Lay evangelist urges priests to ‘personally disciple’ their staffs and parishioners
By Tom Dermody
Forming disciples for Jesus Christ is not done via “conveyor belt” but through personal accompaniment, a lay evangelist told priests of the Diocese of Peoria during their Assembly Days on Oct. 17.
“The mission of parish priests and your lay staffs who work on the pastoral side is to carry out the mission of discipleship, of making disciples, of being personally involved in the formation and education of believers into saints,” said Michael Gormley.
That personal involvement becomes more difficult as parishes necessarily grow larger, said Gormley, a longtime parish youth minister and retreat leader from Texas. He recently joined the staff of Paradisus Dei, helping families discover God within marriage and family life and overseeing the parish-based men’s movement, “That Man is You.”
Still, Gormley challenged the priests to name five or six people “you are going out of your way to personally disciple.”
“If you don’t have any,” he said, quoting a seminary educator, “then I know the administration side has overtaken your pastoral heart.”
In the first of three keynote talks, Gormley — a married father of four — told the priests they are uniquely and extensively trained as disciples, and equipped to form disciples. In their seminary years, priests are accompanied by teachers, spiritual directors, psychologists, formators, and afforded pastoral experience.
“Now let’s list those things we have for your lay leaders,” said Gormley. His short list included podcasts, YouTube channels, men’s and women’s groups, and “if we’re lucky, they can get a regular confessor.”
Gormley urged the priests “don’t just be administrators to your staffs” and parishioners, but rather a servant-leader, father, and a “vision caster,” setting the course for the parish and encouraging others to “get on board.”
He urged the priests “don’t just be administrators to your staffs” and parishioners, but rather a servant-leader, father, and a “vision caster,” setting the course for the parish and encouraging others to “get on board.”
“Your laity are looking at you, they’re watching you, they’re yearning for men who are saints, righteous, living godly lives, and are unafraid to get into the messiness of their broken lives,” said Gormley.
He suggested that priests “bead the bounds” of their parishes, walking the boundary of their church praying the rosary and asking God to send “the people you need, volunteers on fire for the Gospel.”
Gormley also illustrated that “evangelization is hard” by asking the priests what they would say if they drove to a random part of the city and attempted to evangelize the first person they met. The mission of lay people is in the world, he said, but often they’ll opt for serving within church walls as sacristans, lectors, etc.
“So you know what happens,” asked Gormley, “no one evangelizes and churches get shut.”
The good news, he said in closing, is “we can go out into a cold world that is exhausting itself with sin after new sin, and we can give them the Bread of Life. God alone satisfies.”