Recently my newest book, A New Kind of Apologist, was released. One of the unique chapters, written by my friend Mark Mittelberg, is about how to motivate people in the church to care about apologetics. Enjoy the selections below in which Mark focuses on equipping church leaders and motivating church members.
By Mark Mittelberg:
How can we help more and more Christians catch the infectious spirit that we’ve already caught? What can we do to motivate our brothers and sisters in Christ to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks … with gentleness and respect”?
Let’s look at some ways we can motivate several different groups of people: church leaders, church members, parents and grandparents, and students. Then we’ll end by discussing what should motivate us to do all of this.
Motivating Church Leaders to “Give an Answer”
Whether or not you’re a leader in your church, a key to helping any congregation reach its evangelistic and apologetic potential is helping its top leaders, especially the senior pastor, to increasingly adopt and live out these values in their own lives.
There’s no getting around the axiom: Speed of the leader, speed of the team. People don’t do what the leaders say as much as they do what the leaders do. That’s why evangelist and apologist Lee Strobel says that senior leaders invariably “set the evangelistic high-water mark” for their church or ministry.
As Jesus explained in Luke 6:40: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”
So how can we “lead up,” helping those who shepherd our churches to set the bar high in these areas? Here are some ideas.
Give Old-Fashioned Encouragement
While many leaders will be guarded about being challenged in an area outside their expertise, almost all are receptive to genuine encouragement. So, as Ken Blanchard advises in his classic book The One-Minute Manager, try to catch them doing something right! Whenever they teach, tell a story, or recommend a resource in the area of apologetics or evangelism, affirm them. Tell them how encouraging you thought it was, or how you saw it helping someone else. Reinforce what you’d like to see more of. Your enthusiasm alone will help energize them.
Provide Key Information
Leaders will be spurred to action if we expose them to studies and statistics that show how our society is becoming increasingly secular, and how so many church members—especially students—are walking away from their faith. For example, research by the Barna Group revealed that intellectual concerns underlie half of the top six reasons that young Christians gave for why they are leaving the church. Information like this, gently delivered, can heighten the leaders’ awareness of this problem and stir their desire to do something about it.
Expose Them to Great Information and Tools
Many teachers and leaders avoid apologetics, not necessarily because they don’t find it important, but because they don’t feel equipped in this area. Often that’s because they’re not aware of the many articles, books, seminars, and online resources that could quickly help them come up to speed. You can become a solution to this problem. If you provide timely, relevant, and measured information to help them with upcoming messages or classes, you’ll help them succeed in this area and feel a growing sense of excitement to teach about it further. But don’t miss a key word in that list: measured. That means you need to be careful not to overload them with too much information. They might need a chapter, or an article, or even a well-crafted paragraph or two—but rest assured they don’t want you to haul your five-volume encyclopedia of philosophy into their study!
Provide Living Examples
They might not come right out and say it, but some church leaders suspect that apologetics is mostly an intellectual exercise for eggheads and not highly relevant for the average believer. We need to prove them wrong—first, by showing how the evidence often helps clear the path for people to come to Christ, and second, by introducing them to the stories of people who have come to faith, in part, by having their intellectual questions answered. These could include classic testimonies of people such as Lee Strobel (The Case for Christ), Josh McDowell (More than a Carpenter), J. Warner Wallace (Cold-Case Christianity), Holly Ordway (Not God’s Type), or Nabeel Qureshi (Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus). Ideally, you should also feature people from your own church or community whose journey toward Christ has been helped by apologetics. Hearing such accounts, and seeing the examples right before their eyes, makes it hard to argue about whether or not apologetics is still relevant today.
Offer Godly Exhortation
This must be used sparingly, and only after prayer and preparation, but there is a place for challenging a leader to do more in these areas. This must be done in private and in a spirit of humility—and always with the offer to help become part of the solution to the problem you’re raising. Don’t go to complain and lay a burden on them; instead, go to raise an important need and to help them seize opportunities to make a difference.
Practice Focused Prayer
It’s interesting to note that the passage we quoted earlier, where Paul talked about demolishing arguments and taking thoughts captive, begins with a discussion about spiritual warfare. One verse earlier, Paul said, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Paul explained elsewhere, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). So while the intellectual angle is important, we must engage in the spiritual battle as well by praying for God’s wisdom and intervention—including in our efforts to sound the alarm about the importance of apologetics and evangelism.
Motivating Church Members to “Give an Answer”
After helping leaders heighten their commitment to apologetics and evangelism, here are some ideas for how we can partner with them to motivate the entire congregation in these areas.
Underscore the Church’s Vision
Without regular reminders, congregations tend to lose their focus on what the church—and we as individuals—are called to accomplish. Unfortunately, the part that fades away first is the most important: Reaching our world for Christ. How quickly we forget our mission and fall back into mundane church activities.
