Jeff Cavins’ latest book, The Activated Disciple: Taking Your Faith to the Next Level, explores the meaning of discipleship beyond simply consuming knowledge of the Catholic Faith. In this unabridged interview, Jeff explains his new book’s mission, which is to answer the question, “How do you do discipleship”, and to make that question the center of our discussions about the Faith.
Why is this book on being a disciple of Christ needed now, given the state of the Church today?
This book is needed in every generation, but it is especially needed right now because we’re living in a time where what I would call uber-Catholics have been saturated with amazing teaching, study material, books, television, radio, blogs, and social media activity. We are a consumer society, and the danger of being a consumer society is that we begin to define our walk with God, or our Christianity, in terms of what we consume rather than what we do. The danger is that we can get to a place where our faith is made up of consuming faith (not living it).
If someone asks you, “Are you Catholic,” and you respond, “Yes. I go to Bible study. I watch EWTN, I listen to Catholic radio, I’m always on the Catholic news sites …” that has nothing to do with being a disciple. It can be part of it, but I think right now there’s a need to go from theory and understanding to action, and to relationship. If we busy ourselves so much with the consumption of the Faith, we can trick ourselves and our faith becomes a hobby.
What is the inspiration behind the name The Activated Disciple?
Discipleship is not a matter of what you believe. It is a relationship with Christ whereby we take on his way of thinking, his worldview; and we carry out his will. That means we have to have a relationship, but we have to be active because he is active. Jesus is not just a storehouse of theology and pithy sayings. He is action. He is about action. The kingdom of God is action, and so to be a disciple, you can either be a passive disciple which is not a true disciple, or you can be an activated disciple, which is someone who is actively involved in the kingdom of God.
Then why not just call the book “The Active Disciple”? Why “The Activated Disciple?”
“Activated” disciple means there’s a decision. We’re not just busy people. “Activated” connotes a time, and it hints at a time when I was not. I need to be activated, not just active. It also connotes that God activated us, that it was through his grace.
“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21).
That’s the activation.
How is this book different from other books on how to be a disciple, like Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples?
A real credit to Sherry Weddell. Her book Forming Intentional Disciples has not only brought the subject of discipleship to the forefront, but she has even coined a new phrase: intentional disciples. Sherry does a phenomenal job of telling us the current situation, and where we are lacking in the Church in terms of making disciples. My book hopes to build on that and to actually give people a very doable blueprint as to what it means to be a disciple on a daily basis. So I think the two books go hand in hand. She talks about the problem, she talks about the need for discipleship in churches and where we’re falling down. I want to offer a solution to that, to those statistics that she’s offering.
You talk about the importance of prayer and Mass often in your podcast, The Jeff Cavins Show. What role do prayer and Mass play in being an activated disciple?
When we speak about prayer, we are speaking about relationship. When my wife and I get together every morning, we have tea and talk for an hour. We don’t call it prayer. We don’t call it conversing. It’s a relationship. It’s just what we do, we talk to each other. I think sometimes we place prayer outside of the normal relationship we have with someone, and this is Jesus.
In other words, prayer is different than a real relationship in a lot of people’s minds. It’s really not different. It’s really a relationship, and so prayer is central to being a disciple in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening because prayer is the constant communion and communication between the great rabbi Jesus, and his disciples, us.
Any time we can interface with Jesus in a personal way is prayer, and Mass is part of that as well. The sacramental life is a direct encounter with Jesus, so the sacraments are prayers and prayer can manifest itself as sacrament, but it’s all a relationship with Jesus.
When I talk about prayer in The Activated Disciple, one of the things I bring out is that I challenge people for a day or a week to pray out loud. Talk to Jesus out loud in the car, talk to Jesus in the shower out loud, get into the habit of treating this like a real relationship, not some kind of hyper-spiritual ethereal relationship of though-to-thought. Prayer is a real person talking to a real Son of God. When people do talk out loud to God, they’re shocked because it brings prayer to a new level of reality.
You talk about the Forty-Day Journey in the book. Could you tell us what that’s about?
It’s a separate book, but we’re not calling it a book. It’s a journal. After people read the book, I challenge them to put the fundamentals of discipleship into practice for a period of forty days. Forty days is a number in the Bible and the Church that speaks of testing and trial. It’s a time when you find out who you are. So I challenge readers to put discipleship into practice, and to assist them.
We are going to create a quasi-journal that, every day, will bring them through the disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, reflection, and looking for opportunities to share Christ with others. Then we will join them on social media on a daily and weekly basis to accompany them and encourage them on this forty-day journey to walk as a disciple. I jokingly say that at the end of forty days if following the Son of God and watching what he does, and how he transforms lives, is not for you then you can return to the life you had.
Many of your Bible studies show how we can use Scripture to find God’s plan for our lives. What role should Scripture play in the life of an activated disciple?
The Bible is central in the activated disciple’s life, because the Bible does several things. One, it reveals who God is in words and deeds. You can come to know him. It reveals who we are and the shortcomings that we struggle with and what our destiny is. It is God giving us a master plan for our lives so we can walk in righteousness. It’s not just a plan for this life; it’s an eternal plan that takes us into eternity.
