Lawn Chair Catechism: Session 1: Introduction



Welcome to the first session of Lawn Chair Catechism, using Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

This week, we’ll be covering the Introduction.

A few notes before I get started:

  • You’ll be able to leave comments and/or leave your link at the end.
  • You do not have to read the book to participate. Check out our discussion guide. There’s plenty to get started with if that’s all you use (one page a week).
  • There is still time to take advantage of the great discount offer from Our Sunday Visitor. $10 AND free shipping = a great deal!


What does it mean to form “intentional” disciples?  In the introduction to Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell writes about a startling conversation she had with the leader of a local Catholic women’s group.  The conversation was part of a series of interviews to help lay leaders learn how to use their gifts in the parish:

Her stories were so vague that I wasn’t hearing any evidence of how God might be using her.  . . . So I asked her a question that I had never asked before: Could you briefly describe to me your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?

After thinking carefully for a few moments, she responded briskly, “I don’t have a relationship with God.”  Her answer stunned me.  My first thoughts were, “That’s not possible.  You’re a leader in your parish.  You wouldn’t do that without some kind of relationship with God . . ..”

. . . By the end of the interview, I realized she had accurately described her spiritual reality.

Sherry goes on to explain that she began asking the question routinely.  And here’s what she discovered:

We learned that the majority of even “active” American Catholics are still at an early, essentially passive stage of spiritual development.  . . . We discovered, to our surprise and dismay, that many pastoral leaders do not even possess a conceptual category for discipleship.  As long as this holds true, the theology of the laity and the Church’s teaching on social justice and evangelization will remain beautiful ideals that are, practically speaking, dead letters for the vast majority of Catholics.

For discussion:

In your own faith:

  • How would you describe your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?
  • What does the word “discipleship” mean to you?  Do you perceive a need in the Church today to help lay Catholics become more fervent followers of Jesus Christ?

In your parish:

  • How would you describe your parish’s current efforts at discipleship?  A hotbed of discipleship?  A weekly gathering of spiritual sleep-walkers?  Or perhaps something in between?


Join the discussion!

We’ll be “talking” in the combox, too, so please leave your thoughts there as well!


About Author

When she’s not chasing kids, chugging coffee, or juggling work, Sarah Reinhard’s usually trying to stay up read just one…more…chapter. She writes and works in the midst of rural farm life with little ones underfoot. She is part of the team for the award-winning Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, as well as the author of a number of books. You can join her for a weekday take on Catholic life by subscribing to Three Shots and follow her writing at Snoring Scholar.


  1. Jennifer Fitz on

    Funny thought in writing my answer this week: I always found my evangelical friends’ talk about “having a personal relationship with Jesus” to be really strange. I didn’t get it. And yet, I always *had* that relationship — never doubted God was a Person, even when I was busy claiming otherwise.

  2. Nicole Dente on

    Right now my “lived relationship” is sitting on the back burner of the stove on a slow rolling simmer. God is always there for me and I know I can always call on him in any moment. His love and graces fragrant my life every day. However, over the last year (I’ve only converted to Catholicism about 5 years ago) have I had a deeper desire to delve further into the Church and my relationship with God. I want him to become front and center, at a rolling boil on the front burner of my life. I want His presence to be an unmistakable aroma from my life and the lives of my children especially.

    Since becoming Catholic I’ve appreciated my Protestant upbringing because of the intense focus they put on “relationship” with Jesus.

    I’ve never been a very good at evangelizing, so trying to perceive the word “discipleship” is a little difficult for me to grasp. I’ve stayed fairly comfortable in our parish and have not done too much seeking out of other members or groups. I’m sure there are plenty of lay Catholics there who could use encouragement, support, and accountability (shoot, I’m one of them too!). So I suppose this is one of my own prayers. I try to remain comfortable, but in my desire to know more and delve deeper in the Church and my relationship with Jesus, I need to ask for His graces to help me step out into our parish and become involved in the groups/people there.

    I wouldn’t say our parish is a “hotbed of discipleship”, or at least those who are doing so are not very noticeable.

