There are a lot of things going right for the Church these days. I know it doesn’t necessarily seem like it with all of the LGBT hoopla, but it’s true.
The recent push for the Church to alter the gospel to include the culture’s golden calf of absolute sexual freedom along with the recent Pew study that reveals a declining Christian population in America seems to be waking a few churches to the need of at least some level of preparedness to defend the Faith. That revival can be both positive and negative.
With the availability of apologetics training popping up in several seminaries and many Internet ministries, it’s easy to take a top down approach. It’s easy to determine which church leader(s) has the capability (free time) to be trained and let him loose on the congregation. That approach lends itself to a major mistake. When the apologetics ministry is focused on the leadership, the laity is subjected to apologetics teaching. How is that a mistake? Let me tell you.
In the world of church leadership, especially in smaller churches, it’s easy to see oneself as the person who stands between the world and the congregation. It’s easy to take on the role of protector. Sure, you teach the laity the Scriptures, but in the end, it’s easy to believe that it’s your spiritual leadership that guides them and keeps them from spiritual harm. In other words, it’s easy to assume that because you hold a title that you are called to some ministry while the laity are merely the uncalled masses who you are called to instruct how to live.
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying that church leaders who fall into this trap are guided completely by their depraved motives. I don’t believe that is true. I don’t believe that many church leaders are power hungry manipulators, although I have known a few. I’m simply saying that it’s easy to assume those roles without a great deal of diligence and introspection.
What would be a culpable error would be to realize that you have slid into this trap and continue without repentance.
Why is this an error?
The mistake is not in the original thought that church leaders should be called people. Pastors, elders, and deacons should not be elected due to seniority or availability. Neither is a degree or pedigree a qualification. Even the Biblical qualifications for elders and deacons listed in Timothy and Titus aren’t enough. These qualifications are prerequisites. They are not sufficient in and of themselves. A person must meet these qualifications but meeting them is only sufficient if that person is called.
The mistake is not realizing that the laity are called as well. Their call is different, but they are called just the same.
They are called to a vocation just as you are. The difference is that their vocation probably places them in many more hostile situations than you will ever face in full time ministry (ambiguous term used for descriptive purposes). While you sit at home or at church in your office, or while you visit the sick or evangelize to the needy, you are doing exactly what everyone expects of you. On the other hand, when lay people are practicing their vocation (nurse, teacher, business manager, office tech, machinist, baker, etc.) they are expected to practice only their respective job. In fact, any religious activity during their scheduled work is often discouraged. Furthermore, they come into contact with many more people who may openly confront them about their Faith. These people, the laity are the Church’s boots on the ground for Christianity. You on the other hand, are more of the drill sergeant.
So, do you still believe that you should get the training and they should merely be students? Do you still see yourself as the one who is qualified or called but the congregation is just the people you teach? Are the people who fill your pews the subjects that ought to listen to your lectures? I hope not.
You see, it’s been said that the people don’t need to be taught apologetics, they need to be trained how to do apologetics. They don’t need to recite or regurgitate your lectures, they need to think clearly about what they believe, know why they believe it, and be able to defend that hope winsomely to the people they work with or go to school with. Lay apologists are the Church’s boots on the ground.
If you have spent most of your apologetics ministry in your local church lecturing, it may be time to consider complementing those lectures with hands on training. There are a few of things I have in mind. You may think of others, but here are just five ideas.
Make your lectures more interactive. Ask questions while you teach. Don’t solve every apologetics problem for them. Pose difficulties and let them solve them. Make them into thinkers.
Young people especially enjoy interactive instruction. They appreciate it when you allow them to think on their own. Becoming interactive places value on their minds rather than focusing on yours. Don’t bore them any longer. Get down from the podium and train them to think.
Assign work. Most folks are not used to homework when it comes to church, but assignments are an effective tool to get them used to critical thinking and force them to use some of the plethora of apologetics self-help Internet sites. Give them a problem to solve, give them the tools to solve it, and quiz them the next time you meet. They will surprise you more than likely, and hey, you might learn something yourself.
Give them books. Most of the people in the pews are not going to spend a lot of money on apologetics resources. It’s just not realistic to think that they would. What better way to use your budget than to equip your people, especially your young people, with a library? Many times you can pick up great apologetics or theology titles for a very small price, even in print.
The best way though is to find Kindle deals, etc. Most people either have a smart phone, tablet, or laptop. There are Internet sites dedicated to supplying people with apologetics deals on great books. Most of the time they are under $1.00. What better way to spend that budget? The last time we bought books for our high school students, they began buying their own out of excitement for the class.
Cultivate a question friendly environment. One of the greatest factors young people cite for leaving the church is that there is not an environment that welcomes questions.
People are people. They have doubts just like you and I. Don’t discourage their questions and don’t give them pad answers. Invite them to speak and encourage them to reveal their doubt.
Doubt is like a sore that festers. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. Get the doubt out in the open so it can be treated and don’t assume that treatment means doubt disappears. It may not. But if you give an honest answer that not only deals with the question but the person who asks it, you will have shown that the one thing doubt doesn’t have to cause is fear.
Hold them accountable. In church, most of the time when someone either gives a wrong answer to a question or makes an errant statement, we try to soften our correction by merging their false statement into some ambiguous blob that becomes the truth after five minutes of a weird explanation.
This does two things. It leaves the person with the errant view and it gives them a false sense of the real world.
Hold them accountable for their bad theology and their bad thinking. When they’re wrong, tell them. Correct them graciously, but tell them they’re wrong.
Let me tell you, if you don’t some atheist or skeptic will. Life is tough. We need to be tough too.
These are just a few ideas I’ve used in the past to train rather than teach. Maybe you can add to the list. Whatever you do, train the laity. Lay apologists are the Church’s boots on the ground.