Apologists and Pastors, Here’s How We Can Finally Work Together (And We’d Better Get To It!)

I met a pastor from my home town at a conference a couple years ago, actually a pastors’ pastor, who ministered to dozens of others in our area. I was grateful when he agreed to meet for lunch. As we started in over our chips and salsa, I asked him to tell me his story, he asked me for mine, and we had a good time just getting to know each other.

Along the way he found out my interest in Christian apologetics. So fit in naturally when we were sipping the last of our drinks for me to ask him the question apologists everywhere have been asking for years: “Pastor, tell me, what would it take for you to want to have me come minister in your church?”

That’s been a live question among apologists for years, but it’s hotter than ever now, with our culture bringing such serious attacks against the faith. The pastor’s job is a lot more complex than most thought they were signing up for. It was hard enough when it was about leading a church, with all its incredible needs and opportunities, and with all the people dynamics that make it so … interesting.

Why Doesn’t the Church Pay More Attention to Apologetics?

It was hard enough before, in other words — but now it’s about cross-cultural missions, too. If ever there was a time when apologetics could help a church, it’s now — not just because apologists have reasons for belief, but because we tend to be students of the culture(s) we’re all trying to reach for Christ.

So it is that apologists, specialists that we are, keep asking, “Why won’t the church let us in for more ministry than it does.?” Last week again I watched three men hammering it out on video. They gave good answers, true answers, important answers, answers I strongly recommend you see and hear for yourself. I know these men, I respect them, I trust them.

But they didn’t give anywhere near the whole answer. They brushed by it, telling stories of their own backgrounds and ministries, and even giving strong indication that they were practicing the whole answer. I only wish they’d included it in their analysis.

They didn’t, though. It’s not surprising: I don’t think I’ve ever heard any apologist give the most important part of the answer. I have heard it from pastors more than once; just not from apologists. It’s the answer that I believe could and should make all the difference.

Now Is the Time, But the Connection Remains Weak

Now, I need to pause and say that though it looks like I’m speaking to apologists (and in fact I am), I’m also hoping a lot of pastors are eavesdropping, reading over the apologist’s shoulder, so to speak. This message is for them, too, though not as criticism. Quite the opposite, actually! Pastors, you’re the stars, in my book. The change that needs making here is almost entirely up to apologists, but you can help. I’d much rather you be in on the process with us.

The need now for pastors’ and apologists’ cooperation is absolutely urgent, and the time is right. We’ve never had better reasons for faith than now, and never had better scholarship for today’s Western cross-cultural ministry needs. Meanwhile for those of us in the Western world, there’s also never been a time when our faith has been under so much attack.

The church desperately needs reasons to hold on to Christ. Apologists have those answers. But the connection between the two is about as tight as duct tape holding the fender on your brother-in-law’s old Chevy II. Some connection, yes, but not nearly enough.

So that takes us back to the question: Why is that connection so weak?

Apologists Should Know Better Than to Settle for Apologists’ Explanations

Apologists tend to say it’s because the church has a weak view on discipleship of the mind. This is true. Pastors, you could really help take the lead on that! Apologists will also admit we’re part of the problem, with our reputation (at least partly deserved) for nerdiness and combativeness.

I find it fascinating, though, that apologists think the problem in the church comes down to poor thinking. It’s such a typical apologist answer! So here’s how we’ll attack it strategically. First, we’ll persuade them to listen to us about how to think. Once we’ve done that, they’ll be ready at last for us to start in on what we need to do most: We need to persude them to listen to us about how to think.

Maybe we apologists aren’t all that gifted in figuring out how best to carry out our ministry in your church. Maybe we need each other. Maybe that wouldn’t be too surprising in the body of Christ. Let’s determine to glorify him together.s

We should know better. We know all about circular reasoning; circular causation is no better. If our persuading people to think depends first of all on our persuading them to think, we’re going nowhere. Which is pretty much where we’ve gone, isn’t it, in relation to the church?

Our typical apologists’ answer works with other typical apologists’ minds. What about everyone else, though? My pastor friend gave me the answer that day.

The Answer Every Pastor Knows, and Apologists Need to Finally Catch Up On

As you recall, I’d asked him, “What does it take for a pastor to want someone like me to come share at his church.”

