By Andy McLean
Have you ever heard the phrase “pastor as theologian?” The phrase grew from a recent emphasis on pastors leading and shepherding their people from a deeply held biblical and theological view of ministry.
In light of the current cultural climate, I’m convinced another emphasis is needed—pastor as apologist. Just as pastors need to be equipped theologically to lead their people from God’s Word, they also need to be equipped apologetically.
Done in the right way, apologetics can be a valuable tool for pastors leading their people. Here are three ways apologetics can serve church leaders.
1. The pastor as apologist can shepherd people through seasons of doubt.
Our churches frequently fail to create an atmosphere where those struggling with doubts can ask difficult questions. Obviously, most churches don’t do this intentionally.
Questions often go unasked because of the personal shame that is often associated with doubt. And in some cases, when those questions are asked, the answers given are unable to help overcome the intellectual obstacles.
Creating a church culture where doubts are expressed and questions asked can be a good thing. It can stretch us, cause us to search for truth, and lead us to a deeper love and commitment to the One who is Truth.
Since the heart of apologetics is seeking the “truth” in the midst of confusion, apologetics is ultimately about Jesus. In Jesus, we find the very source of truth. He is, as the apostle John recorded in his Gospel, “the way, the truth, and the life.”
When we enter into apologetics, we aren’t just entering into a way of thinking deeply and critically about abstract topics. We are entering into another discipline of the Christian life. Apologetics will not only increase our love and devotion to God but also help us make much of Jesus and glorify Him.
2. The pastor as apologist can equip people to defend their faith.
According to the apostle Paul, those in church leadership are tasked with equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).
This will involve equipping members not only to faithfully articulate the gospel but also, as Peter suggests in 1 Peter 3:15, to graciously defend belief in that gospel to those who ask. This point becomes all the more relevant in light of today’s rapid social changes.
Church members need to be able to think through these important issues from a theological standpoint and winsomely articulate how the Christian worldview addresses these issues.
Thus, in preparing church members for the work of the ministry, church leaders should include Christian apologetics as a staple part of that process.
3. The pastor as apologist can help provide reasonable support to people’s faith.
More than just trying to alleviate doubts and answer questions, the pastor as apologist wants to go further by providing intellectual support to the faith of the congregation. Of course, this isn’t suggesting faith is merely an intellectual endeavor—surely it is not.
However, the Bible and theologians throughout church history speak of faith that seeks understanding and the personal renewal of one’s mind (Romans 12:1-2). By helping church members understand the historical reasons and evidences that support their belief, the pastor as apologist provides a direct source of encouragement and strength to people’s faith.
Remember that apologetics is a ministry to others. It isn’t about getting into arguments or winning debates. First and foremost, it is about making much of Jesus as we lovingly and graciously present Him to those around us.
While there are plenty of helpful resources to equip both yourself and those within your church on how to engage apologetically with the surrounding culture, one way to start would be to attend LifeWay’s Apologetics Workshop on September 12, 2017, at participating LifeWay retail stores. Visit LifeWay.com/StoreEvents to learn more.
ANDY MCLEAN (@AndyMcLean14) is the editor for The Gospel Project for Students.