Jesus is the Horse

The topic of “conversion” has come up in conversation rather frequently lately. Generally in the context of ministry: As in, it’s our goal in ministry to bring people to Christ, to encounter Him and have a conversion experience.

In my experience, people don’t have conversion experiences by being immersed in doctrine. They don’t have conversion experiences because of a ritual. They don’t have a conversion experience while studying Scripture. People have conversions when they encounter Jesus. When they begin building a relationship with Him. People come to conversion through praying not reading.

Which begs the question, should we be teaching doctrine to the people who haven’t met Jesus? Should we be throwing people into rituals before they’ve built a relationship with Him? Should we skip the conversion and just hope that with enough scripture and doctrinal knowledge conversion will happen eventually?

That seems so backward. It’s a cart-before-the-horse approach to ministry. It doesn’t make sense. And it isn’t Scriptural either. In the Bible, the people immersed in Scripture, doctrine and ritual are the Pharisees. They’re the ones who’ve gotten it backwards. They’re the ones that Jesus says are missing the point.
Jesus’ ministry wasn’t about doctrine. He only taught doctrine when people asked for it. Jesus’ ministry was about LOVE. Jesus’ ministry was about LIFE-CHANGE. If we’re called to follow His example, shouldn’t are ministry be modeled after His?

But let’s throw out a logistical question: how do we know when to switch gears and start feeding people the doctrine, the Scripture, the ritual? Because that stuff IS IMPORTANT. How do we know when people have had that conversion experience?

“You can’t know that. It’s personal. Only God can know that.”

Really? That’s not what Scripture says. That’s not what JESUS says.

“By their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16)

If they’ve encountered Christ, if they’re living in Him, they will bear much fruit. You should be able to look at their lives and SEE CHRIST. If they haven’t changed, if their life hasn’t changed…then their heart hasn’t changed. Then they haven’t truly encountered Christ. They don’t have a relationship with Him. They haven’t experienced conversion.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to know Christ and not be changed. And if HE is the one who is changing lives (not Scripture, not doctrine, not ritual), shouldn’t He come FIRST?

After people have encountered the WHO, then they’ll start asking the other questions: the WHY? WHAT? WHEN? HOW? And then, that’s when we bring out the cart. That’s when we dive into Scripture. That’s when we connect doctrine to their life.

The horse always comes first. Jesus always comes first.

Michael is a Catholic evangelist, author and speaker. Michael is best known as the cofounder of ProjectYM, but his resume also includes over 10 years of parish youth ministry experience, preaching gigs at events and conferences around the world, a Catholic theology degree, a book on Catholic evangelization, years of training and consulting with parish/diocesan leaders on technology and social media, countless online projects, and the creation of ReigniteUganda – a mission organization dedicated to equipping young Catholic leaders in Uganda.

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  1. Marc Cardaronella

    Awesome! That’s it exactly! How do you know when they’ve had a conversion experience? They start asking the questions and wanting to know more about the doctrines. I’m really not sure how we got into this model catechizing without evangelizing and thinking it’s okay but it needs to change. I mean, obviously something’s not working. Why do we want to keep doing the same thing? I guess it takes a long time to turn the boat. Keep paddling!

    Hey, nice Standard Theme too! 😉

    • Michael Marchand

      Always great to hear that I’m not crazy for pushing the Church in this direction!

  2. Kristin Bird

    I agree, and I also have been pushing for this direction in the Church. I think it applies mostly to selectively Christianized youth and adults. People who have heard of Jesus and know a little about him, but haven’t truly engaged with their faith.

    However, heart first is not the only way people are converted – there are people who are converted by the content of the faith as well. I, for one, knew a lot about Jesus, but didn’t know Jesus all the way through high school. When I did finally come to engage in a personal relationship with Christ, that knowledge was still there – it was waiting for me and allowed me to dive into that relationship with much greater depth, much faster than I could have without it.

    Also, I would argue that there is another whole group of people for whom the the reason and logic behind the teachings of the Church (which they only get with good catechesis) is what cracks open their hardened hearts so that they are able to truly experience the person of Christ. Self-professed athiests and anti-Catholic protestants come to mind first.

    I think it needs to be a both/and, not an either/or. And to your point, we’ve focused on catechesis for a long time now and have missed the boat with an entire generation. However, catechesis and the richness and depth of our Tradition is what separates us from becoming just another “community church” with great praise & worship music, witness talks, and altar calls – but lacking any substance that can sustain and feed that relationship with Christ we are calling them into.

    Just my $.02



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