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How to Help Your Parish Become a Disciple-Making Factory

March 15, 2019



Most parishes wish they were better at evangelizing and making disciples. They wish they could help parishioners become more ardent, committed followers of Christ who are excited to share their faith with others.

But how do we get there? Marcel LeJeune, President and Founder of Catholic Missionary Disciples, has been dedicated to the task for many years.

Through his work with parishes, dioceses, and college campuses, he equips Catholic leaders to make disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. He is also an international speaker, author, and evangelist.

Marcel served as the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University for eleven years, the largest campus ministry in the country. Before that he was the Director of Campus Ministry at St. Elizabeth’s University Parish at Texas Tech University for four years. He holds a Master of Theological Studies, specializing in Pastoral Theology.

Today, Brandon Vogt sits down with Marcel to chat about how parishes can become disciple-making factories. Enjoy!



BRANDON: Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly about “missionary disciples,” and the United States bishops have picked up on theme, devoting their big 2017 Convocation to the topic. What does this mean? What are missionary disciples?

MARCEL: Pope Francis first used the term “missionary disciple” in The Joy Of The Gospel. He has given the term a dual meaning. First of all, baptized Catholics are missionary disciples by the graces we receive in baptism. We are transformed to be followers of Jesus who also share in his mission to bring salvation to the world. In the second sense, we are called to live out this identity as missionary disciples by advancing in holiness and mission. To do this we need to grow and stretch ourselves as evangelists. This can take on differing forms, including prayer, mentoring, learning, and growth in virtue. We cannot merely settle for being average Christians, but need to set a goal of being great saints and evangelists. It is impossible to achieve this without God’s grace and the help of others.

BRANDON: What’s the difference between evangelization and discipleship? Why are both important and necessary?

MARCEL: Good question. I think Paul VI summed up evangelization best when he wrote, “If it had to be expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert” (EN 18). In other words, evangelization is the process of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus through our words and actions, in order to seek conversion to Jesus. Once someone has been converted and baptized, they are now a disciple (follower) of Jesus. This discipleship (following of Jesus) always follows evangelization and conversion. Evangelization is important, because salvation is meant for every person, and this is the purpose of Jesus creating his Church: to evangelize the world. Discipleship and evangelization are thus inseparable yet complementary. A disciple’s evangelization makes more disciples and every disciple is called to evangelize.

BRANDON: Among parish leaders I speak with, there’s a common, unspoken secret: we’re awful at evangelization and disciple-making. Our numbers are rapidly declining and it’s mainly because we don’t do a good job evangelizing our own people in the pews, helping them become disciples, nor do we adequately train them to become evangelists themselves, sharing their faith with others. What are we missing here? How can parishes become better at forming disciples and evangelists?

MARCEL: Well, the first step is knowing what has failed us. We created a Catholic culture that depends on other things to evangelize for us: books, videos, programs, conferences, etc. Nothing is wrong with any of these things, but they can’t take the place of a life-giving intimate relationship with a dedicated Catholic who knows how to proclaim the Gospel and invite a response in faith, hope, and love. This is the key to changing parishes: making missionary disciples who can make other missionary disciples. It is also the model Jesus taught us, and his followers changed the world within a few generations after his death.

BRANDON: Many parishes, hungry for solutions, search for a magic bullet that will bring renewal and solve all their problems. If we can just follow this model, or bring in that speaker, or use this curriculum or program, we’ll be good to go! Why is this a bad approach, and what should parishes pursue instead?

MARCEL: As I said earlier, we have to get back to the tried and true strategies of Jesus. This means parish leadership are going to have to do something different from the vast majority of others, in order to find what others have failed to find: true renewal. It starts with intense prayer, a bold vision for renewal, and then a lot of hard work. But the fruit of having a parish that is growing through conversions cannot be beat! Think of the jobs that have apprentices: electricians, plumbers, etc. You might be able to learn how to do some of the same things an electrician (or plumber) does by reading a book, attending a class, or being trained at a conference. But to really learn how to be a good electrician, you need to learn from someone who has been there (and can teach you how to be safe from all the hazards, tricks of the trade, strategies to employ, etc.). This is the model Jesus followed. He invested most of his time in his three years of ministry to these twelve. He taught them by example and word. He expected them to do what he did. This is what we are missing in most parishes: a model of intentional apostolic apprenticeship.

BRANDON: Can you give us some examples of parishes or dioceses that are doing a great job forming missionary disciples? How are they doing it?

MARCEL: If you talk to anyone who works in Catholic renewal, evangelization, and discipleship, you will find that none of us have all the answers. While I understand the desire to look at other parishes and dioceses and do it like they did, we have to be careful of falling into the trap of just running another program. I like the example of St. Paul, who tried to learn what made the culture tick, what was good in it, and how he could proclaim the Gospel faithfully to the local culture. In other words, just because something worked in Parish X, doesn’t mean it will in your own.

BRANDON: After helping run the largest Catholic campus ministry in the country at Texas A&M, you recently launched a new apostolate called Catholic Missionary Disciples. Tell us about the apostolate and why parishes, especially, should consider partnering with you.

MARCEL: Thanks for the plug. Let it suffice to say this, those who we have worked with have found that their personal lives and work in ministry is more fruitful, and hopeful than before they worked with us. I know what working full-time for the Catholic Church is like, and it is supposed to be joyful and evangelistic. In most places in the USA, that isn’t the case, and I want to help turn that around.