Why Urgent, Imperfect Evangelization is the Best Kind

Alpha training at DR16

Why Urgent, Imperfect Evangelization is the Best Kind


I am on the plane right now on the way home from Halifax, where I was among the 600+ participants in the Divine Renovation conference. It would be an unfair understatement to say that this conference was ridiculously amazing.

At DR16 we had the opportunity to look closely under the hood of St. Benedict Parish, a place that has never shied away from trying to actualize all the things that recent popes have been saying about the New Evangelization.

And what we saw was so beautiful.

Many have written summaries of their experience at DR16, so I will refrain from doing so myself. Instead I will share one of my personal takeaways.

Any time you look at something great happening it can produce a variety of emotions. Joy at seeing excellence in motion. Gratitude for how God rewards sincere efforts. Desire to be part of something amazing like it. Envy, that you haven’t borne similar fruit in your context. Sadness that even more people haven’t taken notice...

Maybe even… paralyzed?

There are some churches who truly don’t get it. One of the speakers said that many parishioners have a fundamental misunderstanding of what their parish is for. They don’t realize that parishes are for more than parishioners- that they are meant to be a mission in a place and to reach out to all those in their surrounding area.

Other churches do get it, but it is so counter cultural that they don’t know how to start being a parish in the true sense. What I mean is, their operation doesn’t yet reflect the mission that they acknowledge they have.

What they haven't yet realized is, urgent, imperfect evangelization is really the best kind.  

When I was in Holy Mass on the second day I was startled by an image that came to me. I want to share it with you:

Picture an impoverished city. It is full of people who are literally starving and emaciated. It has been so barren of food for so long that people don’t even look for food anymore.

There are some fortresses in the city and the people inside them do have food, but they are kept tightly secure. Nobody gets in and nobody goes out. Over time the starving don’t even notice these places anymore.

Then one day an organization comes in and starts building a massive soup kitchen to serve the starving people and save them from ruin. You see this and are hopeful!

But after the construction ends and the cupboards stocked with food, it remains locked up. For 6 months, then a year afterward nothing is happening and people continue to waste away.

You bang on the door one day and ask, “What is going on?? People are dying around here everywhere! Why aren’t you feeding them?? Isn’t that what came here for?!?"

“Oh, we’re going to feed them,” you’re told.

“Look, we’re just just in the process of figuring out what the best menu would be. When we do that, then we’ll open. If we started feeding people now, they might not really like the food that much."

Can you imagine how crazy that would be?

People who are starving need nutrition! They need to eat SOMETHING! They don’t need gourmet meals that leave a great first impression! They need your best effort, with whatever ingredients you have on hand RIGHT NOW.

Even if it is a big, fat, sloppy mess.

Soup kitchens don’t wait for the best ingredients, they just feed people. Field hospitals don’t wait for the best medical supplies, they just treat people!

In other words, choose an evangelization program and run with it.

My friend and colleague Ron Huntley spoke passionately about the need to foster a “culture of failure” in our churches. What he meant was that people who try things will fail more than people who don’t try things. Churches who try things will fail more than churches who don’t try things.

But both will also succeed more and bear more fruit!

For anyone coming back from Divine Renovation inspired by what you saw, amazing. Let’s turn that inspiration into immediate action. Let’s start imperfectly evangelizing people now!

Let us live and move and go out as ones who truly know they have been sent. Because a bruised church is way better than a paralyzed one. 

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37). (Evangelii Gaudium, 49)

You may also like: Has Evangelii Gaudium Made a Difference at All?

A bruised church is way better than a paralyzed one. — Josh Canning

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