By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you join Holy Family parish and how has the parish enhanced your spirituality?
John: I joined the parish when I moved back to Steubenville in 2003. For me, being able to worship and have fellowship with friends has helped me realize even more that you cannot say you love God without loving your neighbor. I find God in the people I go to Church with and that has been a tremendous blessing in my relationship with Him.
Gordon: You spent 13 years as a full-time youth minster, What are some of the evangelization challenges to youth evangelization?
John: I see the pervasive influence of social media being one of the greatest threats to evangelization. When I was youth minister in the 90’s, if you told a young person they could have a relationship with Jesus, they would ask, “Who is Jesus?” Now when you ask, the greater question is, “What is a relationship?” Young people are having a hard time, in the midst of the noise and distraction, of finding the quiet and peace to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. I believe when they find that, they respond generously to His presence in their lives. It is becoming harder to break through.
The other thing that makes youth evangelization difficult is the witness of many adults in their lives. Jesus, in the gospels, asks us to make Him the Lord of everything and love Him with all we are. Yet, many families do not live this out. It is hard to ask teens to make a fervent decision to follow Jesus when their family’s faith life is lukewarm, at best.
Gordon: In addition to serving in the United States, you have also served in Canada and Europe. Have you experienced differences in evangelization challenges in other countries?
John: The differences are not profound. I think the cultures of Canada and Europe have become even less centered on Christ and their public policies reflect that. But the human heart is the human heart no matter where you. Everyone needs Jesus and everyone can choose Jesus no matter what is happening around them. With all the world offers and the instant access to so many distractions, the challenge is helping them discover that Jesus is better than anything.
Gordon: What was you most rewarding experience In 10 years directing the Youth Outreach Office at Franciscan University of Steubenville?
John: I still go to several youth conferences each summer and the most rewarding part is being in a room and seeing thousands of young people open their hearts to an encounter with the love of Christ. I love hearing their stories. The main feedback we get from teens is, “I came to this conference not knowing if God was real but I know He is and that He loves me.” This is always most evident on Sunday morning at the conference when we have our vocation call and hundreds of young men and women come forward and express their openness to the call to the priesthood and religious life.
Gordon: What impact has social media played on the loss of young members from the church?
John: As I stated above, social media has become so pervasive in the life of teens. Many teens live or die by what happens on their phones. But, I would not blame social media for the loss of young members in the Church. I think we have lost and are losing young members because we have failed to convince them through our lives and witness that Jesus is alive, and His love is the greatest thing in the universe. They have been formed by a relativistic culture that says there is not truth and they have bought into that hook, line, and sinker. We will not win them back through clever argument but through a joyful witness of love and beauty.
Gordon: How can social media be most effective in evangelization?
John: Social media can affirm faith and pose questions to those who have left the Church or do not believe and that is good. But evangelization is the work of the Holy Spirit through the witness of faithful disciples. Most teens will have the positive faith messages they might encounter in social media outnumbered by messages that attack faith and holiness by a large percentage. So we should bear witness to Christ’s love whenever we can through social media but know that if we want to keep and bring back youth and young adults to the Church, we will need an army of Spirit-filled missionary disciples that will go to where they are and build relationships with them and accompany them on their spiritual journey. Nothing else will work.
Gordon: Any comments on Facebook’s blocking the Steubenville ad of the crucifixion as “excessively violent”?
John: I would like to be able to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt but there are too many examples of people posting Christian content that seems to “disappear”. In their defense they did fix the error right away.
Gordon: You spent 2 years at Net Ministries. What were your primary responsibilities and where did you serve?
John: With NET Ministries, I was part of a team of 12 young adults and we spent 10 months traveling across the United States putting on evangelistic retreats for junior and senior high students. The retreats included games, skits, music, a proclamation of the gospel, small group sharing and praying with the teens. I participated in all those things. Those two years were so very important to my relationship with God and my love for ministry. Any young adult who is looking for an amazing experience of grace and being able to share their faith should check out NET.
Gordon: You are the founder and CEO of President of Romans55 Please share with our readers and overview of you mission.
John: The mission of Romans 5:5 is to help people encounter the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. The verse proclaims, “Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given us.” I have experienced this over and over in my own life. I have prayed with thousands of people who have experienced the same thing. I want to help as many people have a life-changing encounter with the love of Jesus. My ministry consists of leading retreats, parish missions, and days of reflection of youth, young adults and adults. My favorite topics are the Holy Spirit, Living as a Disciple, How to Evangelize, Deepening Your Prayer. My website will be up and running in the next month. The address is www.Romans55.org.
Gordon: Do you have any recommendations for a parish that does not have a youth ministry?
John: You do not need a youth minister or youth ministry program to evangelize and disciple the teens of the parish. Evangelization is the work of the Holy Spirit and He can work through anyone who is willing to let Him. Of course, knowing the kerygma and being able to communicate it effectively is very important. But in the end, teens won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Start by building a team of adults who are willing to invest in relationships with teens that focuses on simply listening and loving. Establishing trust is critical. In the context of these relationships, God will open doors for faith sharing. If you have a group of teens who are looking to grow, I would recommend the resources provided by Life Teen. Not only can they supply resources, they also provide great training for any adult who wants to help teens grow in their faith.
Gordon: Thank you for this interview that will be helpful to all of our readers.