He looked at me and said one word: “This.” He saw my quizzical look, and clarified with two words: “Lunch. Together” And then he added three more that explain it all: “Relationship, relationship, relationship.”

(Okay, he didn’t say it exactly that way, but that really was his message, and I thought it made a good tale the way I paraphrased him.)s

Apologists, we’ve missed the boat. Badly. We’ve been wishing we could have a ministry in churches, and we’ve skipped the first step: Building relationships.

Relationships, Relationships, and Relationships. And Trust. (And Relationships.)

Pastors won’t invite us in until they know us and trust us. Sometimes that can happen through a distance, maybe as they read a book or a blog, or hear us speak. Sometimes it grows through referrals. It’ll never happen through a flyer, though, and not through a single email. A shepherd needs to know who he’s admitting into his flock.

Hear more stories and related content in today’s podcast.

This is how ministry works; how it always works. Apologetics is ministry. Ministry is relational. It’s almost always relational. Sure, we love reading books whose authors we’ve never met, asnd we’ll listen to their podcasts, too. That’s ministry, too, sure. But I’ve been in full-time Christian ministry since 1979, and I’m here to tell you that it’s only a paper-thin slice of it. You want real ministry? You’d better build relationships.

I have stories of how this has worked out in my own ministry, and I tell them in today’s podcast. Note that I said, “how it worked out,” not, “how it worked.” If I’d only done it so it would “work,” it wouldn’t have. Relationships had better be genuine. I didn’t mention this, but before I asked my pastor friend how I might be invited to speak at his church, I’d already made it as clear as I could possibly make it that my purpose was to serve. To come in humbly and do what they needed, for their good, not for mine.

An Appeal to Apologists, An Appeal to Pastors

So I say to my apologist friends, do you want to influence the church? Busild relationships in the church. You want to make a difference in how churches are led? Build relationships with leaders. Genuine relationships. Relationships of love and trust and listening and caring. Humble ones, too, which is absolutely a prerequisite for the final appeal I’m about to make, speaking one last time in this post to pastors.

And here it is. Pastors, give us a hand, please. You’re better at this than we are. We’vse got unique ministry to offer, a service that could really help your church — our church, since we’re in this together — in these very strange and new days.

Maybe we apologists aren’t all that gifted in figuring out how best to carry out our ministry in your church. Maybe we need each other. Maybe that wouldn’t be too surprising in the body of Christ. Let’s determine to glorify him together.

Image Credit(s): pixabay/masbebet.

Tom Gilson

Vice President for Strategic Services, Ratio Christi Lead Blogger at Thinking Christian Editor, True Reason BreakPoint Columnist

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2 Responses

  1. Great insights, Tom. You can never go wrong with relationships!

  2. Steven Shea says:

    After I accepted Jesus in college I gravitated to some apologetic books. Relationship is what brought me to Christ not apologetics. The author John Clayton, who was a high school science teacher, had several books on the design of the universe and science and the bible. They were basic by today’s standards. But this set a wrong foundation in me that grew in magnitude over the years as the complexity of science grew and, hence, the complexity apologetics grew. That wrong foundation was the unstated presupposition that I needed to have an answer to the complex science in order to know that God exists. I did not know that this was my thinking. What was missing was the understanding that I am an expert in recognizing design. The next part is the simple logic that design always has a designer. Life is clearly designed so we know that life has a designer. You can take that to the bank. The book of Romans makes this point.

    But our apologists in various fields lead you down complex sciences and complex philosophical arguments so you can “know” that God exists. I’ve spent lots of time on Dr. William Lane Craig’s debate videos. I’ve dug and dug on evolution. But I did this not because I wanted to know but because my thinking was that unless these complex arguments for God were right then I could not believe in God. So I had to try and wrestle these to the ground. I’m average. I have both ADHD and dyslexia so the energy needed from me to wade through these things is significant. I bought Dr Craig’s book on the “Philosophical Foundations of the Christian worldview”. Right… like I’m going to get through that tomb. Don’t get me wrong. Its a good and needed book but not for me.

    The only apologists that I have ever heard say anything about “properly basic beliefs” is Dr. Craig. And he only mentions them in an anecdotal way.
    What I needed was for an apologist to clearly show me that I can trust my insights into design. These other areas are good but not necessary. I needed to clearly understand that I can take to the bank that the design that is so clear in life means that life is designed.