Youth Pastor, Your Students Need Apologetics

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When you read the word, “apologetics,” you probably picture one of two things: a formal debate between two scholars in front of a crowd of college students, one atheist and one Christian, or an angry, mean-spirited argument in a reddit thread.

I don’t blame you. If you spend any time clicking through the infinite blackhole that is the YouTube algorithm, you might have stumbled upon exactly what I just described, a debate. Possibly, you’ve seen something even a tad cringier than this, something along the lines of “CHRISTIAN STUMPS ATHEIST, TOTALLY OWNED!”

I get it. Your students are more than likely never going to need to be prepared to debate the atheist professor in front of hundreds of people, and quite frankly, you pray to God your students don’t become the types to “own” people.

Before we discuss why you should teach your students apologetics, we first need to define what the discipline of apologetics is. We get the name for apologetics from Plato’s work, Apology, in which he details Socrates’ passionate self-defense against charges of ‘corrupting’ the youth. Socrates’ apology was his defense. Similarly, apologetics is the practice and discipline of Christians’ defending the faith. Throughout church history, Christians have engaged in apologetics, and the church is better for it. Your youth group will be better for it as well.

Here are three good reasons to incorporate teaching apologetics to the teenagers in your youth ministry.

In Defense of Defending the Faith

Reason number one, it’s biblical! No, you will not find the word “apologetics” in your Bible (unless, of course, you have the apologetics study Bible). If your view of apologetics is similar to the debate or YouTube video described above, you might have missed the examples of apologetics in the Bible. Apologetics is defending the faith. It’s giving people good reasons to believe and showing people the clarity or rationality of faith in Christ.

Take the apostle Paul for example. In Acts 17, we are told that he would go to the Jewish synagogue so that he could “reason” with the Greek-speaking Jews. In verses 19–31, we are given an account of what Paul says at a “meeting of the Areopagus.” What does Paul do? He defends the Christian faith to the Greeks and demonstrates the clarity of Christianity. This is Paul doing apologetics. He’s not trying to “own” anyone. His goal isn’t to win some intellectual points; his chief concern is that people come to know Jesus.

Ultimately what Paul wanted his audience to know and believe is that they were created by God and that they could know and be known by God. Paul’s message was that life is found in the Messiah, Jesus, who died and rose again. This is the good news of the gospel! That he who knew no sin became sin on our behalf (1 Cor. 5:21). Paul wasn’t interested in the “comment section” of an apologetic debate. Paul was interested in people seeing Jesus and his Word, clearly. That’s apologetics.

Paul wasn’t the only one to practice what we would call apologetics. Acts 18 tells us about Apollos, a friend of Paul who would “vigorously refute” (18:28) Jewish people in order to offer a defense of Jesus’ being the Messiah. There are plenty more examples, but at the very least, we can see here that even the earliest disciples of Jesus practiced giving a rational defense for the claims of Christianity.

Secondly, apologetics aids evangelism. Apologetics is done best when it’s not from an ivory tower but instead through real-life conversation, when it’s not a stumbling block to unbelievers, but instead a remover of stumbling blocks. A lot of unbelievers, if they think about it, find some parts of Christianity to be a bit silly, or at least difficult to believe. Do you really believe a man rose from the dead? Can you really trust the Bible? If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world? Christians are such hypocrites—why should I believe something its followers don’t seem to believe?

When your students share the gospel with their friends, there’s a good chance one of these questions will come up at some point. You want your students to be prepared for the moment! You want them prepared, not so they can sound smart or “argue” someone into Christianity, but so God can use them to remove a hurdle from someone’s coming to faith in Christ.

Third, apologetics can strengthen the faith of your students. Doubt is something that every Christian experiences from time to time. It’s normal for every Christian to wonder whether or not he or she is believing in the right thing. Your students are no different. Students may not always ask these questions out loud. They may keep these questions internal. The truth however, is that a lot of kids have questions about what they’re being taught in church. Even if they don’t have doubts currently, they will eventually. It’ll come in a college classroom, after a difficult loss, or in a deep conversation with friends. When hard questions come up, apologetics can serve as a great anchor to the faith of your students.

The Fruit of Apologetics

The youth ministry I serve has done a series on apologetics before, and we’re currently taking students through an apologetic series now. We spent several weeks carefully walking through several topics that commonly lead to doubt for students.

I asked one of our students how this series has impacted her. She told me that apologetics have helped her both in evangelism and in her faith. She also shared that studying apologetics has comforted her in times of doubt, reminding her that many Christians have gone before her, and that the Bible is reliable. She said, “Apologetics strengthened my confidence in my beliefs and taught me to move what I believe in my heart to my mind.”

Yes, Christianity concerns the heart, and so we have to teach our students to love the Lord. But Christianity also calls us to engage our minds. As Peter, Paul, and others have taught us, giving a defense of the faith is a good and necessary thing.

Apologetics is not some magic bullet that will make your students perfect evangelists or protect them from ever doubting. There will still be times when they are asked a question they can’t answer. There will still be times when something causes them to doubt despite the foundation of reason they have built up. Apologetics can however, help prepare your students to live good and faithful lives in submission to our gracious king, Jesus.

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