    • I think I didn’t understand the true nature of relationship and all it could offer until I too started diving deeper into my Catholicism. I’m a convert too, Nicole. And yeah, encouragement is always good! Go forth! Heck, start with your own friends! 🙂

  3. Ok, got my post linked up. I’m committed.

    Awful lot of personal introspection, though – might have to go watch a Die Hard movie or something to counteract the effects. 🙂

  4. Christine Johnson on

    Over the last six months or so, I’ve really started thinking more about my relationship with God–specifically in a Father-daughter way. How does God as a Father see me? How do/should I see Him? Jesus’ parables are often windows into this idea, and I’ve really been taken with it, though I know I’m basically a lousy daughter who doesn’t call home often enough. Thank God for His mercy and grace!

  5. @Sarah Reinhard

    “Engagement needs a smaller group….I truly believe that small group engagement is critical for parish life. ”

    Yes, exactly. Today’s mega parishes make feeling communion difficult.

    The mass has less of a meal quality to it as much as a sitting in a movie theater with a bunch of strangers

    • I see what you are both talking about, but truly, there is a power to the universality of those mega-parishes. When you see old and young, people from many backgrounds and cultures all come together as one family you have to know it’s the power of God that levels the playing field! And those people in the pews are just a fraction of the souls celebrating that Mass with us. Imagine the Communion of Saints, too!
      Don’t allow the isolation to work on you, You can choose to use it as a positive and uniting factor.

      • Yes – we are communing with the entire body Of Christ when we attend mass …so it shouldn’t matter the size of the congregation – but even in the mega churches they usually have to break down into smaller groups to actively engage folks. I go to a mid sized parish (1500 families) and I think Sarah’s point is seen there – we have this bible study, that book group, the grief support group, the green club, the altar society ect … and it is in these smaller groups where the real engagement takes place.

        I think one problem with engaging mega churches – the pastor has a harder time engaging the folk one on one. I’m sure there are good ways around this ( associate pastors , deacons ect ) but that stil comes down to a matter of breaking the community into smaller bite size groups that can be engaged.

        Though to be sure there are problems with the smaller parish too – cliques, people being lukewarm …

        I suppose the thing is to know your parishes weakness and strengths …if only the angel of Revelation would send us letters to the church of …

      • Bethanie Ryan on

        I agree. My husband and I argue about this a lot. He’s happy with our little parish, while I feel that at a bigger parish, I’d have better chances to find a place to fit in, find new friends and a place to belong. I guess I assume since there’s more people, there’s more a chance to find people to bond with.

    • I have been blessed the last four plus years to belong to a Small Christian (Faith) Community at our parish that meets weekly in member’s homes. We pray with and for one another and follow the beautiful rhythm of the Lectionary. We break open the readings for the following Sunday – in other words, we’re preparing for the upcoming Sunday. A real sense of living the Gospel happens here; the group is small enough 7 – 8 people, so that everyone gets to participate.
      It’s hard at any size church to get that level of intimacy with other people in an hour on a Sunday – even if you do sit in the same pew every week!
      If your parish doesn’t “do” SCC’s, start one yourself. There are a great many resources out there to use as a guide. If this seems like too radical an idea, or takes you beyond your comfort zone, wait for Advent or Lent – these are natural times to begin when we all feel compelled to “prepare”

  6. @JenniferFitz “It was strange to me when I read about how so many Catholics do not have a notion of God as a Person.”

    “–> Even during my ardently agnostic/pantheistic kick during young adulthood, I still considered God *someone*. I might have claimed He was this Force Blah Blah Blah, but in practice, yes, a Person. You don’t chat with a Force.”



    ” I need prayer as my mainstay. If I lose my prayer routine, or I find myself too busy to pray, I begin to feel “off.” ”

    Yup !

    @Charlotte Osterman

    “Golly, I ‘muse on Him through the night’,… I run past Him and take Him for granted and ignore signals that He wants to talk to me, just like I do that to my family….so sorry, Lord!”

    “Well, though I had a good laugh before getting serious about answering, who am I to say how discipleship is going in my parish???” ….This is exactly what I felt!

  7. Ok, I blame you for the tears on my keyboard Sarah and Jen. Thank you for creating this opportunity to have a summer-long “retreat” I greatly need. This is going to be awesome!

