Catechumens as Missionaries: Connecting Formation with Daily Life

by Daniel T. Benedict, Jr.

“Catechumen” is the early church’s word for adults preparing for baptism. Today, we are recovering that process as “The Catechumenate.” It has five steps: inquiry, formation, intensive preparation, commitment and empowerment in baptism, and reflection. With appropriate variations, adults already baptized also participate as they prepare to reaffirm their baptismal promises.

Aim: to explore ways the catechumenate can engage inquirers and catechumens in bearing witness to the coming reign of God in daily life.

I. Exploration: Touching base with our own lives

A. In pairs share where in your life is the greatest sense of struggle?
B. Then ask each other the following questions:
Who is there?
What is going on?
What is needed?
What is blocking God’s characteristic work?
How do you see God at work?
What is God asking you to do in the situation?

II. Cards on the table

I have a quarrel with catechumenal ministry when it gets co-opted as a tool for church growth. I assume that the catechumenate is God’s vehicle for initiating people into the reign of God. Wayne Schwab’s work and his book, When the Members are the Missionaries, gives us tools for making a course correction in the way we do catechumenal ministry.

III. Getting clear about member mission and members as missionaries

A. The larger context: God’s mission
B. Church = Kingdom?
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4: 30-32).
C. Contrasts in viewpoint—see chart below

IV. Challenging assumptions

A. Christian initiation should be of minimal inconvenience and effort for the candidates.
If catechumenal process caters to the “safe-house” it subverts the call and power of God.
B. Sharing in God’s mission to the world should come in the post-baptismal period.
Candidates deserve to “test drive” the baptismal life. Start slow, but start connecting God’s mission and daily life from the beginning. Many inquirers are seeking because they are trying to make sense of some arena of their daily life.
C. Weekly group reflection should be on worship and the Scriptures.
This is good, but it is insufficient. The reflection is to be on daily life in the light of worship and Scripture. Weekly reflection over the months of the process begins to form catechumens and sponsors in a rhythm of experience-reflection that is at the core of faithful discipleship. Focusing on mission in one’s daily life integrates ethics, decision making, discernment of spiritual gifts, skills in communication using non-theological and theological language,
D. Are there other assumptions that need to be challenged?

V. Six Mission Fields

A. Clarifying the mission fields of home, work, local community, wider world, leisure, and church (see WMM, p. 189)
B. Basis questions and assumptions (see WMM, p. 189-191)
C. The questions for each mission field (see WMM, pp. 191-194)

VI. What do inquirers and catechumens need in the process of moving from seeker to missionary? (See WMM, p. 148-150.)

A. Companions who listen to their questions and stories with God’s mission in mind.
B. Worship: “Participation in public and private worship”
C. The paradigm story: “a Christian world view of the depth of our human need for help and God’s response in Jesus Christ as expressed in Christus victor
D. Small group opportunity:
• “to discern their present missions in each of their daily arenas”
• to “experience …biblically based reflection on daily life and the basic Christian ethic of love and justice, the public face of love.”
• to reflect on decision making and values, the way systems resist or collaborate with God’s mission, and how I / we attend to the inner light and promptings of the Spirit.
E. Other?

VII. The larger context of the catechumenate

A. Accountability for mission in daily life—reviewing, affirming, forming, and celebrating the ministry of every baptized member—is an ongoing task of the congregation.
B. Preaching, liturgy, groups, informal and formal communications will be strengthened by attentiveness to member mission in daily life.
• Deeds need to be illuminated and announced when possible.
• The ministry of members of all ages can be celebrated regularly as witness to the promptings of the Spirit at work in all the people.
• A new business, a new home, adoption or birth of a child, marriage, acceptance of a vocation, retirement, election to public office, a new job can all be celebrated and affirmed as arenas where God is at work and persons are listening to the crucified and risen Lord.

Resources:

When the Members Are the Missionaries: An Extraordinary Calling for Ordinary People by A. Wayne Schwab (Member Mission Press, POB 308, Essex, NY 12936; ISBN 0971755205). Specific material related to helping people become missionaries, Chapter 13.

Come to the Waters by Daniel T. Benedict Jr. (Discipleship Resources, POB 840, Nashville, TN 37202-0840; ISBN 0881771791). See Chapter 5 for specific resources related to settings and approaches to integration of the catechumenate and daily life ministry.

I am indebted to Wayne Schwab and his book for much of the content of this outline. – DTB, Jr.

CHURCH FOCUSED ON CHURCH
CHURCH FOCUSED ON GOD’S MISSION

Church has a mission
Mission has a church

Mission is to grow the church
Mission is to incarnate God’s love and justice in the world

Grow the church
Grow the mission

Sunday as nest–“church day”
Sunday as launch for living Monday to Monday

“Body mission”
“Member mission”

Ministry is what happens in and through gathered church
Ministry is what happens in members’ daily mission fields

Salvation understood as a benefit of faith and realized after death
Salvation understood as presence of the crucified and risen Christ and grateful participation in God’ past and present victory

Organized around church as institutional structure
Organized around sacraments as our heartland and homeland for direction and power

Worship seen as asking us to do more.
Sacramental thinking asks us to see what we are doing now differently

Baptism as entry into safe-house
Baptism as entrance into Jesus’ victory and power through the Holy Spirit

Eucharist as personal and communal sharing with the church
Eucharist as personal and communal experience of God’s direction and power for Monday to Monday

Seeing life in terms of church
Seeing life in terms of God’s ongoing work

Christian education as transaction
Christian education as transformation

Worship Resources Director for the United Methodist Church, Nashville, TN

Copyright (©) 2003 The General Board of Discipleship. Local churches or judicatories may freely use this resource for a one time educational purpose so long as the copyright notice is given and the words “Used with permission.”