So the Bible reveals who God is, who we are, what he expects of us. It corrects us, encourages us, it warns us, and it challenges us to go beyond where we would normally go. That’s why Jesus says, more than any other phrase, “Fear not” because if you’re following him you’re going to be involved in things that you would naturally fear: change, talking to people, being transparent, humbling yourself. All of these things are a little bit fearsome.
The Bible is a comprehensive story of mankind that shows us our destiny and how to get to heaven with the Lord. One of the biggest problems facing Catholic Christians today is that they don’t approach this relationship with Jesus as a relationship. They treat it as theology, to the point where it becomes about believing the right things, knowing how to answer Protestants. But Jesus isn’t inviting you to graduate school. He’s inviting you to a real relationship as a doctor, a teacher, a homemaker, an IT guy at a big corporation, or whatever it might be. That’s the wooing, the invitation that’s hard to resist, that the Son of God wants you to follow him and do what he does. Jesus doesn’t say “Follow me and believe the right things.” He says:
“He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).
He does not say “Believe greater things.”
So Catholics have a choice. Am I going to learn from my life or am I going to be a victim? Am I going be a victim or am I going to make the changes I need to make and walk with him? The foundation of discipleship is imitating God.
One of the reasons your Great Adventure Bible study programs are so popular is because they show how the Old Testament plays such a critical role in salvation history. Does it play a similar role when it comes to discipleship? Does God call us to be activated disciples in the Old Testament as much as he does in the new? If so, how?
There is the pattern of the new fulfills the old. The New Testament fulfills the Old Testament, and what God did with Israel Jesus does with us and completes it. I was really blessed because for ten years I studied with the greatest teachers of Israel in the United States, on the Jewish background and the rabbi-disciple relationship. One of the things that I learned was that young boys from seven to ten years old in Jesus’ day started their studies with the five books of Moses; but the first book that they studied was Leviticus. Now Leviticus is typically the most boring and bypassed book in Christian Bibles. There’s hardly any notes, verses underlined or highlighted in Leviticus.
So I asked myself, “Why would they start with Leviticus?” Now I have the reason. It’s because it’s a book of holiness, and the heart of Leviticus is God saying six times:
“Be holy, for I am holy.”
So in the book of Leviticus, God says to Israel, I want you, Israel, to be holy as I am holy. In other words, I want you to be like me. Then he goes on and says, “Say to the people of Israel:
“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes” (Leviticus 18:3).
Then he says to them, I want you to be able to distinguish and discern between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean. What he’s saying to the nation is, I want you to imitate me. So imitation is the foundation of discipleship. It isn’t apologetics, it isn’t Church history. It’s not ecclesiology. All of these things are important, but they’re not the foundation.
What is the foundation of discipleship?
The foundation of discipleship is imitating God. So what we see in the book of Leviticus is God literally discipling Israel. He’s saying, I want you to be my people, and saying, You be like me, six times.
Then you ask yourself, Well, what is God like? God calls weddings together—husband and wife—God is all about marriage. He is all about children and nurturing. He’s about creating. We are like him. We create. When people ask, “Why aren’t you for abortion?” We can say, “Because I’m like him. I’m imitating him. He doesn’t kill unborn babies.” He visits those who are hurting, he heals the sick, he tends to the widow and the orphan. He’s concerned about the poor.
So we have ways of imitating him in the Old Testament, and then in the New Testament Jesus comes and says, Hey, guys, I don’t do anything other than what I see the Father doing and I don’t say anything other than what I’m hearing him say. In other words, Jesus is saying, I am doing this as well. I’m totally focused on my father and if you see me you see him. He is modeling this for us in spades.
Now our role as disciples of Jesus is to imitate him. It’s to learn how he thinks, how to make decisions, what kind of moves does he make, how does he treat people. This is our goal as disciples. And then we see St. Paul, who says:
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
So it’s imitation over and over again. We’re not called just to learn theology. We are called to imitate God. It’s the same way with the saints. They all learned how to imitate Jesus in different ways, like St. Francis, or St. Benedict, or St. Dominic, or St. Thérèse. We look at those aspects of their lives and think, “Man, you’re imitating him and you’re fantastic at it.” It might not have been in a lot of areas. It might have been in one area. When you put them all together you have this collective universe of people imitating God.
So even in the Old Testament, when you see Ruth, who was a Moabite. Naomi and Elimelech go over to Moab with their two sons, Killean and Malone. Killian and Malone die. Elimelech dies. Naomi’s over there with Ruth. What does Ruth say? She says:
“Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
She’s basically saying the words of a disciple: I’m going to be with you. I will follow you. It’s like John 12:26:
“Where I am, there shall my servant be also.”
That connotes active disciples.
What I’m trying to do with this book is I’m trying to put discipleship in new light that is doable. It’s exciting and anybody can be a part of this.
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About Jeff Cavins
Jeff Cavins is passionate about helping people understand Scripture and become disciples of Jesus Christ. Though he was born Catholic, Jeff went to Bible school and served as a Protestant minister for twelve years before reverting to the Catholic Faith. He then quickly became a leading Catholic evangelist and author. Jeff is best-known for creating The Great Adventure Bible study programs published by Ascension, which have been used by hundreds of thousands of people to engage in Scripture in a life-changing way. In addition to The Activated Disciple, some of his other recent projects include his podcast, The Jeff Cavins Show, and the Great Adventure Bible studies, Ephesians: Discover Your Inheritance, and Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life.