My first piece of advice to apologists concerned the idea of being an unwavering disciple of Jesus Christ. This article will focus on the conduit for attaining and maintaining this status. That conduit is a local church.
Now, I do not mean that every local church does everything correctly, or that somehow merely being a member of one will make things easier. Rather, I am suggesting that a healthy involvement in a local body of likeminded believers is an essential element of the life of the Christian mind. It’s certainly not perfect, but I can tell you that I have never seen a successful Christian apologist who virtually ignored his local church; every successful Christian apologist I have seen has been sincerely and seriously engaged in her local body of fellowship.
Contrapositively, nearly every Christian-turned-atheist of whom I am aware had a deteriorating relationship with their local church (or some sin in their life which separated them from the local church). On the surface, this may seem exaggerated. After all, how would it follow from my church attendance record that I cease believing in God? Certainly, in one sense, it does not; one could hold to all of the truths of Christian theism and never set foot in a church. However, there is another sense in which local church involvement is vitally linked to one’s own faith.
That sense is the internal justification one enjoys when one is a Christian. Being a part of a thriving body of believers helps keep one healthy in orthopraxy (or right living). Being part of a faith community increases love for the brethren, which is, in part, how we gain that internal justification in the first place (cf. 1 John 4:7, 5:13). If we are not a part of the local body, we are unfulfilled in a vital area: fellowship. It is how God created us. If that occurs, we are much more vulnerable, psychologically and spiritually, to falter. The lack of living rightly wears on our conscience, so that we eventually can no longer ignore the dissonance, and we tend to give up our weakened Christianity much more easily than the strong version. So how does one engage in a healthy way in the local church?
It should almost go without saying that regular attendance is a must. I am not going to be legalistic about it, but your attendance at services should not be infrequent. Second, one should be engaged in some form of service to the local church. Apologists often teach a small group class, or even an apologetics class. If that is not going to work, try cleaning the church, or helping set up for activities; if all else fails, ask someone! The camaraderie gained from working side by side with the people of God cannot be overestimated. The Christian apologist must be engaged in the life–and mind–of the local church; it is both for her good and for the church’s. The next article will deal with apologists training others.