

I have a negative gut reaction to the multiplicity of parish “programs” aimed at Catechesis. Part of that comes from a conviction that “programs” do not bring about conversion. 

Personal relationships with people who know Jesus Christ bring people into personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

After saying “yes!” and “exactly!” through most of the book I was hoping to read something like “So lets scrap all these “programs” and get to know Jesus!" But that is not how Sherrie concludes her book. 

To be fair, I have on my mind children’s catechesis and she has on her mind youth and adult catechesis. We may not be so far apart after all. 

Yet, I need not agree with everything in a book to enjoy it and get a lot out of it, right? 

I highly recommend you read it…then come back here and discuss it with me. Lets see if we agree. 


  1. Oh….I plan on reading this!! I like the story of how it came to be in your hands, too. So very interesting. And I must agree with you on your thoughts about programs and age of reception of the sarament. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Thanks Patty! I was thinking of you when I wrote this because I know you are involved in your parish as a catechist. A definite must read for you (when you have time after tugging those big ships around all day!) :)