In this episode, Andrew visits with Jared Zimmerer, the senior director of the Word on Fire Institute. Andrew and Jared chat about the Catholic presence on social media and how we can use social media as an important tool for evangelization. Jared also shares about Word on Fire’s exciting new project with the University of St. Thomas’s MAX Studios.
Prior to working for Word on Fire, Jared’s Catholic evangelization efforts focused on the cross-section of faith and fitness, and he often spoke to high school athletes about Catholicism and Catholic masculinity in general. Jared very much believes we can use the culture of sports to start connecting with younger generations, and it was during his talks on the subject that he met Fr. Robert Barron (now Bishop Barron!) and learned about Word on Fire.
Word on Fire Institute
The Word on Fire Institute is a digital online institute that provides courses in philosophy, theology, culture, evangelization, and more. Because of its online presence, Word on Fire is available globally and has a large international following.
Partnership with MAX Studios
Word on Fire recently partnered with The University of St. Thomas’s MAX Studios to produce a video series called The New Evangelization and New Media Series. The goal of the project is to highlight top Catholic influencers, people who are successful in using social media as a tool for evangelization. By demonstrating the enormous presence of these Catholic influencers, the series hopes to show why social media is important to the Catholic community and how lay people can lean into social media and be shining lights in their own social media presence.
Jared explains that, with this project specifically, Word on Fire hopes to increase the quality of Catholic influencers in our global social media space. Jared shares how Word on Fire rejects a culture of contempt and focuses on presenting the joy of the Gospel. Jared also emphasizes the large role that the laity play in evangelization, and he highlights Word on Fire’s goal to help lay Catholics be knowledgeable and successful in their evangelization attempts.
If you would like to learn more about Word on Fire, the Word on Fire Institute, and/or The University of St. Thomas MAX Studios, please see the following links:
First, I love what Jared was saying about the mission of Word on Fire. They want to move from a ministry to a movement. We hear all the time about new programs being launched at parishes, universities, and Catholic organizations but how many of them are intended to spark a movement? I think that what Bishop Barron has created at Word on Fire has put them into position to start a movement, and I love that they recognize it and have put words to it in such a powerful way. I wish that more organizations thought in these terms but I believe that this new initiative is a really fantastic way to inspire others to do just that.
Second, Word on Fire and University of St. Thomas are leaning into the tools and communication vehicles of the world in a powerful way. Too often, fear keeps us out of adopting secular ideas because we don’t want to dilute or corrupt the message of the Gospel. I don’t believe that Jesus would ever condone that type of avoidance of the world, and I am encouraged to see these organizations approaching social media with a mindset of evangelization. This is a great model for the rest of us regardless of the strategy or idea that we might be afraid of. And, the fact that they are providing insights and instruction to help us get over that fear is the perfect way to spark a movement in Catholic evangelization. So my hat goes off to them.
Lastly, the wise words of Cardinal George ring particularly true to me in this conversation. “You cannot evangelize a culture that you don’t love.” At the end of the day, it’s not enough to learn the tricks or hacks to make Catholic social media work if we are not starting out of a place of love. I know that this made me stop and think about my motivations for the work that I do, and I think that is a healthy exercise for all of us whether we are in fundraising, ministry, nonprofit work, or just want to be good Catholics. Like Simon Sinek says, you have to know your why before you understand the how and what. If we don't approach our work from a place of love for all humanity, we will ultimately fail.
I hope that you enjoyed this and that it made you think. I encourage you to check out the videos at MAX Studios and make an effort to better understand how we can all use social media to better evangelize. God bless and we’ll see you next time.