Monday, October 04, 2010

How to Get Apologetics in Your Church: Apologetics in the House Church

Apologetics in the House Church
by Wes Widner

They have been called many things, small church, simple church, organic church, home church, but they all generally refer to the same thing. A small gathering of believers who decide to freely meet and share life together as fellow believers in Christ Jesus.
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Some home churches meet in homes while others meet in public places like coffee shops, parks, and even office buildings (with appropriate permission of course). Regardless of the details, there are a few defining characteristics of a home church. And some of these characteristics mesh nicely with small or cell groups favored by many churches today, so much of what I’m about to describe applies equally as well to small and cell groups that may or may not be under the umbrella of a larger organization.

One of the defining characteristics of a home church is it’s size. By virtue of the venue, home churches generally don’t get to be bigger than 20-30 people. Because of this, apologetically minded individuals are presented with both unique opportunities as well as unique challenges.

Because of this, large programs and events are generally not accepted well in home churches. Instead, apologetics needs to be disseminated in a more organic fashion. What that means is that in practice, teaching apologetics to a group of believers in a small group ends up looking a lot like one on one discipleship. The advantage to this approach is that specific issues can be covered in depth.

To illustrate; In our home church we recently covered the topic of homosexuality which, for some in our group, was not merely a topic but a real issue affecting their immediate family. To address the issue we outlined a couple of lessons and encouraged everyone to bring material they found to be helpful in dealing with the subject. The result was two lessons tailor-made to address the specific issues faced by the members personally affected by the topic, while the rest of us were able to acquire new knowledge of the subject, knowledge which included not only the Biblical understanding of the subject, but answers to the surrounding scientific, ethical, logical, and cultural issues as well. Those of us who had no immediate need to use the information we were acquiring were able to listen and help think of possible ways to apply our knowledge of the subject in regards to the other members who were facing the issue.

Another characteristic of a home church is the meeting format. With no clergy hierarchy, home churches follow what is commonly called an open participatory style of meeting wherein members are free to interact on the subject at hand.

The challenge this presents to an apologist is that often long lectures that are needed for complex and detailed topics are often not a very good fit for the home church or small group environment. The presenter is often faced with the problem of being interrupted before fully presenting an argument or even before fully outlining the problem that needs to be addressed. To overcome this, I’ve found that recommending and encouraging members to consume and digest supplemental material such as books, lectures and debates (in audio or video form), articles, and blog posts to be very helpful. Having prepared beforehand, members are more likely to participate in the discussion and also more likely to explore a topic in greater depth than they otherwise may.

However this format can also be a great blessing since, in smaller groups, asking questions comes naturally. The more questions people ask, the more we are  able to explore aspects of a topic or subject that might have otherwise been left unexplored. More questions and a free flowing dialog also encourage participants to invest themselves more into a topic than they otherwise may if their role was limited to a passive participant.

Encouraging others to prepare for meetings beforehand also has the added benefit of forming good habits in terms of seeking and consuming good, spiritually enriching information. In my experience this also tends to have somewhat of a ripple effect wherein members who have learned to hunt for and consume good information either outside of or in preparation for a meeting also edify others by sharing it with them. To this end, I’ve found the internet in general, social media in particular, and helpful aggregate blogs (like to be invaluable when helping others develop a life-long love of learning.

If small groups provide a good setting for discipleship and one on one apologetical training, one major disadvantage of practicing apologetics in the home church/small group would have to be the opposite. That is, its lack of a wide audience.

This can be a problem because if we remain secluded in our small groups we, as gifted apologists, run the risk of not employing the gifts we’ve been given as widely as we could or should.

Because of this, we need to intentionally pursue avenues to widely disseminate the knowledge and skills we are acquiring. To help with this, I have found that joining with para-church ministries can be a valuable source of opportunities to speak and edify others outside your small group. I’ve also found that getting to know other home church/small group leaders and members can be a great way to gain opportunities to speak with others outside of your normal group.

In conclusion, I’ve found the home church to be a fertile place to train others in apologetics in a small, one on one setting. Through smaller groups, strong minds and hearts can be forged that can then go out into the world and have a real and noticeable impact for the Kingdom of God.