At the historic 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders, the American bishops encouraged the Church to become missionary disciples, and to embrace the call to missionary leadership, the art of being true apostles who live leading others to Christ.
The convocation encouraged all those who are serious about leading others to Christ to deepen in eight characteristics of a missionary leader:
1. Leaders are people of prayer. They are intimately in tune with God’s voice that speaks in silence and finds time to imitate the Lord, who “went up on the mountain by himself to pray” (Mt 14:23). They receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist frequently.
2. Leaders are conscious of the mission field around them. They are willing to go beyond their comfort zones to embrace and engage others. They act with intentionality and an open heart for all God’s people, not only those who are already active in the life of the Church.
3. Leaders actively seek out the lost, like the shepherd who left the ninety-nine and went in search of the lost sheep (Mt 18:12-14, Lk 15:3-7). They go out to those who are hurting and wounded and bring them “home” to the Church.
4. Leaders are well-formed for the work of ministry: pastorally, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and culturally, among other areas.
- Pastorally, they speak the language of the faith in a manner their audience can understand in order to engage them.
- They are emotionally mature, demonstrating the capacity to listen and understand different perspectives, form relationships, mentor others, and collaborate on a team. They have habits of compassion and empathy.
- They have a solid intellectual understanding of Scripture and the Church’s teaching in order to proclaim the Gospel (kerygma), as well as knowledge of other disciplines that are necessary for their work.
- Spiritually, they have a prayer life that is foundational to their work, regularly participating in the sacraments and the life of the Church.
- They are interculturally competent, with the attitudes and skills necessary to engage well with people from all cultural families and backgrounds. In addition to these personal qualities, missionary disciples follow a four-step journey as leaders: encounter, accompany, community, and send.
5. Leaders should regularly reflect deeply on their own experience of encounter with Jesus Christ through prayer, the sacraments, adoration, Scripture, works of mercy, their families, the life of the Church, and so on. With an awareness of their own story, leaders can help bring others to encounter Christ as well.
6. Leaders accompany others on their journey toward Christ by walking with them and supporting them, especially in their struggles. As Pope Francis said, “Often it is better to simply slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.”(EG 35) This accompaniment should communicate love, and support a gradual assimilation of truths and change. This requires patience and understanding on the part of the leader.
7. Leaders find support and ongoing formation in the community, parish life, apostolic movements, diocesan and national networks, and small faith groups. Leaders work to make the community a place of welcome, hospitality, fellowship, catechesis, and solidarity—a place everyone would be willing to invite others into.
8. Leaders are sent to evangelize. They have been given a mission by the Church to go outside the walls of their communities and churches and to seek those who are lost. Missionary disciples also send others, especially those they have journeyed with, into their own mission field, wherever the Lord may be calling them.