The Road to the Group
“How can I use my passion for apologetics within my own church?” It was a question I had regularly asked myself with growing concern. I had read and studied apologetics material on my own for years. I had experienced the effect apologetics could have, not just in my life, but also in the lives of those who did not yet know Christ. Yet, my deep desire was for those within my own congregation to experience the same effect and together have a greater impact on this world for the glory of God. Of course, all of that sounds wonderful in theory. Putting it into practice is another thing entirely. While it took a good deal of time, patience, and prayer, God has blessed me with an amazing apologetics group in my own church. I’d like to share that journey with you, and offer you some thoughts on starting your own group.
From the outset, I knew an apologetics group wasn’t going to develop itself and just conveniently fall into my lap. Understandably, a little legwork on my part was going to be needed. At the time, my family and I were regularly attending our church, but we weren’t plugged in to any of the groups or ministries. Since it was my goal to begin a group within our church, it seemed reasonable to get connected with an already established group and see how it operated. So, my wife and I began regularly attending a weekly Sunday School class designed for couples in our age group. After a couple of months, the group leader informed us that she would need a volunteer to teach the class for a short period while she and her family were on vacation. I happily made myself available and was able to gain my first taste of leading a small group.[MP3 | RSS | iTunes]
Not long after that, the group leader, who wanted to move into other areas of ministry, asked if I’d be willing to take over the group leadership permanently. I was thrilled! I accepted and began teaching the group on a regular basis. Granted, the subject matter had nothing to do with apologetics. Nevertheless, it was a step in the right direction. Plus, I was taking a more active roll in serving God and training Christians (two areas that tied squarely together with my goals in apologetics). So, I did my best to faithfully serve in this area. Occasionally, I was even afforded opportunities to throw in apologetics lessons as well. Needless to say, that really whetted my appetite!
Additionally, I began thinking of ways to connect to various other ministries within my church where I could use my passion for apologetics. Eventually, I was asked to be a part of the leadership group which offers support and direction for the small groups ministry. This opened up even more opportunities for me. Not only did I get more exposure on how small groups function within my church, I was able to work directly with the Small Groups Pastor. After a couple of months, and due to some changes within our church, the attendance of the Sunday School class I taught dropped off. I met with the Pastor, and it was ultimately decided that there was no longer a need for that group. Thus, I took advantage of the opportunity and asked the pastor about starting an apologetics based small group from my home. He asked that I submit a proposal for him to review. I did so, and within a couple of days he informed me that he thought it was a great idea. With a newly ignited drive, I began gathering material and contacting the church staff to advertise the group in the church’s newsletter and Sunday morning bulletin. Within six weeks, I found myself beginning the apologetics group I had desired.
It’s been about a year since that time, and I’m happy to report that the group is stronger than ever. We’ve increased our membership and regular attendance into a great group of people who passionately discuss effective methods to defend the faith and reach this world for Christ. The conversations and debates are always gracious and stimulating. Even more pleasing to me, there is a growing interest within our members for the field of apologetics.
Of course, it hasn’t been without its share of challenges. For instance, our church likes to engage in DVD-based bible studies. While there are a few apologetics studies out there that meet this criterion, they aren’t as plentiful as I had hoped. Naturally, there’s always the option of studying one of the many books published on apologetics. Nevertheless, this potentially presents an additional problem. Many churches (mine included) have a structured calendar for rotating between study periods and break periods. The study periods run about eight weeks in length, and the break periods are intended to provide an opportunity for advertising the groups. Yet, trying to find an apologetics book that can be effectively studied in eight weeks can be difficult. Finally, if you’re reading this, you likely don’t need someone to convince you that apologetics is an important and worthwhile endeavor. Unfortunately, not everyone is as passionate about apologetics as you and I. Thus, trying to build interest in those not especially taken with apologetics can sometimes be difficult.
Challenges and all, it’s been very worthwhile. I’ve certainly learned a few things along the way. If you’re reading this because you have the same desire as I do to reach your church with the tools to meet this hostile world head-on, then I hope I can share with you some of these things I’ve learned. Perhaps they will save you a few headaches later.
1. Get connected with a small group. Whether it’s a home group, a Sunday school setting, or a discipleship class, if you’re not already plugged in to a small group at your church, get plugged in as soon as possible. It’s surprising how much can be gleaned about small groups and small group leadership just by regularly attending a group. Plus, if you’re interested in having your church back your group, it doesn’t hurt to show the leadership of your church that you can commit to a group for the long haul.
2. Get to know the leadership of your church. Let’s face it, apologetics isn’t fluff. It’s often a hardcore dissection and exhaustive presentation of some of the most core beliefs of the Christian worldview. Leading an apologetics group certainly doesn’t require a Ph.D., but a solid understanding of the fundamental Christian beliefs doesn’t hurt. Along that vein, it might be a good idea to show the small groups leadership that you’re not going to come in with wild ideas like “truth is relative” and “all roads lead to God”. If you are able, get to know the Small Groups Pastor and his supporting leadership team.
3. Results may vary. Your journey to a church-based apologetics group will likely have similarities with mine, and differences as well. You may achieve success faster than I did or it may take you longer. Either way, don’t get discouraged. If your desire is to make a difference for God’s kingdom with your passion, then it’s certainly reasonable that God will bless your efforts.
4. Once you’ve started your group, remember to be gracious where grace is warranted. Try not to be overly dogmatic about issues that aren’t core Christian doctrines. If you’re a die-hard Old-Earth Creationist and everyone else in your group is a Young-Earther, be fair and open-minded with your fellow brothers and sisters. A little bit of friendly debate can be a good thing. Most of us have our favorite positions on controversial issues such as these, but don’t be overly critical with opposing positions.
5. Pray. Little needs to be said here.
6. Start using your talents now. The light at the end of the tunnel can often feel far away. If your passion is for apologetics, then you’ve probably spent some time developing your skills in that area. Don’t let those skills atrophy while you await a church group. Use what you have where you are. Get engaged in ministries at your church where your skills can be put to good use. Also, intrinsically tied up with apologetics is evangelism. So start talking to people. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Get online and discuss your convictions in forums and debate groups. Start a blog. Just do something.
I truly hope and pray that my story and these tips can be of some use to you as you develop your own apologetics group. There’s no question that we need more defenders of the faith as we face increasing disdain and criticism from the challengers of Christianity. I applaud your efforts to get involved and am happy to be working along side you in planting seeds in the hearts and minds of non-believers and strengthening the convictions of our fellow believers. May God bless your progress.