Monday, September 27, 2010

How to Get Apologetics in Your Church: Accessible Apologetics Training in the Church

Accessible Apologetics Training in the Church
by Mikel Del Rosario

“How do I get apologetics training into my church?” If you’re reading this, you’re at least interested in considering your role in making this happen. Let me commend you. Christians who ask this question understand the importance of knowing what we believe and why we believe it. Maybe you’re someone who’s devoured incredible apologetics books like William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith and J.P. Moreland’s Love your God with All Your Mind. You’re dying to share everything you learned. But how? You can’t just hand people a stack of books and say, “Here. Read these!” Let’s face it, most Christians don’t know what the word “apologetics” even means. Making apologetics accessible to people who are totally new to this whole thing can seem tough. Where do you begin?
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Let me share with you how I worked to get apologetics training off the ground at Bridgeway Christian Church---a fellowship of about 5,000 people in Rocklin, California. I’ll give you a run-down of exactly what I did, the results, the things I learned, and my advice for starting something similar.

Here’s What I Did
The first thing I did was explore the possibility of teaching a course to introduce apologetics to our church family by approaching our associate pastor. Turns out, he was in the middle of putting together a discipleship strategy which included launching a series of adult classes. I met him for coffee and talked about how apologetics benefits spiritual formation and fits into our overall discipleship to Jesus.

Before this meeting, I looked at individual apologetics books and considered existing curriculum. I wasn’t too excited about what I found. Something was missing. I found studies which covered defending essentials of the faith, but mixed in non-essential views about the age of the earth or the author’s political leanings. Many just didn’t seem like a good fit for our church. Plus, I was worried that many of the resources I did like would be considered too daunting for people who were brand new to this whole apologetics thing.

That’s when I decided to write my own 9-week curriculum over the life of the course. My goal was to make the class accessible to the average member. I knew this would mean more work for me, but much of it could be pieced together from my previous apologetics teaching and notes from my time in the M.A. Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University. Still, I’d always dreamed of doing this, so I figured, “Why not?”

Our church staff felt extremely stretched by the demands of a growing church, and I think the associate pastor was impressed by the amount of work I put into the proposed course. I also wrote an introduction that explained apologetics in a way that everyone could understand. It fit right in to the existing class offerings and our pastors mentioned the upcoming course from the stage a few times before we began.

Here’s What Happened
We didn’t have the best Sunday time slot (2:00PM-3:30PM). We didn’t have childcare. Or Air conditioning that worked very well in the midst of a warm season. Although only 15 people signed up, we were surprised to have 46 people show up to the very first class!

We did see the attendance go down over the 10-week stretch. Plus, we had breaks for Mother’s Day and Easter throwing people off. But we had new people coming to check out specific topics that interested them. For example, we had a great turn out for our study in defending the historical resurrection of Jesus.

They especially loved the mnemonic devices and Pictionary-style game I used to help people remember the five minimal facts covered in Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. As a former youth pastor and Jr. High teacher, I knew the value of learning activities in helping people “get” the material. We often broke up into groups and did role-playing exercises, with one person play the role of a critic, and the other people practicing short, well-thought-out responses. This wasn’t so much to memorize witty comebacks for common objections to the faith, but more so to take the material and “try it on.” To “see how it fits” your personality so you can feel more comfortable doing things like, “taking the roof off.” Check Greg Koukl’s book, Tactics, for an explanation about that one!

Here Are the Results
We got started. Sometimes, this can be the hardest part of the whole thing. We trained about 50 people to defend the faith over the Spring semester, including former Mormons. We introduced new believers to the exciting study of Christian apologetics and exposed more mature believers to some of the best apologetics resources and Christian thinkers alive. Whole new worlds were opening up to people and a few felt the desire to reproduce this training in their existing small groups.

Just as an aside: Our associate pastor also invited me to conduct apologetics training for homeschooling students mid-way through the course. For that event, I was introduced to a number of people who were instrumental in my invitation to present on the Problem of Evil at Bayside Church’s Apologetics Conference Featuring J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig.

After the course, a man wrote me an e-mail, saying, “You did an excellent job and apologetics is a critical area of ministry, and one that I think will grow in importance as the rest of the world increasingly rejects the concepts of absolute truth and morality.  It is so refreshing to learn that Christ desires to nourish and utilize all aspects of our being, including our intellect.  Keep up the good work!”

Here’s What I Learned
People want this training. A woman me that apologetics “is not taught enough in the church and is so important that we are all equipped in the world today.” If we, as leaders, take the time to digest the material for ourselves and then turn around and present it to our brothers and sisters in a way they can understand, people can be drawn closer to the Lord. Material that might have seemed like it was just for geeky, ivory tower “brainacs” came to life and became tangible and practical.

I also learned that, for some, 9 weeks was way too long. They were fascinated by the field, but the Tactics book was enough for them to chew on after our weekly sessions. Others thought the course was too short. They loved Reasonable Faith and were hungry for more, scholarly material.  Still, others learned the best from our simulations and actually suggested we take this to the streets and talk to total strangers about spiritual things. They were looking for a local apologetics missions trip!

Get started. I know some of you are perfectionists. I’m one of them. But still, doing one “beta” class is better than sitting at home crafting the perfect lesson that nobody is learning! Take 30 minutes and write up something simple to show to your pastor. Is there a “hot issue” in your community that people need to respond to as believers? Check the local papers for opinion pieces. Talk to your friends and neighbors. You might find a timely subject people already want to study from a Christian worldview.

Don’t go it alone. Find others in your area who are interested in making this material accessible and work on it together. This is something I wish I would have done sooner. Helping others gets you connected in the local apologetics scene and opens up new opportunities to learn and serve. The more people I meet, the more I find apologetics happening in places I don’t normally think about. Like in the world of sports. Go figure!

Consider offering shorter courses, targeted to different groups. For example, a 5-week introductory course on the case for faith. Then, offer a 5-week course on defending against philosophical, cultural and religious challenges to the faith. Maybe you can organize that local apologetics mission trip!


Check out the text I wrote for our church Web site, the syllabus, and introduction crafted for the class.

I’ve put some of my thoughts on making apologetics accessible on my Web site. Please check out these resources and feel free to drop me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Defend without Getting Defensive
Argue without Being Argumentative

Example Illustrations
A Dead Guy’s Facebook Page
Faith, Reason and Lego Indiana Jones
A Simple Defense of Miracles


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