The Lay Vocations Crisis
By Jen Moser – Associate Director & Leadership Formation Specialist, Parish Support Team
We often hear that there is a “vocations crisis” in the Church, and it’s hard to deny given recent events and demographic trends. A revitalization of priestly and consecrated life is certainly necessary. But I am convinced that if we focus our attention solely on promoting vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, we fail to address the root of the problem. What we are witnessing is a general crisis of Christian identity, and I would suggest that a large part of the solution is a recovery of the lay vocation.
What is the “Lay Vocation”?
In baptism, each one of us is united with Christ, receiving forgiveness from our sins and adoption into the family of God. Consequently, we are called to conform our hearts to Christ, and we are sent to engage in the work of salvation which He entrusted to His followers. This means that every baptized person is called to both holiness (to become a saint) and mission (to make disciples).
As lay people, the particular sphere in which this call is meant to be lived is the secular world – in the midst of our daily life in the workplace, family, neighborhood, and community (Lumen Gentium, 31). The reality is, we are regularly present in places where priests and religious cannot be. Think of the Christian influence we might have in the board room, the breakroom, the living room. This is why evangelization – the sharing of the gospel, especially with those who do not yet know Jesus – is the task of the laity in a unique, irreplaceable way (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2).
Without the laity, how will the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ reach people who would never darken the doors of our parishes or schools? How will the secular culture come to reflect gospel values? It is primarily through our Christian witness and evangelizing activity as lay people that the world will come to know the life-changing love of Christ. It never has been, nor can it ever be, the work of priests and religious alone.
To this end, what would happen if each one of us asked the most basic, baptismal “vocation” question every day: “God, what do you want me to do with my life?” What might our parishes, neighborhoods, and communities look like if a greater number of lay Catholics regularly asked this question? If we truly believe that God has a unique, unrepeatable purpose and plan for every human life, including our own, how can we enter into that plan and help other Catholics do the same?
Equipping for Mission
Unfortunately, most of us who have been Catholic all our lives have received very little formation in conversational prayer with God, other than what we may have absorbed from our family or Catholic schooling. Many of us desire to hear the voice of God speaking personally to us, but we don’t know where to begin. Similarly, many of us hear that we are “supposed to be evangelizing” but still struggle not to associate that directive with something other than standing on a soapbox on the street corner with a bullhorn. We have very few (if any) individuals or experiences that have modeled for us what evangelization looks like in a way that is natural and relational rather than intimidating or weird.
It is clear that the future of the Church is dependent on equipping the laity to evangelize in this natural and relational way, especially for those who desire to faithfully respond to the call to make disciples but don’t know where to start. This equipping is already beginning to happen at a local level in parishes that are gathering parishioners and forming them to launch evangelization initiatives. God-willing, these efforts will only continue to gain momentum and raise up an army of spiritually mature, mission-minded lay people who can reach those who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
How are we at an Archdiocesan level working to support and accelerate this “equipping the saints for the work of ministry”? (Eph 4:12)
One way is through the Mentorship Program for Lay Leaders. Launched in 2018, this two-year process equips lay people in their personal response to the call of sharing the good news of Jesus and accompanying others to become his disciples. Through practical, hands-on training, individuals are formed in the vision, skills, and habits necessary to evangelize.
Past participants have commented:
“Before joining the Mentorship Program, I thought the way to evangelize was to invite someone to Mass or to a program at my parish – just get them there, and I’m done. I’ve since learned that it’s about investing in people, listening to them, and walking alongside them as they grow as a disciple.”
“I feel more confident and encouraged to disciple others by way of praying, deepening my own relationship with the Lord, and nurturing relationships with others. Looking back, it’s exciting to see where we started and how far we’ve come!”
Do you think the Mentorship Program might be a good fit for you or someone you know?