How can we introduce apologetics into a church body and community?

Hi Matthew, I hope that my question is in order because I am 'picking it up; from another forum in RZIM. It is asking how to introduce apologetics into a church body/community.
My senior pastor views apologetics as a debating tool, not an evangelistic one so I cannot just ‘do it’. Somehow he has to change his mindset, but that’s God’s department not mine.
Thank you
Bill

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Hi Bill, thanks for this question! I’ve run into a lot of people over the years who come from this negative perspective toward apologetics, and I think it’s really important for us to take a moment to consider it.

First, what is apologetics, really? If it’s is what your pastor defines it as—a debating tool—then of course it’s not something we all should be using for evangelism. In a conversation, the goal isn’t to win the argument, but to win the person. So we shouldn’t go around demolishing people through our argumentation. As Ravi’s mother used to tell him, “There is no point cutting off a person’s nose and then giving them a rose to smell.”

But here’s the thing: that’s not true apologetics. 1 Peter 3:15 says that Christians should be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within them, but to do this with gentleness and respect. It doesn’t say, “Just be nice,” or “Just preach the gospel.” It says give a reason. We see this pattern all over in scripture, such as 2 Corinthians 10:5, which says “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Or 2 Timothy 2:25, which says the Lord’s servant should be “correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses…”

We also see countless examples of this being done in the Bible. In Acts 2, where Peter preaches to the crowd and three thousand become Christians, he appeals to the evidence of Jesus miracles and his resurrection. The first thing the apostle Paul would do when he would go to a new city is go to the synagogue and “reason persuasively,” showing that Jesus is the Christ. In Acts 17, he uses secular Greek philosophers to show that there must be one creator God, and he appeals to the resurrection as the way that we can know Jesus is who he is. Even Jesus appeals to the evidence of his miracles as a reason why people should believe in him (John 10:38).

This can and should be done by Christians. In fact I see it happen all the time! I often speak on college campuses and have conversations with skeptics and seekers from all kinds of different religious and non-religious backgrounds. When I and my RZIM colleagues approach these discussions by providing answers to their objections, removing barriers to belief, and humbly providing evidence and reasons they had never considered for Christianity, it goes really well! These are almost always productive conversations, and sometimes these people come to faith.

What we do is not some gargantuan task that can only be accomplished by those specially gifted in apologetics. It only requires listening to our neighbor’s genuine questions, and being ready to give a response.

To be honest, I don’t know how someone can regularly do evangelism without apologetics. If we present the gospel message to someone who doesn’t yet believe, the first question they will ask is “why?” If we don’t answer this question, we are leaving them out to dry, and ignoring the command of 1 Peter 3:15. Perhaps this is why John Lennox simply defines apologetics as “persuasive evangelism.”

So to answer your question of how to introduce apologetics to your church, I’d recommend you watch this talk from my father, Mark Mittelberg, on how to increase a church’s evangelistic temperature: https://vimeo.com/341666578

One of the points he makes is that if a church is really going to be outward-focused, this direction has to come from the top down. That means convincing your pastor on the importance of apologetics! Once that happens, there can be space to have classes in apologetics, use curriculum for small groups, host outreach events, and more. It’s unlikely God will suddenly change his mind on this issue—it may take someone like you reasoning persuasively with him, showing him the biblical support for apologetics and the effectiveness of it. Feel free to share that talk with him, or if he’s really interested in seeing an overarching strategy for an evangelistic church, he could read the book Becoming a Contagious Church by Mark Mittelberg.

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