Joel has been actively and passionately involved in ministry for over ten years, and he is currently the director of resource development for Life Teen International. There, he creates engaging ministry resources for middle and high school students, college students, and parents.
In this interview with Joel, he shares how answering the call to evangelize others has challenged him to draw closer to Christ. Read and see why Ascension chose to feature his evangelistic spirit in The 99, a powerful new resource for parishes and faith communities.
1. When did you first feel called to evangelize?
I was involved as a volunteer with the youth group at a parish while I was in college. As I neared the end of my college career, I realized that I found the most joy in sharing the gospel with others. That’s when I felt a strong call toward doing that full-time. I dropped my major (pre-med/athletic training) and changed direction to religious studies. This way I would be prepared for full time ministry and evangelization after college.
2. Do you remember the first time you stepped forward and shared the gospel with someone?
I was a freshmen in high school when I first had an evangelistic conversation with a friend. It was terrifying, but the way the conversation was heading it was unavoidable. She was talking about brokenness in her family and I knew where she could find healing. It was a powerful moment to see someone regain hope as they heard about who Jesus was and what Jesus could do in their life.
3. How has your life changed since then?
I’ve had many conversations like that first one with friends, family, and people that I serve in parishes and at events. Each one is unique and, while I feel like I am getting better at navigating them, each presents a challenge that sometimes scares me. I think that fear is a good thing. It is an opportunity to lean into God’s love and trust the conversation to the Holy Spirit rather than my own ability. That is probably he biggest change: I lean into God’s grace in those conversations much more than I used to.
4. Have there been any particularly memorable moments in your life as an evangelist?
There was one young man I met when he was a freshmen and I was a youth minister. He was an atheist but for some reason was coming to our youth group. (I think one of his parents was making him go.) He asked a lot of good questions about the Faith and always seemed to be thinking. It was a journey with him, but when he found Christ his life changed. He became a leader in that group. Years later, when my wife and I moved, he was hired to replace her as a campus minister. That was a profound moment, to see how God’s grace can carry a person from one end of the spectrum to the other.
5. How has evangelization brought you closer to God?
Sharing the gospel requires me to be close to the one I am talking about, Jesus. I have to continually ask myself, “Do I really believe Jesus makes a difference and am I living like it?” It is easy to answer, “Yes, of course I believe Jesus makes a difference,” but I constantly need to examine my actions. I need to do what Jesus did: love the poor and serve them, seek justice, live a life of virtue, and love my neighbor as I seek always to love God. Those things, for me, are the mark of an evangelist. When you live as a disciple, evangelization comes.
So, for me, it really isn’t the evangelization that brings me closer to God; that is simply an outgrowth of a relationship I am trying to foster. Evangelization provides a continued examination of my discipleship. When I find myself least effective in sharing the gospel I know that I have drifted from my relationship with the Lord and need to bring that on track, first.
The 99 program is coming soon. Preorder your copy today.
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More about Joel Stepanek
Joel graduated from Fordham University with a master of arts degree in religion and religious education with an emphasis in youth and young adult ministry. In addition to being director of resource development for Life Teen, he currently serves as adjunct faculty for Franciscan University of Steubenville. Joel is the author or co-author of several books, including Chasing Humility: 8 Ways to Shape a Christian Heart, and True North: A Roadmap for Discernment, and is a contributing author and presenter in The 99. Above all, Joel is a husband to Colleen and father to Elijah and Sophia, who are his greatest adventure.