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Evangelization, Movement, and the Word on Fire Institute

September 18, 2018


If you’ve listened to anything produced by Bishop Barron within the last two years, you’ve probably heard the dire statistics of the “nones,” those absented from religion. Of particular concern are those in the iGen, those born between 1995 and 2012. (You can read Bishop Barron’s concerns here for more details.) One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with a crisis of such proportion and type is thinking through a solution to the problem. There are many who’ve come to find that, in the great tradition of reformers and evangelists, there really isn’t that one thing that is going to solve a crisis. Rather, if you look at those who’ve made the greatest impact on the culture, the only consistent piece of their lives was that they lived the faith radically in love with Jesus Christ. Some were philosophers, others theologians, artists, kings, lawyers, soldiers, and doctors. Name almost any profession and I can point to a saint who lived his or her life in radical obedience to the call of holiness within their state of life, each of which brought with them numerous souls who were moved by the person’s radicality and met Christ through their witness. I think one reason the word discipleship has become so popular is because it aims to incorporate all of the necessary tools for proper evangelization. It also aims to show that one can be a disciple, an evangelist, in any state of life or career.

Our time in particular is in great need of astute, charitable, and courageous evangelists, especially in a time of institutional strife.

About five years ago Bishop Barron, Fr. Steve Grunow, myself, and several other folks on the Word on Fire staff started a conversation in regard to a challenge that was thrown at Bishop Barron by his great mentor, Cardinal Francis George, who said, “Where are the movements for today?” In other words, throughout the history of the Church, any time there was great crisis, it was prudent to look for the movement of the Holy Spirit to help answer and challenge that crisis. Oftentimes these movements would become recognized by the Church and become an official ecclesiastical order of either lay people or clergy, or sometimes a combination of the two. As you may have heard Bishop Barron state, one of his great dreams is to see Word on Fire evolve from a ministry into a movement. While there might be some confusion about the terminology, I think there’s a distinction to be made between a movement of the Holy Spirit and an offical ecclesiastical Movement. Many Catholics might be thinking of an offical Movement when someone uses that language. However, when we see the successful movements of the history of the Church, it was a true movement in the evangelical sense well before the recognition of the institutional Church. 

We’ve now heard from a host of former, self-proclaimed “nones,” atheists, and agnostics who were jolted from their apathy after encountering Word on Fire content. That jolt, as Bishop Barron often states, is the effect of the “grab you by the lapels” quality that the Catholic faith possesses. Bishop Barron desired to express that same quality through his apostolate, and now Word on Fire is seeing the promising responses of a once uninterested generation. Not only was Word on Fire hearing about conversions due to Bishop Barron’s content, but those same people overwhelmingly felt compelled to become better evangelists themselves. They were clamoring for a way to become more involved with Word on Fire and actively participate in its mission. It became clear that a movement of committed Word on Fire followers already existed. We then began to wonder how we could take what we’ve learned over the years from our approach to evangelization and use it to inspire and instruct future lay evangelists. How can we aid in forming those who desire to affirm and act upon their call as baptized Catholics to evangelize the culture and invite people to a life with Christ? What can we offer those who wish to embrace the Word on Fire ethos and learn to be effective evangelists, to be better prepared to rise up and respond to the spiritual challenges of the times?

We need a vast, well-formed army of evangelists who encourage one another, strive after a radical relationship with Christ through the sacraments, and leave their doorstep every single day ready to proclaim Christ in the culture. It is for this reason that Bishop Barron founded the Word on Fire Institute.

The Word on Fire Institute, set to launch in October 2018, exists to propagate the work and content of Bishop Robert Barron in an interactive, relational, and digital education format, and to form evangelical leaders in the Word on Fire principles of evangelization as a way of life and outreach. Word on Fire Institute members will be formed in such a way that they will boldly rise up to meet and address challenges to our faith and to influence the wider culture through their Christian witness. The Institute is comprised of professors (Fellows) that teach in disciplines consistent with the eight core principles of the Word on Fire Movement: unwavering Christocentricity, evangelization of the culture, special commitment to new media, rootedness in the Mystical Body, affirmative orthodoxy, via pulchritudinis (way of beauty), collaborative apostleship, and a foundation in the Eucharist. These professors will present filmed courses to members of the Institute. Membership will be open to anyone interested, but an elevated leadership track will be cultivated by the Institute for further mission within the Word on Fire Movement.

While Bishop Barron’s great dream is to see an official Movement, the first step that we are taking to achieve Bishop Barron’s vision is the establishment of an institute of formation to bolster evangelists and begin the process of connecting these individuals to create authentic community. These online connections will evolve into personal connections as we aim to connect people geographically and build groups of Institute members into serious evangelical teams of people and as these communities grow, offer leadership summits, retreats, and numerous other opportunites to garner evangelization in major cities across the country, and hopefully, other countries as well.

Joining the Institute doesn’t mean you are joining an official Movement; rather, when people join the Institute, they will be receiving formation in the ethos of Bishop Barron and Word on Fire to become effective evangelists in the culture. The Institute is the formation arm of Bishop Barron’s evangelical mission. So, anyone is welcome to join the Institute in order to receive formation; however, the official Movement is still in the works and will take a succession of events to reach. Right now, we are forming people in our ethos and encouraging them to live a life of holiness and evangelization, something that has consistently reformed the evangelical mission throughout history. If you want to receive formation from some of the top minds and disciples today, join with thousands who desire a community of like-minded disciples, and be challenged to live out the call of evangelization, particularly evangelization of the unaffiliated, join the Word on Fire Institute.