  8. Jennifer Fitz on

    Lisa – I’m blown away by the responses I’ve read so far. I *knew* this was needed, but I didn’t really understand quite how much.

  9. melanie jean juneau on

    As a convert, I have a different point of view. In my Protestant circles, people LEFT the Catholic Church to experience a personal conversion and start walking with the Lord. Protestants eyes popped open when I became a Catholic,

    ” You are Spirit filled and then you became Catholic?? You’re kidding right?”

    The most adamant opposition I received was from former Catholics. Most former Catholics do not even realize that it is possible to have a personal relationship with Christ the Saviour. The Holy Spirit is not their most intimate companion and they don’t have a clue how to worship the Father “in Spirit and in truth”. Most people leave the Catholic Church to become disciples of Jesus because many Protestant churches are warm, friendly, welcoming and they know how to nurture new disciples.

    • melanie jean juneau on

      what I am implying in the above comment is that Catholic Parishes should be encouraged to form small spiritual growth groups, have teaching seminars that present Kerygma, encourage interaction outside of mass… to form a warm, supportive community

      • Bethanie Ryan on

        Yes, Catholic parishes could learn a lot from Protestants about hospitality. My pastor said in a homily once that we need to keep an eye out for new people, because they could come to our church and not get noticed at all. Meanwhile, they could go to the mega-church down the road and get 3 invitations to a bible study and invited to brunch after church.

        • melanie jean juneau on

          Exactly. If you attend a talk at another church the differance in the atmoshere is shocking. Catholics do want to maintain reverance in the sanctuary itself but somehow the reserve affects relationships as well

          • Barb Schoeneberger on

            One thing that distresses me is the priest forcing everyone to stand up and shake hands and introduce oneself all around, right in the church before Mass. Or the priest before the final blessing makes all the newcomers stand up and introduce themselves. This is not the answer.

            Every Catholic parish needs a special welcoming plan that starts with the ushers/greeters. Joyful, smiling people who have a close relationship with Jesus is the start. That means knowing the Faith and frequenting the Sacrament of Penance, faithful attendance at Mass, etc. We’re sitting on the Holy Spirit in our souls instead of letting Him work. When that happens, we fail in following Jesus.

          • melanie jean juneau on

            agreed, I cannot stand chatter in the presence of the Tabernacle

        • Susan Martin on

          Ironically, I was thinking just the reverse: that Protestants could learn much from Catholics about how to recognise those who are newly part of the body of Christ. When I was ritually confirmed at Easter, everyone saw me, everyone clapped for me, and almost everyone congratulated me. I felt supported and affirmed. Now, eleven weeks into Ordinary time, and having just completed VBS, I still feel affirmed. The problem does not seem to be hospitality, but community; as many of you have signalled. It’s almost as if I don’t “smell” Catholic, there lacks the whiff of Catholic Culture. Actually Protestants don’t spend much time talking about their formation or discipleship either. Sure, there are Sunday School classes and groups and core crews, etc, but people are just as reluctant to admit that they are struggling with feeling remote from God. I think one of the strengths of the Catholic Church is the relief that I don’t have to talk constantly about my relationship with God the Father or God the Son as my only option. I can talk about how He is working in and on me through the lives of his saints, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, through Divine Mercy, or through various contemplative or meditative streams. Sometimes it is just too much for us to work on our relationship with the first Person of the Trinity at a particular stage of our life without the intercession of the saints and the working of the sacrements. Of course ultimately we must keep ourselves on course by recognising that the Divine Heart of intercession always belongs to Jesus, but we have a great deal of heavenly aid.

  10. Something I noticed as I read the blog responses, quite a few 3rd or lay order folks out there. Very awesome:)

  11. Something I’m noticing… the question about the parish seems to be the one no one really wants to answer. I think as we move through the book we may be confronted with this again.

    Some hesitate to answer because they work at a parish (somewhat reasonable hesitation), others don’t want to hurt a particular person in the parish whose job they see this as (again somewhat reasonable – but I bet as we read that notion that it’s so and so’s job – will be challenged), or third we hesitate because it feels like judging others – I know when I was thinking of my answer that’s how it felt. I think the thing there is to remember when we analyze how the parish is doing it’s a collective – we aren’t judging one person.

