Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to Get Apologetics in Your Church: Starting a Church Apologetics Ministry

Starting a Church Apologetics Ministry by Daniel Hannon

I am sure that there are many ways to get an apologetics ministry started in your church.  There are probably as many ways as there are different personalities and areas of interest in apologetics.  And at the risk of sounding like a relativist, I won’t say if there is a right or a wrong way to go about it, but I would like to relate to you how it happened for me and my local congregation.
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Getting an apologetics ministry started in my church actually began with my own personal journey deeper into the world of defending the faith.  A key element that got me moving towards apologetics ministry was having a kindred spirit in my pastor.  Here is a man who shares a passion for loving our God with all of our minds; it was my pastor who encouraged me to enroll in Biola University’s Modular MA program in Christian Apologetics.  Over the course of approximately three years of study in this world-class program, I was instructed by phenomenal professors in intellectually challenging courses such as “In Defense of the Resurrection,” “Scientific Apologetics,” and “Cultural Apologetics.”  This program had a profound impact on my development as an apologist and was central in my desire to introduce apologetics as a more prominent and permanent part of ministry in my local congregation.  The credit goes to my pastor for getting the whole thing started.

Initiating and building momentum for this type of ministry I think depends very much on the support of church leadership.  In my case, the board of elders and deacons—of which I am a member—is very supportive of the apologetic task, so it was a very easy thing to do.   With the wealth of information at my disposal from my time at Biola, choosing a curriculum was also fairly easy.  I chose to start in a Sunday school class with Professor Kenneth Samples’ book Without a Doubt:  Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions. This title I thought would be an appropriate introduction to some standard apologetic material and was well-received by the class.  I chose to focus on the roughly 18-35 age range, as I saw a real need for apologetic training for students about to enter college and for those a bit older to meet challenges in their workplaces.  As an additional avenue to get started, I also volunteered to lead a small group on the topics of Tactics in Defending the Faith and later pro-life apologetics using Scott Klusendorf’s book The Case for Life.  A Sunday school class and small group—well-supported by our church leadership—were just two easy ways to begin using material with which I was already familiar.

The results of this ministry are that it has been very well-received in both the Sunday school format and the small group format.   I have learned quite a bit about myself as a teacher as well as the real need for apologetics in the church.  Let me relate three other lessons I have learned.

First, know your audience.  Though you may have training as an apologist in an academic setting, this teaching will be new to laypeople.  For example, though very useful, I would recommend with caution using Samples’ book Without a Doubt as starting material.  The content is wonderful, but I was quite surprised to find this book to be a bit advanced for the layperson.  Though as a group we could summarize and work our way through the text, I often found that the arguments presented and the language used went over the heads of my students.

Second, it is helpful to use material already developed by other apologetics training websites.  Why reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to?  I find myself again and again going back to reputable resources from apologetics groups such as Stand to Reason.  Currently, my Sunday school class is studying STR’s “Decision Making and the Will of God” and finding it quite useful and informative.  Greg Koukl provides detailed notes with each talk which are easily adaptable to Sunday school format.
Third, listen to other apologists as they engage both topics and people in their defense of the faith.  Greg Koukl again comes to mind with his “Columbo tactic” and many other tactics which can help you as he says “learn not only what to think, but how to think.”  Not surprisingly, as your own critical thinking develops, you will find that it is of great benefit to your teaching ministry.

There are several other pieces of advice I would give to those wanting to start or build on an apologetics ministry in their church.  First, I think it is critical to get support from the leadership of your church.  As I mentioned, my pastor and the board of elders have been invaluable in promoting apologetics in our local congregation.  Second, be a voracious reader.  The task of the apologist is never complete, and I have found that the more I read, the more I know, and the more I find that I don’t know.  So, read, read, read.

Third, stay current.  Listen to podcasts of apologetics programs like Issues, Etc., Stand to Reason, Reasonable Faith, or Apologetics 315.  These audio resources will be invaluable for providing you with up-to-date information, advice on current challenges for the Christian apologist, and important topics for study in your own church.  Fourth, write down your thoughts, perhaps in a blog.  It is amazing how writing down your thoughts and wrestling with them brings clarity.  Fifth, a great opportunity for help in your apologetics ministry is through networking on social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as through the blogosphere.  Again, this is a way to keep current on apologetics topics, get advice from more seasoned apologists, discover apologetics conferences and other resources, and find additional topics for study in your church.

Lastly, and very importantly, bathe your apologetics ministry in prayer and always keep it informed by Holy Scripture.  An apologetics ministry to the glory of God and through His power should be the goal of every apologist.  Do your best and trust Him for the results.


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