Catholic Evangelism and Youth Ministry

By Fr. Mark Perkins


The Great Commission, stained glass window, Cathedral Parish of Saint Patrick in El Paso, Texas

The following is an adapted footnote -- I love footnotes; the footnote is a literary genre unto itself; you should all read Anthony Grafton's The Footnote: A Curious History -- in a paper on the state and future of youth ministry at All Saints Anglican Parish:


Our parish’s Catholic understanding of evangelism results in a particular approach to outreach. I grew up understanding the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:6-8) as a personal charge to each individual Christian, and although I was reassured that my neighborhood counted as part of “all the world,” I knew that I was not really fulfilling the commission to go to “all nations.” To suggest that being a faithful Christian in a secular career fulfills the commission just like, say, the martyred apostolic missionaries seeks to elevate the former station but arguably demeans the latter. Not all are called to be evangelists (as Ephesians 4 makes explicit). To pretend otherwise denies the biblical witness and demeans the calling of evangelists. From personal experience, I can also say that this reading has the potential either to create baseless guilt among youth (who do not broadcast their faith loudly) or to push them into transactional relationships in which every circumstance must be manipulated into an opportunity for a gospel message.


The biblical context for the Great Commission, of course, is a direct charge specifically to the apostles. Evangelism is an apostolic ministry of the Church corporate. As a Body with many members (1 Cor. 12), then, not all are called to be evangelists (Eph. 4). That observation, however, must also be balanced by the Petrine declaration to the members of the Body to be “a holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:4-10). While the vocations of all Christians vary as members of a Body, every Christian’s life is comprehensively defined through membership in that Body. Every parish and parent must be on the frontlines of generational evangelism. And all of us pray that God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and therefore every Christian must seek to bring the kingdom to bear on all aspects of life. In that sense, then, no Christian is ever excused from faithful witness. We must all seek the health and growth of Christ’s Church, and we must all do what is within our power — beginning with prayer — to ensure the kingdom-orienting flourishing of human communities, as well as to combat evil in its every manifestation in human hearts and societies.


We do not, therefore, expect that all our youth should or will be called to be evangelists. But all must be faithful to Christ, and — more importantly, perhaps — we have an obligation to help our youth discern what their calling is as members of the Body. How will they serve Christ? Some may indeed be called to be evangelists, and therefore we must provide opportunities and space for our youth to explore that possibility, and to experience the joy that can accompany witness to the gospel.


You can read the whole paper here.

EARTH &

ALTAR

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