    I’m going to think a little harder on how my parish is doing.
    Starting with myself. Then yes, those people who have specific jobs that relate to the question … then as a whole. I probably won’t share the answer but I think I need to at least better formulate it in my head before we move ahead to the next chapter.

    • Jennifer Fitz on

      Jen – Yes. The parish questions are important, but sometimes the answers are not really appropriate for a public discussion.

      I’d encourage folks to answer them on the internet if:
      -The example can be helpful to others, especially if the example points to specific ways to problem-solve.
      -The example *will not* be hurtful to fellow parishioners.

      In many cases, the parish questions should be reserved for discussion within the parish. It’s an essential conversation, but think of it like a family meeting — not every topic a family needs to talk about should be broadcast to the whole world.

      It is important to respect the privacy and good name of our family members. Personal matters are sometimes better dealt with personally.

      But: Please, oh please, when you have something helpful to share, please share it! We need to learn from each other. And absolutely, the approach of “How do I fit into my parish’s mission?” is the way to go. 100%.


  12. Theresa Ceniccola on

    I haven’t written a formal ‘response’ on my blog but I’m enjoying reading the responses of others. My lived relationship with God is an interesting topic – one that I personally feel I’ve come full circle with. Somewhat like the prodigal son. I grew up with a strong and intimate relationship with God, then abandoned it (to a certain extent) for several years and came back to Him. But all the time I knew He was there – and that my personal relationship with Him was more important than Catechism. In fact, during my years away from the church I think I used my ‘personal relationship with God’ as an excuse for abandoning organized religion. Now I see it more as the center or foundation of my faith – the personal relationship – but the church as the community and structure for growing that relationship.

    As for discipleship – my immediate association with this word is the notion that I must give up everything in order to follow Christ. And while I used to take this literally, now I feel like I’m being called to ‘let go’ of whatever prevents me from evangelizing — the excuses I make, the fear of rejection, etc.

    Re my parish, I’m really encouraged by the discipleship opportunities that are starting to appear in my parish. I think for a large parish, our leaders are doing a good job of creating smaller group programs and ministries that are inviting to youth, adults, families, etc. I think it was Sarah who said this is a messy and time consuming process — but isn’t everything that’s worth accomplishing?

    Thanks for making this discussion possible!

    • “personal relationship with Him was more important than Catechism” … this was true for me too while I was away from the Church- and definitely that relationship is what brought me back. After I came back I went through a catechism phase before settling back into a relational phase

      “… discipleship – my immediate association with this word is the notion that I must give up everything in order to follow Christ. And while I used to take this literally, now I feel like I’m being called to ‘let go’ of whatever prevents me from evangelizing ” …awesome

  13. After thinking more about what I see in my own parish and common themes I see in the posts I think these are some of the issues facing us:

    Discipleship Issue: Gender Gap. It seems most of the same people are involved in the Parish. Generally older folks ( but not exclusively)

    Discipleship Issue: One person can’t do it all? you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. The woman in charge of adult faith formation – is faith-filled, and works very hard – she tries different ideas, tries different times ect but it is still hard to get people involved

    Discipleship Issue: Converts and reverts seem to be more gung ho for Christ than many cradle Catholics ( not all of course but generally )

    Discipleship Issue: Our Parish has a school – and the school families are a sort of sub set – most went to school here – so their kids do – confirmation seems dwarfed by 8th grade graduation ect …often it is hard to get them to embrace the faith. Many school families are more concerned about social and sports events than getting their families to mass – what would be called cultural or convenience Catholics. BUT not all of them – some of the families at the school are incredibly faith filled.

    Discipleship Issue: in our parish and our diocese there is a growing trend for two separate parishes sharing the churche building – Hispanic group doing their own thing ( which is good ) and there is little interaction between the Hispanic community and the “old” community ( which is not so good.)

