Evangelization: Why it’s everyone call and duty
What baseball player never strikes out over the course of a season? Terry Barber never did in his senior year at Covina High School.
Ah, but, what evangelist never strikes out in his efforts to bring people into the faith? Not even Terry Barber, who has made evangelization his life's work for the past 35 years, can make that claim.
Nor can this lifelong Catholic tell you if his success rate is better or worse than the .370 batting average he compiled as an all-league outfielder. But even for a former baseball player and ex-real estate salesman like Terry Barber, "success" isn't defined by numbers when it comes to bringing people into the Catholic faith — or, even better, helping fallen-away Catholics return to church.
“For me, evangelization is about sharing the Good News with others in a way that touches people's hearts,” says the founder of Covina-based St. Joseph Communications. “That's what the Church calls us to do. God created me to serve him, he called me by name, and every day is about fulfilling what the Lord asks me to do.
“So as evangelizers we invite, we plant seeds, we let people know that God is present whether they know it or not, and we always let them know that they have a home with the Lord. And then it’s up them and the Holy Spirit, who is actually the one who evangelizes; we are simply the instruments of the Lord."
Last month, Barber received a Catholic Press Association award for his book, “How to Share Your Faith with Anyone” (Ignatius Press), in which he outlines how Catholics — with love, kindness and basic knowledge of their faith — can share and spread the Good News without being heavy-handed and dramatic (as the stereotypical image of an evangelizer suggests).
And evangelization, as suggested by every recent pope, is an essential duty of every Catholic Christian. Yet Barber observes that most Catholics, for a variety of reasons (“misconceptions, really”), simply don’t do it.
“Most Catholics are scared to bring up God in conversation,” he says. “A lot of Catholics don't feel comfortable talking about Jesus; a lot of Catholics don't know their faith, even once they have that relationship with Jesus. And a lot of Catholics think they need to be expert theologians to talk about their faith. Well, I'm not an expert either, but I know my basics, I know the sacraments, I know the Commandments, and I keep it simple.”
“Keep it simple” is the first of what Barber calls “Eight Laws of Effectively Sharing the Faith with Anyone,” techniques that Jesus used and are used not only by effective evangelizers but effective salespeople (which Barber was when he worked in real estate). The others:
—Keep him saying yes.
—Call him by name.
—Show and then tell.
—Always agree (as in, “Am I correct in understanding that what you are saying is…” and not, “Yes, whatever you say is right”).
These, says Barber, can be employed in a simple conversation that doesn’t involve traipsing door-to-door or through a shopping mall toting Bible tracts and pamphlets. Because evangelization, he points out, is not a separate activity from simply living a Christ-centered life.
“Most of us,” says the husband and father of four, “try to do God's will in our state in life — be a good parent, a good worker at our job, a good friend. It's about doing our daily duty, and that doesn't require that we hit someone over the head with God's word and teaching, or demanding, 'When are you going to confession?' Simply saying, ‘I’m a believer in our Lord Jesus’ works much better.”
Barber, in his book, recounts a number of instances where a kinder, simpler approach that appeals to the best of one’s human nature is generally (though, admittedly, not always) the most effective, without necessarily bringing Christ and catechetics into the mix. In one trip to a baseball game, at which he and his family were surrounded by foul-mouthed, alcohol-laden “fans,” he simply told one of them that he would pray that the man returned safely home that night to his wife and family. The startled individual neither swore nor drank the rest of the evening.
“You love people in spite of the hostility and even hatefulness they show toward you,” says Barber. “That's how early Christians gained converts. Being kind and nice means the world to people.”
The 50-ish parishioner at Sacred Heart in Covina, who speaks free of charge at parishes on bringing fallen-away Catholics back to the faith, frequently cites Cardinal John Henry Newman’s words, that “the worst thing for our Church is an ignorant laity.”
“So we need to educate ourselves if we don't have a grasp of the basics of our faith. And there's no excuse for not doing that, for our knowledge of faith to be so small, because the answers are not that hard to find. We need to remember that we can offer others the greatest gift God ever gave us — the love of his Son Jesus.”
Catholic Family Conference: www.catholicRC.org July 25-26 in Ontario, $20 for a family. Started them in 1990, hold them around the US.