There seems to be a growing frustration on behalf of those trying to work apologetics into the fabric of local church life. Sometimes the frustration reflects a clash with leadership (“I told my pastor we needed more apologetics in church, and he got really hostile!”) Other times, it reflects a general mindset in the church (“I told my small group we should study apologetics, and they all said that we can’t argue people into the Kingdom.”)
As a pastor who believes in the importance of apologetics, perhaps I can offer some helpful insight about how to introduce apologetics into a church. My comments will address how to interact effectively with pastors, though the principles may be helpful in other situations as well.
First, pastors are approached all the time with “the one important thing” they are forgetting, the one important thing that will change the church. Just to give you an idea of what your pastor’s week looked like:
- On Monday, someone invited him to breakfast, then took two hours to talk about the utmost importance of preaching about blood moons, prophecy and Israel.
- On Tuesday, someone emailed to say that the church needed to spend more time of focused prayer or God would never do anything.
- At church on Wednesday, a dear saint noted that there were not enough sermons and classes on the Holy Spirit, which is why the church is failing.
- On Thursday, a prayer meeting turned into a time for a small group to tell the pastor that he needed to be under the mentoring of a modern-day apostle.
- On Friday, someone called the office and asked why there was not more time allotted to musical worship.
- On Saturday, someone posted a link to an article about about America’s moral decline on his Facebook wall and asked, “Why aren’t you preaching against (insert sin here)?” Your pastor counsels people in his congregation who struggle with this issue. They are also friends with him on Facebook.
- Then, on Sunday, you stopped him after church to say that the one missing piece to the puzzle was apologetics.
The stream of well-meaning ideas on how to improve the church is never ending. How does a pastor possibly filter all this? Often, the reputation of people offering ideas and the relationship the pastor has with them make the difference.
- Do you have a reputation for wisdom, integrity, and a life that demonstrates genuine transformation? If so, your pastor is likely to take their insight seriously. He may or may not respond how you would like, but your opinion will probably matter.
- Do you have a relationship with your pastor? You don’t need to be besties (ask your kids), but at least take him out for lunch occasionally and get to know each other. Get him a card and a gift certificate occasionally so he knows you appreciate his leadership. As a relationship develops, your pastor can see how God is working in your life while you see your pastor’s heart and vision for the church.
Second, serve your church in small ways. Don’t lead with, “I can do an amazing thing for the church!” if you haven’t done ordinary things first. Help with nursery; clean up after potlucks; join a team that does, well, anything. Show your heart for God, God’s people, your church family and your local community. When you are faithful in little things, you are likely to be taken seriously when you ask for the privilege of doing something greater.
Third, offer to do the heavy lifting needed to demonstrate the impact apologetics can have. Rather than telling the pastor why it’s important that he be an apologist, offer to teach a class yourself. Your pastor may be unsure at first, but that’s not a bad thing. He’s looking out for the spiritual direction of his congregation.
Offer to forward your notes to your pastor so he can see what you are teaching. It lets him know what you are doing, and it gives him resources. Win/win. If your class impacts people, word will get back to your pastor. That’s PR gold. Most pastors aren’t wrapped up in themselves; they love to know that someone else in the congregation is working with them to create more and better disciples of Christ.
Be patient as you introduce your pastor to the purpose of apologetics. You have probably had years to appreciate what William Lane Craig has to offer; while you were doing that, your pastor was working with people who were contemplating divorce, or cutting, or getting out of jail, or grieving the death of a spouse. In other words, your pastor isn’t trying to be uninformed. He’s trying to pastor a church full of hurting, broken, growing people. Cut him some slack.
Third, compile examples of how issues related to apologetics are impacting your church. What’s the Facebook meme your kids are talking about? Should we embrace the new Noah movie? Why or why not? What kind of conversations should people be ready to have at work after their co-workers see it?
Youth groups are a great place to offer your services in this area. If you are a good speaker, talk to the youth leaders and see if they would like you to use current event or popular entertainment to introduce youth to worldviews and apologetics issues. If you aren’t a good speaker (and you really must be honest about yourself in this area), just forward recommended resources with a note that says, “Hey, if this works into your schedule, the youth might find this helpful at school this month.” And whatever you do, offer your services humbly. Your youth leaders aren’t perfect (making them human), but they are probably pouring their lives into those kids in a way that’s hard to fathom.
Finally, remember that your pastor has 45 minutes on a Sunday and few Sunday or Wednesday classes within which to preach the depth and breadth of Scripture – and all the implications for life. There is no way your church (or your pastor) does justice to everything that needs to be covered. Your pastor already feels bad about that. In addition, there are a couple realities of preaching that already complicate your pastor’s sermon no matter what topic he addresses.
First, your pastor is translating everything for a particular audience. When we apologetics fans go to an apologetics conference, it’s the Christian equivalent of a Comic-Con (Apoli-Con?). We are all fanboys and fangirls. We know the lingo, the big names, the debates, the blogs. We know that “nothing” is apparently sometimes “something,” and that the multiverse does not refer to a worship song that drags on forever. Your pastor does not have the luxury of that kind of setting. Every Sunday, he matches a a message to a very diverse audience.
Second, if and when your pastor works apologetics into his sermons, he has to be careful. If his message goes over the audience’s head, everyone loses. The process of translating any big idea (whether from Scripture of philosophy) is hard work. This does not mean your pastor or the congregation is unintelligent or lazy. It’s just a reality of communicating big ideas to a general audience. Were you a little annoyed when I said “besties” earlier? Did you think, “Is he trying to prove he’s cool? Why not just say ‘best friends?’” Yep. That’s the idea. Your pastor doesn’t want his audience to do that when he says “teleological argument.”
So what’s the bottom line?
Make sure your pastor know you are in his corner, working with him, seeking to support his leadership and ministry. Attend and engage with non-apologetics classes in the way you want people to engage with your apologetics classes. Be gracious, encouraging, patient, and embrace whatever opportunities arise. Above all, let the testimony of your life speak more loudly than anything you have to say.
I can’t promise you what the result will be in your church, but I can assure you that you will have represented the apologetics community well.
The Christian community is a diverse one. Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the official position of the group at large.