Catholic Herald staff
Dcn. Jim Arndt believes in the power of relational ministry, in the home and in the parish.
When Fr. Chris Kemp, pastor of St. Francis Xavier, Merrill, asked the deacon to choose an evangelization program for the parish, Dcn. Arndt focused on building discipleship and community.
ChristLife, an evangelization ministry founded in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1995, was the program he felt would best suit their parish’s needs.
After presenting it to the pastor, parish council and others, Dcn. Jim attended a two-day training session in Pittsburgh.
“They nailed the need for relational ministry and discipling and how to create a culture of community in the parish,” he said, and shared how immediately drawn he was to the program and the other 80-plus “joy-filled Catholics” in attendance.
The program’s founder, Dave Nodar, seeing that someone came “all the way” from Wisconsin to train, personally sought out the deacon and offered his help and support.
The three-part program – Discovering Christ, Following Christ, and Sharing Christ – was immediately embraced back in Merrill, and Dcn. Arndt was very pleased with his test run last winter. Each session starts with a free meal, some praise and worship, and a talk or video presentation, after which small-group discussion takes place.
Setting realistic expectations of about 20 participants, the deacon was pleased with the initial turnout of 45. He was “blown away” to end the first phase with an average of 60 people, from 16 to 80 years old.
Before the final “Discovering Christ” session, a day retreat is planned. Part of the retreat experience is focus on “reclaiming your Confirmation,” Dcn. Arndt said.
“We don’t know what Confirmation means,” he said, beyond it being likened to graduation from religious education.
Retreat participants, who have ideally following the ChristLife trajectory designed in the successive sessions, have an opportunity to “recommit their life to Christ.”
An additional element of the retreat is the invitation to allow a prayer team to pray over individuals to ask for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Dcn. Arndt was “super nervous,” thinking no one would come forward, because “It’s not really a Catholic thing.”
It did take some time, he said, and there was some hesitation, “but then the doors flooded and everyone was coming up, making lines by the prayer teams.”
Believing that the fruit of the course is yet to be seen – “whether or not lives are truly changed” – the deacon is willing to be patient.
“Not going to Mass because it’s a sin to miss, but because I love Jesus Christ – that’s the shift being looked for,” he asserted.
The “Discovering Christ” portion of the ChristLife program will re-start in November and run seven weeks on Monday evenings with one Saturday for the retreat. “Following Christ” will start after the new year. The final phase, “Sharing Christ,” has yet to be scheduled.
The program’s website, with extensive information, can be found at https://christlife.org. Dcn. Arndt is available to share more about the program; contact him at or 715-536-2803, ext. 215.
Dcn. Arndt concluded, “Relational ministry is the direction the Church needs to move. As Catholics, we think of evangelization as people standing on a corner or banging on doors or over someone’s head with a Bible, but it’s really about the example of how you live your life. If you live a Christ-filled life and a relationship with Jesus Christ, people are going to be drawn to that.”