Preach the Gospel at All Times and Use Words Always

Every time I say this I make enemies, but it needs to be said:

One of the biggest blows to evangelization by Catholics is the quote: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

People often attribute that quote to St. Francis. But the thing is: St. Francis did not say that. There’s no record of him ever saying anything like that. Judging from the what we know he said and did, it would be hard to believe that those words would have come from St. Francis. He did not model that “use words when necessary” philosophy in his own life: he was a preacher. No, St. Francis was an incredible preacher, often preaching in as many as five villages in a single day. St. Francis instructed his followers to do likewise: preach a Gospel of sin and repentance everywhere they went. For St. Francis, words were definitely a necessity in preaching the Gospel.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cute quote. And it does make an important point: you have to live out the Gospel by your actions. But it also contradicts Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus say, “Go into the whole world and be nice to everyone”, but rather:

Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:15

Proclaim the Gospel. Not “mirror” the Gospel. Or “live out” the Gospel. Proclaim the Gospel.

  • Yes, we’re supposed to do good works (James 2:17).
  • Yes, we’re supposed to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick. (Matthew 25:34-40).
  • Yes, we’re supposed to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27).

All of those things are evidence of our faith, but they don’t replace the great commission: Proclaim the Gospel.

How are people going to come to believe in the Gospel‒in Jesus Christ‒if we don’t use words to tell the world of His glory? To tell the world our story of how He changed our lives?

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?
Romans 10:14

When we read that verse, we agree with the logic. We see how each verse connects to the next. It makes sense. But when we get to the last verse, we think we’ve found a loophole. That’s not me: I wasn’t called to preach, I wasn’t sent out to do that. Paul must be talking about someone else.

Sorry, you don’t get off that easy. Remember: He created each one of us to go out and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). That includes you.

Preach the Gospel at all times; and always, use words.


(This post comes out of a chapter of my book on Catholic evangelization: The E Word.)

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 post Michael. I wrote almost the same thing about last year! That quote bothers me so much because of all the reasons you laid out…not the least of which is that St. Francis preached all the time and everywhere. He even preached to the birds and they listened! Preach the Gospel at all times. Period!

    • Michael Marchand

      Thanks Marc!

      Preaching to the birds is kind of like preaching to middle schoolers right? Actually getting middle school boys to listen might be harder than birds.

      Post a link to your post for me.

  2. Brother James Reiter, OFM Conv

    I agree that there is no evidence in the writings of St. Francis that he ever said that statement. However, Francis was a believer in “preaching” nonverbally. There is the story told that he invited a friar to accompany him on a preaching expedition. They walked from one end of the town to the other without saying a word. When they completed their journey, the friar asked Francis when they were going to preach and Francis responded, ” We just did.” He also admonished the friars to be brief in their preaching because Christ was brief in his preaching.

    • Michael Marchand

      Brother James –

      That’s a great point! And I agree that there is a place for non-verbal preaching, that’s not where I see the problem. My beef is that many Catholics use the above “quote” as a way to justify not actually talking about their faith.

      It is ABSOLUTELY IMPORTANT that we live out our faith, but it is just as important that we VERBALLY preach the Gospel as well.

  3. Christian

    Hey I have the same philosophy in my 6th grade catechism class: preach the Gospel, use words! My kids learn their Catholicism right out of the Bible, and are explicitly being trained to be New Evangelizers.

  4. BethAnn

    I get what you are trying to say…but I think the Catholic method of catechesis for the most part has been about reading about our faith and talking about our faith. How better to learn about Christian Community in Action than by doing Christian Community in Action? My high schoolers respond so much better to doing than reading, or doing than hearing, or doing than talking. Being “Jesus” has so much of an impact on them than hearing about Him. When we bless our minds, our lips and our hearts before hearing the Gospel, we say (at least I do), “Let Your words be on my mind, on my lips and in my heart.” We must always proclaim the Gospel — doing so in whatever way the situation dictates. I don’t think we should necessarily favor one over the other…

    • Michael Marchand

      BethAnn – I totally agree! Catechesis needs to experiential. It needs to be about experiencing the presence of Jesus and going out and being the hands and feet of Jesus in our world. But we also need to make sure teens know their faith so they can understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and be able to share those reasons with others.

      I’m not advocating we only preach the Gospel verbally because to do so would be incredibly disingenuous (not to mention unscriptural). My point was simply that we’ve used our “actions of faith” to justify not sharing the truths of our faith. People will never have a true understanding of who Jesus is if all we do is acts of service. Likewise, they will never have a true understanding of Jesus if all is we do is talk about Him. We definitely have to do both.

  5. Patty Hubbard

    Hey Michael,

    I absolutely LOVE this!!! I think this quote is sometimes misunderstood…thanks for the reminder/insight…keep preaching it brother! 🙂

  6. Victor Ravelo

    There’s nothing wrong with the quote regardless of who didn’t say it. Do not become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. It’s scriptural. It’s a great quote! If you focus on your heart, your mouth will follow perfectly by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So, your attitude should be exactly what the quote intends to encourage. There is nothing about the quote that undermines the “Great Commission” or the value of “preaching.”

    • Michael Marchand

      Victor – It’s no so much the quote I have a problem with but rather the way people have used it to justify their silence.

  7. Dwight

    Michael, good article but your Matthew 16:15 quote is wrong…its Mark 16:15

    • michael

      Dwight – Thanks for that catch! Citation corrected.

  8. Bryan

    Great article Michael. Also, thank you for coming up to Winona this past weekend for the DCC. You guys did a fantastic job! My only thought on the article came up in the first sentence, and I know this is totally irrelevant to your point, but I will pick your brain anyhow! Just because we do not have it on record that St. Francis actually said those words does not mean he didn’t, correct? The oral tradition can be just as effective for passing along information, if not more effective than the written. For instance how many times did Jesus fall on his way to golgotha? We say 3. Thats what tradition tells us, but it fact it is nowhere in the new testament.

    • michael

      Bryan – I had a great time in Winona! Only my second time to Minnesota…and the last visit was in February, so this trip was way better in the weather department.

      Yes, I will concede that it is POSSIBLE that St. Francis said it. But I would argue that it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY because it is not a statement that is in keeping with the message he preached or methodology he practiced.

  9. Nathanael

    Fun fact: I did some digging and I was unable to find any references to that quote prior to the 1990s.


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