Tom Gilson

Apologists and Pastors Connecting for Ministry: Stories of How You Can Do It

(Hear more of the story at the Thinking Christian podcast.)

Apologists need to connect with pastors, and vice versa. We need each other. Pastors need the best possible understanding of changes in our culture, which apologists are uniquely equipped to offer. Apologists need to learn practical ministry from pastors, and they also need church leadership to open doors from them when they’re ready for it.

Last time I spoke of ways to build relational connections between apologists and pastors. My one best piece of advice was to have lunch together. I got a lot of response to that, and it included people asking a very practical question: How do I invite a pastor to lunch? What about the pastor of my own church, which has well over 10,000 members? What about pastors of other churches?

That was the question. Let me tell you, too, that one listener told me he’d been trying to get people to be interested in a certain speaker coming to their town. He sent mailing and got no response to mailings. When he invited pastors to lunch, he started seeing real interest, which I believe he said turned into a couple of bookings.

 It’s About Your Caring and Your Willingness to Serve

Still there was that question, how do I actually, practically, make that connection with pastors? I’ve got stories to tell here today. First, though, I need to raise the reminder: This isn’t about going to lunch. This is about building relationship. It’s about being there to serve, with a genuine interest in the pastor as a person and as a spiritual leader. It’s about being ready to listen. You may learn of an apologetics-related ministry the pastor believes his church needs. If it’s about meeting needs, you’re on the right track.

Some will say that a service mindset means being willing to serve in any area whatsoever. That’s true, and we need to have exactly that openness to meeting needs in the church. It doesn’t mean, though, that we should serve where we can only serve poorly. You wouldn’t want me organizing your church’s next dinner, for example; it would be sure to be a flop. There’s something about that kind of organizational work that I just can’t do. We wouldn’t want certain people teaching apologetics, either. (Chances are they wouldn’t want to.) The point remains, our heart as apologists must be to serve.

I had to emphasize that. I wouldn’t want this coming off as a way to manipulate pastors to invite us in!

Connecting With Pastors in Williamsburg

Let’s assume we’ve got that right. Now, how do we make those relational connections with leaders? I’ll share some stories.

Years ago, before I even thought of doing apologetics ministry for multiple churches, I was living in Yorktown, Virginia. My next door neighbor was a retired Baptist pastor. He was still leading a small church in his retirement. We just got to know each other. It was that simple: He was a friend, and we were neighbors and friends with him and his wife.

At the time my office was in Williamsburg, where there was a pretty strong ministerial association. I just asked if I could attend, and they said yes. I enjoyed it there, and I came to discover it was quite an interesting group. Their topics ranged from healing prayer to cultural conflict. Over time I came to know the members well enough to — you guessed it — ask them to lunch.

I spent a lot of time with the group’s leader in particular. I drove half an hour to get to our lunches together; he drove only a couple of minutes. One day he said, “Wow, you come a long way just for lunch.” I answered, “Bob, I will drive a long way to meet with an encourager!” I think he saw me as an encourager, too.

Apologetics Ministry in Williamsburg

Anyway, because of consistently showing up at the ministerial associations meetings, I had the chance to ask them if I could bring in a group of apologists to talk about some of the issues that we’d been discussing as a group. They said yes, so I invited a group in from Southern Evangelical Seminary, Campus Crusade for Christ (as it was known at that time) and BreakPoint.

I kicked the meeting off, and I’d do it again the same way again just for the entertainment factor. (It was no trick; it was how I see reality.)  I said to the group, “We’re gathered here today as people involved in ministry, to spend some time listening to the experts. Pastors, you are the experts. We apologists need to learn from you.”

Heads snapped all over the room. The pastors were not expecting me to identify them as the experts! But they are. Just think of the wide range of skills a pastor has to have: leading meetings, dealing with personnel problems, dealing with family issues, counseling, preparing sermons and delivering them every week (for an incredibly diverse audience), handling criticism… I could go on and on.

Along the way you might make some friends. You might encourage some pastors, too. That’s a good enough result itself, if you ask me.