Churches need to be reminded of why they are here. Evangelism and apologetics, which is the handmaiden to evangelism, are not optional activities. They are at the very core of our mission, which is to reach our world with the gospel. That’s why Jesus spelled it out so clearly: to go into all the world (including next door or down the hallway) to reach everyone we can for him (Matthew 20:18-20). This Great Commission wasn’t one choice among many options. It’s what we’re here to do.
Church members quickly forget this, and so we must patiently but persistently remind them. As we do, the Holy Spirit will echo our challenge in their hearts as God’s Word underscores it in their minds.
After all, this is God’s will—let’s be bold about it.
Provide Living Examples
Again, people need role models. We, and the leaders of the church, need to become examples of what evangelism and apologetics can look like in the real world. Even if it doesn’t come naturally to us or it’s not our gift, we need to strive to teach and defend truth as we point people to the salvation offered through Christ. When we try, they’ll try.
The church’s evangelistic lifeblood will most naturally flow through regular, passionate teaching about our predicament of sin, the solution of the cross, God’s offer of unmerited grace, and the adoption into his family that God so freely offers. These are themes that must be hit consistently from the pulpit as well as in classes, small groups, youth groups, children’s ministries, and special outreach events. As we do so, we can count on God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11:
“So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Tell Stories of Life Change
Apologists thrive on truth, logic, information, and evidence. But as I already mentioned, we’re not normal. Other people in the church tolerate these things, but they gravitate instead toward stories of God’s love and transforming power. Let’s give them both, including a steady stream of testimonies about how God is reaching people who were filled with spiritual doubt, disbelief, and disobedience. This will touch the hearts of Christians and motivate them to consider our classes and seminars that are designed to equip them to “give an answer to everyone who asks.” Having both, they’ll begin to bear fruit through their own efforts to talk to others about their faith. Soon they’ll have their own firsthand stories to tell.
Offer Ongoing Training
A common mistake is to confuse teaching with training. Here’s the difference: training always involves trying. If we want to help church members become confident in talking to others about their faith, then we need to let them try it first—in a safe, affirming environment. That’s what training seminars are for, like the Becoming a Contagious Christian training course I developed with Lee Strobel and Bill Hybels. It’s designed to help ordinary Christians develop the skills to effectively and naturally share their faith with others. Another example is Sean McDowell’s GodQuest curriculum, which equips entire churches to defend biblical truth. These and similar tools can train and embolden the people in your church—but only if you present them over and over in order to reach increasing numbers of your congregation.
Motivating Parents and Grandparents to “Give an Answer”
Parents and grandparents are part of the churches we’re committed to revitalizing, but I want to add some extra advice for motivating them: Tell them you want to help them reach and retain their own offspring. Yes, the world matters, but nothing motivates people like concern for their own flesh and blood. So emphasize that benefit of apologetics. Help them understand the risks of losing their children or grandchildren to secular influences. Then covenant with them to pray, prepare, and partner together to intellectually immunize their kids and grandkids so that their faith can withstand the challenges it will surely face.
Motivating Students to “Give an Answer”
Too often our students are unprepared for the onslaught of secular ideas that will buffet them in the future. This is yielding disastrous results. Instead, let’s train them to answer the arguments they will inevitably encounter. We can start by showing them video clips of skeptics and proponents of other world religions, or presenting their arguments in a role-play situation, as I’ve often done with high school groups. Let them feel the challenge.
Better yet, instead of being so quick to spoon-feed them answers, have them wrestle with how they would respond to these arguments. Don’t let them languish too long, but after they’ve grappled with the objections for a while, discuss what the Bible says and where the evidence really points. By then they will truly be listening—and they’ll be ready to learn what you want them to know. Later, when they hear these same objections in the real world, they will be much more prepared. They “will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).
Finding the Right Motivation to “Give an Answer”
I hope some of these ideas will help you motivate the people in your church to become much more prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them for a reason for their faith.
I’ll end with a word about the best motivation for us and our fellow Christians we’re seeking to encourage. Far too often we’ve been compelled in these areas by a desire for knowledge alone. Or, more candidly, by a quest to win arguments and to display our impressive intellectual acumen for others to see.
This is pride, and it’s a dead end. “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up,” Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NIV). If we stay on that path, we’ll end up winning debates but alienating people.
I’ve seen it. Frankly, I’ve done it. The other person ends up begrudgingly admitting, “You may be right,” though they don’t usually voice the rest of their thoughts out loud: “but I don’t want to be like you.”
We win the battle but lose the war.
Yes, prevailing in an argument can be important, but much more important is winning the person. How can we do this? By changing our motivation—what it is that fuels us. We must stop being motivated primarily by knowledge, or by clinching a debate, or by power or pride. Instead, we must be motivated by one little word: love.
“God is love,” 1 John 4:8 assures us.
“God so loved the world,” says the best-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,” admonishes Paul in Ephesians 5:1.
We must speak God’s truth, and give an answer for the reason for the hope we have in Christ—but we must do so gently, with respect, and always motivated by the love of God.
This chapter was used by permission from Harvest House Publishers.
Learn more about Mark Mittelberg, including his writing and speaking ministry.