    Discipleship Issue: people are finding faith community outside of the Parish – online , in intentional communities , in diocese wide groups …how do we bring those things back to the parish ? how do we incorporate the parish and these “outside” groups

    Discipleship issue : very few people regularly attend daily Mass … more than anything else a person or parish can do to form disciples is The Mass … how do we increase Mass attendance ? one thought … more times ( most parishes in our diocese celebrate an 8 or 8:30 mass – so if you can’t or don’t make that you can try to find one of the scarcer noon masses … even masses are virtually unheard of ) …but wider availability of the Mass is not the whole answer – how do we help people want to come to Mass …or adoration…or confession.

    Discipleship Issue : Being available/ open to Christ using you in His work of conversion ( vs knowing when He is not trying to use you. So many seem resistant to the faith – or even hostile – we can not convert their hearts only Christ can – but how can we help Him?

    Discipleship Issue : Charismatic seems to almost be a bad word in some circles …Catholics aren’t charismatic are they? of course – the Church is. Charism is how the Holy Spirit works in our lives – how can we be open to the Spirit working in us?

    • Bethanie Ryan on

      That part about two groups using the same building is interesting. Is that in response to a priest shortage? In my diocese, the latest thing is for multiple churches to share the same pastor and for churches to be grouped together to share resources and host events together.

      • We have Spanish masses – and they end up being sort of a sub parish within the parish. I have also heard of occasions of Latin Massers having to share a N.O. parish … in both cases there seems to sometimes be a us and them feeling among some …it’s sad. We also have lots of examples of two or three buildings being combined into 1 parish ( that is partly because of priest shortages )

  14. Heather Erickson on

    I recently read in Scott Hahn’s book “Hail Holy Queen,” a thought provoking statement about how we almost always talk about God’s attributes in relation to our selves. For example, He is our Savior, Creator, etc. Yet, He is so much more. I have been in love with Him from the time I cam to know Him in my early 20’s. Like any good love, it has only grown deeper through the years. Now as I am venturing into the Catholic Church, I feel as though we are off on a new adventure with Him leading me by the hand.

    God is like a diamond with endless facets. I have always enjoyed exploring them, and now I feel such a thrill learning of so many things I have missed all of these years, Just like I love finding out new things about my husband, and my children, I can’t imagine not being interested to know more about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

  15. Only by the grace of the Holy Spirit am I actually participating . . . I’m not kicking and screaming, but I saw a tweet last week about this opportunity and immediately sent our pastor email. He was excited and supportive, and said he would mention it in his column in the bulletin this week.
    I turned around and sent an email to over 100 folks in our parish who participate in small christian communities. We’ll have to wait and see who steps out of the boat!
    With that out of the way; I was really apprehensive about actually participating since I’m not a “mom”, and haven’t seen too many male posts yet – but I feel compelled to write since I’ve encouraged so many others – plus, this seems like a really cool “Adult VBS” kind of thing. Just what I need for the summer.
    Discipleship is to borrow the old adage, is walking the walk; being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Yes, there is a tremendous need in the Church today to teach, coach, train, lead more disciples. The Catholic Church – mega-parishes and small ones too, needs to be on a mission. If Matthew Kelly’s numbers are even close, we can start real close to home by encouraging the 83% of us who don’t bother to show up at church every Sunday.
    We are blessed at our parish with so many good things. But, while I wouldn’t label us a “hot bed” of discipleship, I can’t say we’re “spiritual sleepwalkers” either; so we’re somewhere in between.
    This “virtual community” is such wonderful opportunity. Thank you for making it possible. I look forward to the rest of the summer with all of you.

    • Hal, I love thinking of this as “Adult VBS.” Do we get color-coded nametags and cool snacks? I’m only in charge of logistics… 🙂

      And I’ve read the Matthew Kelly stuff you reference. His numbers are both inspiring and terrifying.

      Thanks for being part of this. I personally love having a male viewpoint, so know that we welcome you and look forward to hearing more from you!

      • No snacks – hopefully food for thought though. Thanks for the welcome – I think I’ve got this figured out and am looking forward to responding to this week’s questions.

        – Hal

    • Jennifer Fitz on

      Ditto on the Adult VBS!

      I vote for this round, we consider “Catholic Mom” to mean “Mother Church”. Yes?

