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 | By Elizabeth Hansen

Evangelization Initiative Challenges the Faithful to Become More Authentic Disciples

Craig Pohl Hopes to Set a Fire in the Diocese of Lansing

As director of the diocesan Office of New Evangelization, Craig Pohl was a key player in laying the groundwork for this year’s Disciples – Together on the Way (DTOW) initiative. Piggybacking off the success of last year’s Bishop’s Year of the Bible, the new endeavor has already garnered more than 11,000 participants in Bishop Boyea’s weekly challenges to form habits of Christian discipleship.

A disciple, Craig says, “is one who walks intimately with the Lord.

“They have a prayer life. They’re connected to a community of faith. They have a hunger for Scripture. And they evangelize with their life,” he adds, describing recognizable marks of discipleship and what he hopes will blaze ever more visibly throughout the diocese.

Through weekly emails from the bishop, videos, social media outreach and audio reflections on the diocese’s podcast channel, DTOW offers a practical how-to guide in cultivating that walk of discipleship. Each week’s challenge corresponds to a pillar of Christian life. For example, DTOW kicked off with the theme of “praise” and asked participants to start each morning with a “Glory Be.” Future themes include “thanksgiving,” “intercession,” and “corporal works of mercy.”

While the importance of discipleship has underpinned Bishop Boyea’s pastoral leadership for years – it’s “at the very foundation of the whole movement of evangelization in the Diocese of Lansing,” Craig says – the shape of this year’s initiative was very much influenced by the impact of COVID-19.

“Considering the circumstances in the world, for some people this is the most tangible touchpoint they’ll have in terms of faith enrichment,” Craig points out. “We really wanted to pick up the ball and offer something … that the parishes wouldn’t have to open up hall space or we wouldn’t have to gather people for, but have it so people could continue to progress in their faith by joining the diocese in something very practical.”

It’s been a full-court press from the team at the diocesan center, and made possible only by the generosity of Catholics in the diocese themselves. The Department of Evangelization and Catechesis, the Office of Communications and others involved in the production and distribution of Disciples – Together on the Way promotions, videos and materials are fully funded by contributions to the DSA.

“We really see this as a way of using DSA funds to amp up our game and partner with parishes in enriching people’s faith lives,” Craig says.

So far, the response across the diocese has been jaw-dropping, even to Craig. Over the first two weeks of the challenge, nearly 90 percent of the 11,000-plus participants who opted into Bishop Boyea’s weekly DTOW reflections opened the emails – an unheard of rate in the world of marketing campaigns.

That sense of solidarity is integral to discipleship, Craig says: “We do it together, we don’t do it by ourselves.”

“Whether people are journeying this year with someone else – a spouse, friends – or on their own, there are over 10,000 other people in the diocese doing it with you in spirit,” he says. “There’s something really powerful knowing that. The bishop is leading his flock directly, leading them on a journey, in a sense.”

Craig is a firm believer that discipleship and evangelization are intrinsically linked.

“The enduring principle of evangelization is that disciples evangelize,” he said. “Evangelization isn’t something that’s primarily taught, it’s something caught; people catch it because of the deep relationship with Christ that is evident in the way the disciple speaks.”

Put simply: “We can’t give what we don’t have.”

At an even more basic level, Craig says, discipleship is more than cultivating good habits for their own sake – it’s about getting to heaven.

“We’re not simply entering into this exercise of discipleship just to try to become better citizens,” he says. “We’re trying to prepare ourselves for when we meet Jesus Christ and we’re there at the judgment, (that) he can actually say, ‘I know you,’ as opposed to, ‘I don’t know you.’ That growing in intimacy with Christ is essential to salvation.”

Following up the Bishop’s Year of the Bible with a year focused on discipleship was very intentional, Craig says.

“Scripture connects us, concretely, to the voice of God,” he says. “You really can’t be a disciple if you’re not listening to the voice of God. So we wanted to pave the way to the Year of Discipleship with the Year of the Bible.”

He continues, “When Bishop Boyea first became bishop, he was asked what was his vision for the Diocese of Lansing. And he said, ‘I want to help every person get to heaven.’ I would say that’s the concrete connection between the Year of the Bible and the Year of Discipleship – these are helps to getting people to heaven.”

Along the way, Craig hopes the diocese will reap the fruit of this year’s initiative. “I would hope that we see more dynamic disciples – people who have tasted the fruit of living closer with Christ,” he says. “And more people noticing that in (others’) lives, there’s been a change because of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, I hope people encounter God through this and lay their lives at his feet.”

Disciples Together On The Way with Bishop Boyea

  • Bishop Boyea invites you to join thousands of others in the diocese in our weekly discipleship challenge. Join anytime!

From the bishop: This life is a journey. It’s a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage from God and to God. It’s not an easy journey. However, if we cooperate with God’s grace we can make it and, even better, we can make it together.

Who, though, can teach us the way? The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ. Indeed, Our Blessed Lord identifies himself as “the way.” We are his chosen. That is why I invite you to join me as Disciples Together on the Way.

Each week, I will text or email you a specific challenge focusing on a particular habit of authentic Christian discipleship. It will then be for each of us to live out that habit over the subsequent seven days.

So, do you want to take up the Disciples Together on the Way challenge? If so, simply pick up your cell phone and text ONTHEWAY to 84576, or place your phone camera on the QR code below and it will take you to the DTOW website. It’s that easy!

Together, let’s grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. Thank you and God bless you.