Besides those tasks, pastors watch people grow. They weep over those who won’t. They are the ones who have the all-important long-term relationships, the long-term investment in people’s lives. So we apologists need to pay a lot attention.

And so on that day we listened to them, and of course they listened to us as well. It was a great day. My intentional connection with that group gave me a very significant apologetic ministry opportunity.

Making Friends with Pastors

Meanwhile I spent time with my own church’s music minister, who later became the lead minister. He gave me more than one opportunity to teach apologetics, in church-wide sermons and in small groups. It’s no coincidence that I would also consider him my best friend there.

Some time later we left Virginia and we moved to Ohio, where I had very few connections. It helped a lot when a mutual friend introduced me to a pastor in a church about 30 miles west of us. Brad and I went out for lunch, and over time he and I have become best friends and his wife and mine have, too.

We actually attended his church only briefly, but I’ve been going to their Thursday morning men’s group. That relationship has brought me many invitations from Brad to teach at his church, including an entire only series on my book Too Good to be False, How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

Connecting With Pastors at a Megachurch

A few years later we downsized and moved to another town about 30 minutes north of where we were. Now we’re attending a multi-campus megachurch. How did I get chance to meet with pastors there? I just emailed one of them, and he said, “Let’s do lunch tomorrow.” I don’t consider a quick answer like that to be very normal for megachurch pastors, but he was wide open to it.

He was the community pastor. I didn’t go straight to the lead pastor; that would have been expecting way too much. But as I’ve been there I’ve had the chance to know several of the other pastors that way. I’ve met with the lead pastor in his office — never for lunch, but that’s okay. Two of our pastors have learned of my ministry background and asked me for mentoring.

This same church hosted community-wide leadership meetings for business persons, non-profit leaders, and pastors. It didn’t have to be my church; I’d have gone to whichever church hosted it. I’ve kept my ears open for pastors introducing themselves, and (one more time, you’ve guessed it!) asked them for lunch. One of those connections tied in with a prior lunch meeting with someone I’d met at a conference, and it led to an invitation to lead a webinar on Critical Race Theory for dozens of pastors.

We Have Something to Offer, If We’re Truly Serving

Again, we apologists have something to offer, if it’s an offering of service. When I was living in Virginia, after we had a new lead pastor come and join us, I invited him to a meeting with Chuck Colson’s worldview ministry. It was a three-hour drive. On the way back, we were talking about apologetics, and I said, “You know, Pastor, I really do not want to convey the impression that I’m smarter than you. I know we apologists have a reputation. We can come across pretty cocky, giving the impression that we’re smarter.”

His answer surprised me. He said, “You probably are smarter.”

“What?” I answered. “What do you mean?”

Since then I’ve tested his answer in larger meetings of pastors, and you wouldn’t believe how the heads nod in agreement. He said simply, “I don’t have time to study.”

It’s because they’re doing a lot more ministry than we do.

Apologist or Pastor, This Is For You!

This is not the road to building a huge national ministry. This is for you, the local apologist, or for you, the pastor of a local church.

Someone actually raised that point with me. He said it might work for local apologists in local churches, but I don’t know about building any real widespread ministry. I answered, “That’s exactly right. That’s exactly where the real need is: local apologists doing local ministry in local churches.”

Not every Christian should be an apologist, not even every pastor. But I believe every church should have an apologetics ministry. Every church should have one person who’s been identified and endorsed as a trusted teacher and a trusted source to get hard questions answered. It might be the pastor, but it doesn’t have to be.

This is about local ministry. I’ve done national level ministry, and I certainly enjoy it, but for this season I’ve been concentrating on relationally-centered ministry in the nearby Dayton-Cincinnati area.

So go for it, apologist. Find creative ways to meet pastors and ask them for lunch. Not every pastor will respond, and even if they do, some will never open up to other teachers in their churches, especially on apologetics. Just go with the ones who will.

Along the way you might make some friends. You might encourage some pastors, too. That’s a good enough result itself, if you ask me.

Image Credit(s): pxhere.com/rawpixel.com.

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