      And yes, definitely some manly-men participating. Check out Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, and Will Duquette at View from the Foothills. Among others.

  16. Sorry for the probably confusing tweet. As you may know I live in the #########, ## Diocese. For the last 30 years Bishop ##### ######### has been slowly but surely leading us down a path that most certainly was not right. He was even told on at least one occasion in the last 15 years told by the Vatican to knock it off and reverse one of his polices. He retired last year but many of his polices are still in place. He believed that lay people should be in charge of every parish and the Priests should answer to them, that the same lay people should be giving homilies. We had some very interesting homilies where we were told that head scarves were like Burkas and that women should be allowed to be priests. We recently had one of our lay ministers effectively fire the priest because the priest was pushing back and would not let the lay person spout his liberal nonsense as a homily and call it Church doctrine.

    To say that we are a trouble diocese would be putting it mildly. We have written petitions, written the priests and the lay people in charge, and even on occasion the bishop, but with little effect.

    My family and I actually moved to the neighboring diocese to get some relief and we have found an incredible priest, but that is not an option for everyone, and would not be fair to that parishes in the surrounding diocese. (for example the one that we joined went from about 100 families to 220 families in a year.)

    The question becomes how do you handle it when your diocese is doing it wrong.

    • Holy {insert colorful word here}, Jeff!

      Uhhh..boy am I glad that’s not MY diocese!

      Oh wait, that’s not very helpful.

      OK, so…I dunno. I’m going to leave it to some of the experts to speak up. I think you must never! give! up! but…saying that, I know it’s also exhausting. Oh wow.

      Email me the name of this diocese, please. I’m going to add it to my intentions. And wow.

    • Jennifer Fitz on


      I really struggle with the tension between resisting gossip, versus enabling dissent. I was in a conversation recently with several other Catholics from various places. A topic would come up (religious ed, parish administration, Catholic schools), and we’d begin with some broad, charitable remarks . . . but then slowly, the stories of active dissent within the ranks of leadership began to emerge.

      We find ourselves wondering: How do you respond, when so-and-so openly teaches contrary to the faith during RE, or when such-and-such school creates a lukewarm, neglectful-to-moral-teaching atmosphere in the classroom. Will speaking out do more harm than good? Do our bishops care? Do they want to know? Or are we the bad guys for calling attention to the failings of someone else?

      It’s a real quandry for many people around the US. I don’t know what the solution is. Prayer, certainly. But beyond that, I do not know.

  17. Kelly Guest on

    I always strt my day with some quiet time with the /lord. But I will admit that I learned to do this from Young Life, a non-denominational high school group. I was even involved in my church’s youth group where we had a lot of fun but not much spiritual growth. I am an assistant youth group leder now, so I am eager to get ideas on how to develop in the young people of parish parish a truly personal relationship with the Lord.

  18. Charlotte Ostermann on

    I just discovered all these great comments….somehow had forgotten to check the email-notify box, below…this is fun! I have to laugh when I think of Catholics feeling like Protestants get more personal with Christ…was in a poetry group with an evangelical pal and the SPOUSAL IMAGERY in my poetry made her skin crawl….’personal’ really only goes so far, but infused contemplation is so much more…or, eating His real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity!!!!! So maybe we need to help people see how INTIMATE they’re already getting with the Lord, and they’ll wake up to the UNION that is possible! My capitals aren’t meant to shout at you, but I talk with my hands and this is a substitute for great gesturing!

  19. Ever growing. I retired and I have been blessed to move to a wonderful parish. I have been able to attend daily Mass and for most of the year that Mass is in the EF. (Sundays all the time). I joined the men’s Bible study. I was a little concerned when I found a good portion of the group was Protestant converts to the Catholic Church. No worries…these guys knew their faith better than I did. 🙂 It was interesting to learn the reasons why they converted. Pretty much to a man they stated Truth and the Eucharist. This parish also has perpetual adoration and I joined the guild. It was also the first time since I was a kid that I participated in the Corpus Christi procession! I also learned about the book Divine Intimacy and start my day off reading the daily meditations along with prayer.

  20. Pingback: Lawn Chair Catechism Intro: On Discipleship & A “Lived” Relationship with God

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