7 Questions for Jared Zimmerer, Word on Fire's New Director of Outreach and Mission
Today, we're excited to announce a new member of the Word on Fire team, Jared Zimmerer! Jared brings a wealth of experience in evangelization and catechesis, and we can't wait to introduce him to you.
1. First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a cradle Catholic born and raised in North Texas where I live with my beautiful wife, Jessica, and my five children. I graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Kinesiology and am currently working towards a Master’s in Theology through Holy Apostles College and Seminary where I earned the Alumni New Evangelization in Social Media Scholarship. I love to read both fiction and non-fiction, spend time with my family, and exercise, though I also enjoy a good cigar every now and then. I have written a few books on the topics of Catholic masculinity, spirituality, and fitness.
2. You have been working in parish ministry for a number of years. Can you tell us about what that mission was about and what you learned?
For the past several years I have acted as the Director of Adult Evangelization and Catechesis at St. Francis of Assisi, a large parish in Grapevine, Texas. I oversaw many different areas of adult sacramental, catechetical, and evangelistic programs, including RCIA, marriage preparation and enrichment, annulment advocacy, and adult confirmation. I also oversaw and created numerous other offerings for people to learn their faith like our Chesterton Society, also, a small group going through the literary epics like Homer and Shakespeare, and several small groups using several of the excellent series’ produced by Word on Fire.
I have learned a lot over the course of working there. A few things that stand out are the absolute necessity of reaching beyond the periphery of a parish, the need for Christocentric messaging in every catechetical effort, and the importance of creating authentic disciples of Jesus Christ, people who live and breathe the mission of the Church which is evangelization. So often parishes can get caught up in the administrative aspects, which are important, however, making disciples of Jesus must take precedence.
3. You have been associated with WOF for a number of years? How did you come to be involved with the work of Bishop Barron's Word on Fire?
My original introduction to Bishop Barron’s work was through his YouTube videos. I remember thinking how awesome it was to have someone comment on movies through a theological lens, not as a judicial overseer wagging the finger at Hollywood but rather as an appreciator of art and culture who appropriated film and music within the context of unveiling Christ. I was introduced to the team almost five years ago at the New Media Conference held in Texas after connecting with Fr. Steve Grunow on the grounds of a similar love of fitness and nutrition. I have been blessed to work with the Word on Fire team at several conferences over the years and have been invited to present at Mundelein Seminary when Bishop Barron was rector there. I also have had the pleasure of travelling with Bishop Barron to several events including the International Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines last year.
4. What do you think is unique about Bishop Barron's approach to evangelization?
Bishop Barron has an exceptional talent at wading through culture and the living experience and expressing the faith within that experience in both engaging and intellectual ways. His focus on leading with beauty is fundamental in reaching out beyond our own periphery and I’ve never seen anyone express and show this like he does. One of the best expressions of this for me came in Episode 4 of the Catholicism series when speaking on Mary and showing a candlelight procession in Lourdes, I still tear up every time I watch that episode. As I mentioned previously, he was a breath of fresh air for my faith as he does not fear speaking on or to a culture on their grounds using the latest media. It is a literal connection of John Henry Newman’s notional and real assent.
5. What do you think are some of the greatest challenges in terms of evangelization and catechesis right now?
Well, as our attrition rates show, we are losing many in our parishes. I think in large part this stems from a massive amount of people who have been catechized but never evangelized. I’m referring to people who know their faith and are able to express the truths of it, but they may not know Jesus on a personal level. Sure, the aspects of right living are vitally important, but if the person has not met Jesus truly and deeply, then the foundation is missing. I fear that many have the dynamic of the belong-believe-behave faith journey mixed up to look more like behave-belong-believe. In many places there is a need to steer away from seeing the faith as a club to join and rather see it as a relationship to be had that is freely given to all.
There is also a necessity of those teaching the faith and evangelizing to be in touch with the connection of faith and reason. Pope Benedict XVI once noted that many of our modern errors stem from an erred metaphysics of creation, and I think he’s quite right. Our faith is not simply a ‘feeling of the infinite’ as we see in Schleiermacher, or a matter of social ordinance as we see in Feuerbach. We must be equipped and able to convey the faith as not only reasonable but highly intelligent and in line with the human experience.
I also believe that with the ever-growing number of ‘nones’ in our culture needs to be a foremost effort in our evangelistic outreach by which we must lead with beauty. As Bishop Barron has mentioned numerous times the danger of ‘beige Catholicism’ must be put in submission and the beauty and intellectual tradition of the Church must find themselves at the forefront of our efforts. Bring back the depth of the giants from which we are descendents.
Lastly, there is a growing need for others to know of salvation history and their place in it. So often we focus on the apologetics of sacraments or life decisions, which are definitely important, but without knowing your place in the plan of God, these important issues become white-noise. In our evangelistic efforts we must be prepared to show people where they belong in the plan of God, there you find purpose and identity, and follow that with an invitation to join the great history of saints.
6. What are you looking forward to in terms of your mission at Word on Fire?
First and foremost, I look forward to helping proclaim Jesus Christ to the culture along with Bishop Barron and the Word on Fire team. I am also thrilled to be able to propagate the ethos of the evangelistic nature of Word on Fire which has done so much for me and my family. I look forward to meeting people around the country who have the desire to transmit the Word on Fire spirituality in their lives and the lives of those in their community.
7. What advice do you have for those who are serving the Church as evangelists and catechists?
First, you cannot give what you do not have. In other words, if you don’t personally know Jesus, don’t be surprised when you can’t introduce others to Him. Second, STUDY! Read up on the latest polls and reasons people are leaving and educate yourself to be able to answer those reasons. Dive into the Church’s tradition and teaching on the nature of mission and the Church itself. There is a treasure trove of knowledge to be had in the encyclicals and Church documents from the last few centuries. And lastly, be docile to change. As mentioned previously, our attrition rates cannot go ignored. This means that we have to be willing to make the change necessary to meet those challenges. As Scripture notes again and again, ‘Be not afraid!’