This letter originally appeared in the November 2018 Renewal Ministries’ newsletter.
Earlier this year, Peter Herbeck and I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at the Steubenville Power and Purpose Conference. This was extra special for me, since I graduated from Franciscan University in 2010, and the campus holds many life-changing memories for me, including meeting, courting, and falling in love with my wife, Cait. The whole weekend, I found myself continually praising God and thanking Him for the late Fr. Mike Scanlan and all the other faithful men and women who have worked to make Franciscan what it is today (including Sr. Ann, Ralph, and Peter and Debbie Herbeck).
While I thoroughly enjoyed giving my Saturday morning keynote, called A New Vision: Seeing What God is Doing, and interacting with the team and the conference participants, I’d like to highlight a prophetic word the Lord gave me during the Friday evening prayer time. The Lord placed on my heart Ezekiel 37:1-14. In this passage, Ezekiel is brought to a valley filled with dry bones and commanded to prophesy over the bones that they may have new life: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ez 37:5-6; emphasis mine).
In a particular way, I believe this passage speaks to the sobering reality presented by my generation and the one following. As a whole, we have radically disengaged from the Church and therefore are coming to resemble more and more the valley of dry bones seen in Ezekiel. God, who is the source of light, truth, goodness, and life, is being rejected, and we need people of faith to stand up and proclaim with clarity and conviction, the “Word of the Lord.” We need disciples who can hear the voice of God and speak out over this generation and prophesy that the Lord desires new sinews, new skin, new breath, and therefore new life! What would our Church, country, and families look like if we who believe proclaimed with prophetic boldness the Good News of Jesus Christ? Ezekiel tells us, “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host.” May this verse penetrate our minds, break our hearts, and provide a spiritual springboard to wade into this generation with new energy, knowing the Lord desires deep communion with them, and we can and must participate in His saving work!
i.d.9:16 is one of the ways Renewal Ministries is responding to the prophetic call from Ezekiel. We exist to form young adults into intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. This mission has primarily been accomplished through parish partnerships we call chapters, where we provide a vision, training, content, and ongoing resources. Over the past several months, our team has trained three more chapters and have two more scheduled! We value this expansion because of the increased ability to proclaim the lordship of Christ over this generation and help raise missionary disciples who can engage their peers.
Another method of responding to the challenge from Ezekiel is a new initiative from both Renewal Ministries and i.d.9:16, called the Millennial Church Conference (MCC). The MCC seeks to train parishes on how to empower young adults by examining the characteristics and trends of Millennials, analyzing what they are saying to the Church and how the Church is responding, and diving deeper into the importance of evangelization and discipleship for this generation.
We’ve piloted the conference in four dioceses (Milwaukee, Joliet, Rockford, and Green Bay) and we’ve received invitations from several more. We see the MCC as a “professional development” day for a diocese, because priests and their teams receive fresh insights and inspiration for reaching this elusive and often-confusing generation. Here are some responses we’ve received so far:
“This was an extremely engaging, enriching, and inspiring conference! The presenters were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and made their presentation interesting by using videos, Power Point, and music! I would highly recommend going!” —Lynn, pastoral council member
“The Millennial Church Conference gives insight into the characteristics of the upcoming generation that is the future of the Church. However, this generation is the CURRENT church, and this conference shares the importance of their presence in today’s church.” —Lisa, youth minister
“This conference is absolutely worth your time!!! It is thought-provoking and helps you enter into the life of those in the Millennial generation who actually ‘think’ differently than you might.” —Deacon Hank
Overall, I hope this letter provides a glimpse of hope for the future of our Church and younger generations. While we may be walking through a valley of dry bones, we are convinced the Lord is inviting ALL of us to prophetically speak new life over our friends, children, and grandchildren. May we respond like Ezekiel, with humble obedience, and may we see the dead come alive in Christ, through His Spirit, in the heart of the Church!
Go make disciples!