What It Means for You to Be a “Missionary Disciple”
Although Pope Francis has come up with the term "missionary disciples" in his latest exhortation, it isn't necessarily a new idea although it is important that we be reminded of it. For we are called not only to follow Jesus, but also to change the world, to proclaim the good news, to bring about the kingdom. But what exactly does that all mean?
Photo by Thomas van den Berg
A “missionary disciple” is both a disciple and a missionary—disciple being a follower of Jesus Christ and a missionary being one who goes out into the world on a mission. If you don’t know your mission by now, then you’ve got homework to do. I recommend you start here. So there are lots of questions we can ask regarding our role as “missionary discples”. Today I will specifically address the what, how, and why of missionary discipleship.
1. What Should a “Missionary Disciple” Do?
When we think of prophets we think of those who tell the future. But the prophets of the Bible didn’t just tell the future, they shared God’s message with the people, and lived lives that reflected it. They stood out because their lifestyle was different. Their lives were inline with God’s will because they shared a deep intimacy with Him. They heard the challenge of God to:
“Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!”
~ Isaiah 40:9
We the Church are tasked with this mission. You must be a “herald of glad tidings” and glad tidings are shared with gladness and joy as Pope Francis reminds us in his recent apostolic exhortation. We need not just to talk about God, but to introduce people to Him, to invite the world into relationship with Him. As I Isaiah said we have to say through our words and the example of our lives: “Here is your God!”
“Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.”
~ Psalms 96:2-3
Sounds pretty straight forward to me. What has God done in your life? What “wondrous deeds”? You are a witness to the saving power of God’s love. So tell people about it. Tell them how good God has been to you, how He has changed your life. When you speak from your personal experience your message gains infinitely greater credibility. Don’t you tend to believe people more when they have lived it, when you can relate to them through a common bond?
2. How Do You Become a “Missionary Disciple”?
I’ll let God speak for Himself:
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.”
~ Isaiah 40:1-2
Tell them not what they want to hear, but rather tell them what they need to hear and tell them with love. When we are talking to people about God, we are evangelizing. This doesn’t mean the discussion of doctrine—catechesis, which does have it’s importance—but rather the proclamation of the Good News.
What is the Good News? That God became man, breaking the mold of all the other world religions of man’s quest to climb to Heaven. God instead comes down to us, to live among us, showing us the Way—to suffer and die, giving His life away for others, then to rise from the dead in glory and to ascend into Heaven, raising with Him our fallen human nature to the glory of the divine.
Through Him and His sacrifice on the cross—the greatest act of love this world has ever seen—we have the forgiveness of sins. No longer must we fear death and the punishment we deserve from our sins. No, now we trust in the infinite love and mercy of God.
“God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”
~ Evangelii Gaudium, 3
Our mission is not to judge the lives of others, that should be left to God alone. Our duty as Christians is to show the mercy of God, to remind them that if we ask God forgives. We are all sinners, we all have need for the forgiveness that only God can offer, especially when it comes to forgiving ourselves. They must be reminded that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:39).
3. Why Should You Be a “Missionary Disciple”?
When you love someone you want the best for them. Having experienced God’s love and mercy you no doubt want the same for others.
“The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance… The apostles never forgot the moment when Jesus touched their hearts.”
~ Evangelii Gaudium, 13
It’s not the fact that it is our obligation as Christians, but out love that we evangelize. For our brothers or sisters who are lost, living lives without love, without God, then it is our duty, our privilege to go out and find them, to go out and bring them home.
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”
~ Matthew 18:12-14
Evangelization is an act of love. So get busy. It doesn’t have to be as part of some parish group or program. Do it in your personal life. Do it at work. Do it in the market. If the Gospel is engrained in your life, if it is who you are, then it should be reflected in everything you say and everything you do, in every aspect of your life. If someone asks you how you are doing, don’t just say that you are fine. Tell them that you are blessed. Tell them why. Tell them about the great things God has done in your life. Tell them about the beauty of His love and His mercy. Tell them that you haven’t been the same since you encountered Him, since your love affair with the Almighty began. And invite them to fall in love with He who loved them into existence.
If you haven’t done so already, I recommend that you read Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium available for free online and as a PDF download.