Effective Evangelization Starts With the Family

Compared to decades ago, we have been blessed with unprecedented numbers of wonderful “programs” in the Catholic Church. Praise God for the undeniable impact these programs and groups have had.

But tell me you’re not troubled by the indifference or abandonment by many children of such participants? Or by the prospect that, in spite of such prolific programming, mass participation has continued to dramatically decline? That nearly 80% have left the church by age 23?

Yes, there is judgment here. But please note that it is not in the sense of “to condemn.” That is reserved for God alone.

I am speaking of judgment with our God-given capacity and responsibility for moral evaluation (CCC, #1778). Without such judgment, we have nothing to say about anything. Ever. Which is precisely the culture that has caused evil to propagate in the realms of politics, church, community, and our homes.

What matters is that we judge rightly. What matters is that we tolerate the good, beautiful, and true. With these, love finds it’s rails. Without these, “love” is just another word.

This is about restoration. For those who yearn for it. I’m writing and laboring for those who are, perhaps, like the lady in the early Wendy’s commercial inquiring, “Where’s the beef?” I’m writing and laboring for those who’ve been cycling through program after program only to return to their marriages, homes, and world unchanged.

This is for all who sincerely recognize that God wouldn’t have us pray “Thy Kingdom come” without providing the means to fulfill it. I am writing and laboring with and for those parents willing to look in the mirror.

So, what is the value of Catholic programming? Consider the parable of the sower and seed (Matt. 13:1-9). Note that Christ delivered this powerful message to the religiously observant. Religion influenced every aspect of their lives.

If I may be so bold as to summarize this parable:

  • (1) It’s not enough to receive any number of seeds. That is, to participate in any number of religious activities.
  • (2) We need to cultivate them. That is, to foster a quality of recognition and response to God in our hearts, at the level of our very identity, that informs the entirety of our life-mission and action.
  • (3) Measured by the harvest. That is, if we’ve been so evangelized, we can’t help but evangelize, as a way of life — particularly in those areas entrusted to us, most notably, our homes.

Since we live near Cedar Point, allow me the Parable of the Amusement Park. There was a man who was invited to the latest, greatest thing everyone was talking about. He set aside the time. He shelled out the cash. With some apprehension but excitement, he got on the first ride. It took him up. Then down. Then round and round. Filled with excitement, his heart pounding as never before, he raised his voice! He even put his hands in the air! And after all that, he returned right back to where he began. Grateful for the common experience; a memory shared with others who’ve “done” it.

At the end of the day, his experience was constrained to that place, people, and time. It was nothing like his daily culture and atmosphere.

A year later (when we might consider something’s enduring value), he was really no different. Just ask those around him.

Here’s the thing. When we encounter Jesus Christ, if we’ve really encountered Jesus Christ, we can not help but be transformed. We can’t help but to surrender lesser things for greater. We can’t help but cultivate those seeds in our souls and homes. Not simply in moments, or as a program, but as a way of life. Without doing this, the many, awesome programs are really no more than another spiritual roller coaster. Our faith, an amusement park.

It’s striking to note that, too often, good and godly pastors and parish leaders are, at best, perpetuating this Amusement Park Culture. They are not asking, “How can we more vitally live this ourselves and help others do the same… particularly in their homes?” They’re discussing the next program to provide the next great ride. One year becomes another. How much more has this community come alive in the power of the Holy Spirit? Where’s the harvest? How many more have been added?

It’s unfortunate that too often the reason given for parishes not becoming what they are is fear that they’ll “scare people away.” The question must be asked: “Were they really there?” And, “Are you giving them compelling reason to even be there?”

Here’s the harsh truth: Nothing more powerfully proclaims the authenticity of our faith than the lives of our children. Now, many may protest: “We did everything we could!” Or, a favorite dismissive, “Look at Adam and Eve! They had perfect parents and even they fell away!”

Of course, both of these miss the point. Only God can say He’s perfect. Can we really say the same? Are we really doing everything?

  • Are our children intentionally seeking the heart of the Father in every aspect of their lives and helping others to do the same?
  • Are they disciplined in daily prayer and pursuing spiritual growth?
  • Do they delight in godly conversation and prayer, with a desire and ability to pray from the heart?
  • Are they ready to forgive and apologize?
  • Are they aware of and regularly renouncing any and all idols? (e.g., devices, popularity, material, entertainment, food, beverages, success, money…)
  • Are they more interested in human relationships than digital distractions?
  • Are they self-controlled and disciplined?
  • Are they generally joy-filled, full of life-mission and purpose?

Here’s the kicker: If we’re not doing all the above, how can we expect it of them?

Ask yourself: How much time have you spent in any Catholic program? Have you spent at least as much time fostering the same culture in your own home with your family? Which is more important?

If this essential portrait of a Catholic family, of God’s design for you and your family, is not intentionally happening, ask this question: Have you become a Catholic program junkie?

Now the big turn. God tears down so He can build up. So please prayerfully consider these questions, not to be beat up, but with great awareness and hope so that you can be built up! He desires this for you! He’s made you for this! The great news is that we’re not stuck where we’re at.

The great news is that the degree to which we’re down is the degree to which God desires to lift us higher. This is the very meaning of Jesus being lifted up. Triumphing over sin and death. Delivering us from isolation to intimacy. This is His very purpose: For us to live authentic, new lives in Him!

He has done it. He’s made it possible. The only question that remains: Do you want it? Because everything depends upon your answer.

After 35 years of immersive Catholic ministries, we’ve come to recognize the most important thing. The “Mission One.” In the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” As icons and instruments of the Holy Trinity, he exhorts: “Family, become what you are.”

Whether you embrace it or not, our shared “mission one” must be helping families recognize and embrace their “ordinary” lives as God’s custom-designed retreat. Particularly in our own souls, marriages, and families.

We’ve been conducting “Mission One” retreats that give married couples an opportunity to consider these points and to identify those areas of deficiency so that, together, we might pursue greater fulfillment. These retreats are not an end. The seeds are cultivated through weeks of support.

To proclaim God’s transforming power alive, we created a reality series. Called “Family Road Trip PODCAST,” we invited four families to commit to just seven weeks of a dedicated time of talking and praying in their homes using the Live IT (LIT) Gathering Guide.

Truly, it’s been amazing. We’ve journeyed with these four sets of parents from being apprehensive and fearful to becoming convicted “retreat masters.” Each gives testimony to new heights of joy, delight, understanding, forgiveness, kindness, friendship, and purpose. It can only be regarded as family revival.

So if you’re looking for more than another seed throwing, if you’re looking for vision, encouragement, and support to see it take root in your home, don’t put it off.

We invite you to join us. Listen to the Family Road Trip PODCAST at ILoveMyFamily.us. There you can also access the weekly Live IT (LIT) Gathering Guide for your own family and/or group.

And if you and your spouse are really desiring to become instruments for other couples to do the same, please contact us. We’re now scheduling more “Mission One” retreats for married couples.

Lord God, in our capacity to love truly You made us instruments and icons of Your very nature. We are an Image of the Trinity. Help us to discover it. Even more, help us to live it.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

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Greg Schlueter is an award-winning film producer, writer, speaker and movement leader. He is President / CEO of Mass Impact (Image Trinity), which is committed to personal, family and parish transformation: “Not another program, a way of life in Jesus Christ.” (ILoveMyFamily.us). Greg lives with his wife and six children in Toledo, Ohio.

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