You might have heard of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven life. Pastor Warren isn’t Catholic, but his five-fold description of what the Christian life is about mirrors almost exactly the five-fold roles of the Church that our local diocese (collection of Catholic Churches run by a bishop) used in a class I took a few years ago. Warren says we are called to: worship, discipleship, community, service, and witness. If you think about what a church does, at least the good stuff, it pretty much fits in those five categories.
What Francis is challenging us to think about is this: what if, instead of trying to do five things, we focused first on witness, or evangelizing, of spreading the good news, and the other four things supported that one priority? It’s easy to look at churches today and see that some seem more focused on worship, while others are really focused on their community, and others service, and some on discipleship and building up the knowledge of faith of their members. But what if churches all focused on spreading the word, and worship was meant to support that word-spreading, discipleship was about helping people be better word-spreaders, community was really about sharing the joys and frustrations of spreading the word, and service was just a nonverbal way of sharing the good news?
That’s what the “new evangelization” challenges us to be. Maybe, later, I will reflect on how a Catholic Church that was first focused on evangelizing might look, act, and be different from what we find today. But for now, let me just let you sit with that question and say that for any of what Francis writes to make any sense, you’ll need to be thinking “What if the church was evangelizer first?”
Incidentally, this is neither a new idea (it’s been around since at least the end of the oldest gospel, Mark), nor only a Catholic one. David Platt’s Follow Me starts from this premise, and, while I haven’t yet read it, I understand Francis Chan’s Multiply does too.
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