3 Reasons To Integrate Apologetics Into Youth Ministry
Several years ago I began to notice a trend in many of my graduates. They knew the facts of Christianity but lacked confidence and conviction. They knew who Jesus was, what he did, and even what it meant, but denied his claim to be The Truth. They liked the idea of Jesus and some of the moral standards that come with Christianity but refused to offer their lives up as living sacrifices. In short, they knew what they ought to believe in, but they didn't know why. So I began to ask my students some important questions. One, in particular, was, "Why do you believe, what you believe?" Most had no answer. The more I asked, the more I began to see this general attitude among students to be truer than I had hoped it was. But does it really come as a surprise?
After some research, I soon found that my classroom was actually closer to the norm. Youth leaders offered plenty of reasons and possible solutions. But quietly in the corner was the answer that quickly became the most effective tool I have used. I began to integrate the theological discipline known as apologetics. Maybe you have heard of it, but only in the context of higher theological academics, like seminary. Maybe you have even heard that the word apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia, meaning defense, taken from 1 Peter 3:15. You probably have heard of those like Ravi Zacharias, Sean McDowell , and Lee Strobel. Christian colleges like Biola offer classes and degrees in the study of Christian apologetics. But what is attractive and useful to some is often seen as unnecessary or even harmful to others. Apologetics is often perceived as argumentative and more concerned with proving one's point over people knowing Christ.
However, apologetics is anything but harmful and is absolutely necessary. It is about being prepared in heart and mind so that you can stand in the face of opposition with a reasoned defense of absolute truth. But it is not about winning intellectual arguments, being smarter than someone else or arguing with the opposition so much they give in and concede to your position. Apologetics is about learning to see the world God's way and showing others the same way. It is being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is knowing what we believe and why. And it is something that every youth leader should be incorporating into their ministry in a very intentional manner.
Let me offer you three key reasons why.
Apologetics is biblical
The Apostle Peter told us to always be prepared to give an answer or defense to everyone who asks about the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus simply told us to go make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19, Acts 1:8). These commands seem simple enough. But there is something greater as we dig a little deeper. Making disciples, building relationships, and even walking as Jesus did (1 John 2:6) is not something that will just come naturally upon belief. Our minds and hearts are not prone to think about the things of God; it does not naturally think God's thoughts and our words and actions are not naturally in line with those of Jesus. Therefore God, His existence, and the reasons why we believe are not part of our natural train of thought. This is why Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Giving a defense requires knowledge and making disciples requires relationships. A practice derived directly from Scripture.
Just as Paul did in Athens, Corinth, and several other places throughout the Roman world, it is our duty to present the best reasons for the certainty of Christian truth. Paul, masterfully, weaves his knowledge of Scripture with the knowledge of the culture to craft his message in such a way that connects with his audience, conveys truth, builds trust, and ultimately draws people to Christ. He provides reasons to believe. To the contrary, many Christians in our culture are much more concerned with casting the net into the lake as fishers of men but spend little time understanding why they are using a net, when the best time to fish is, or even why they are fishing at all.
Apologetics helps students navigate their culture
I am sure you know that as youth leaders, we are entrenched in an uphill battle against time, culture, academics, athletics, etc. The fight for the soul of our students is more intense than ever. Our culture is more cunning and seductive than ever before, and our students are eager devotees. Teaching students to have confidence in biblical truth and the conviction to live it out is a crucial piece of youth ministry. So often, the church substitutes depth for amusement in a cry for relevance. But it is youth groups that have the opportunity to be a resource for students and parents to help answer questions, raise new questions, provide the means to dig deeper into the absolute truths of the Christian faith, and the tools necessary to live out the faith Jesus called us to. It is in youth group that students can gain the necessary practice and tools needed to live with biblical convictions and successfully engage culture with love and humility.
Apologetics teaches students to communicate truth in love
Confidence is not built on sleight-of-hand tactics or conversational coercion, but in building relationships. Apologetics in your youth ministry should not be about teaching students everything wrong with every other worldview so they can feel good about themselves or give themselves the proverbial pat on the back when they have the right comeback to an objection. Instead, teach students how to build relationships with trust and how to invest in the people God has placed in their lives. Teach students to ask great questions and to be great listeners. Teach them to be more interested in what others think rather than be too quick to share their thoughts. It is far more valuable to spend time learning about someone else before you introduce them to Jesus.
Be willing to face the tough questions and concerns about Christianity and other regions, head on. You will discover that students will grow to have greater ownership of their faith, greater confidence in sharing it, and greater conviction to live it out. If you are listening carefully to your students, they often ask incredible questions. Is there any hope? What can we be certain about? Is there life after this one? Should Christians be tolerant of other lifestyles and viewpoints? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Is believing in God enough to go to heaven? Is going to heaven even the goal? The list seems endless. But the pursuit of apologetics is the search for answers. It is the search for certainty. It is the search of truth.
So how can you get started? We will tackle that subject next week.
Executive Director of AwanaYMSteve currently serves as the Executive Director of AwanaYM. Previously, Steve spent over a decade teaching high school theology and apologetics from Detroit to LA. Steve holds a Masters degree in Theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Steve is also an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He speaks and writes on youth ministry, youth culture and apologetics. He resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and four children.
Follow Steve Kozak on Twitter: stevenmkozak
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