By Pastor Rick McGough, Founder of Local Church Apologetics and the Truth Conferences
In 1982 at age 23, I moved to Moline, Illinois to pastor my first church. I knew the Lord had called me to pastor and was excited to get started. Secondly, I felt called to stay at the same church throughout my entire ministry. When a young whippersnapper announces something like that, the response is essentially a lot of raised eyebrows. But that’s how my 20-year-old bride, Val, and I moved to Moline with our 7-month-old son. We indeed stayed raising our 3 boys and pastoring the church for 34 years. My intention was to stay until I died, or until the congregation made me retire due to old age.
During those years, my heart was stricken by a void within the Body of Christ created by our culture’s intellectual skepticism and the outright attack upon Christian young people’s faith. When I first read Josh McDowell’s book Evidence That Demands a Verdict many years ago, I knew right away that I needed to begin incorporating pieces of evidence that confirmed the Christian faith in my preaching and I did so. My burden for what I now know as “apologetics” grew as my knowledge grew and as the attacks upon the Christian faith increased.
Note these salutations from Ravi Zacharias on Apologetics.
“What I did not anticipate was having to give a defense of why I was defending the faith. [Critics loudly protested with,] ‘You can’t argue anybody into the kingdom.’ ‘Apologetics only caters to pride, you know.’ ‘Conversion is not about the intellect; it is all about the heart.’
Sometime in the 1980’s, Christians in the West began to label evangelistic techniques and reconfigure church services to reduce the message to the lowest level of cognition in the audience. As nobly intentioned as that was, the end result was the lowest level of writing and gospel preaching one could imagine. As this was happening, the intellectual arenas were being plundered and young minds gradually driven away from their “faith” in the gospel message.
Paul reminds us to become all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22), meaning that you start with where the audience is. If there is an intellectual barrier, you start there. Do not underestimate the role you may play in clearing the obstacles in someone’s spiritual journey.”
To my surprise, in 2014 the Lord began to stir my heart to change what I had thought was my “forever calling.” I felt that He was leading me to devote the remainder of my life to Christian apologetics. Specifically, I felt He was calling me to try to bridge the gap between apologetics ministries and the local church. That stirring led to a transitional plan and my stepping down from pastoring on January 10, 2016, exactly 34 years from my first Sunday as pastor in Moline. For the past three and a half years, I have been traveling, speaking, writing, coordinating conferences, and working to simplify the process of getting apologetics into the main flow of local church ministries. God has been faithful! He continues opening amazing doors and providing divine appointments to help us fulfill His calling!
Let me ask you, how can we minister effectively in America today without apologetics being a part of the mix? I believe the answer is that we can’t! Preparing ministers and lay people for ministry in America today without apologetics training is like sending missionaries into Islamic nations and telling them they don’t need to know anything about the Islam or Muslim culture. That would be ridiculous! Christian young people, in particular, are being bombarded with intellectual arguments against the Christian faith. Many claim that you have to choose between “Faith” and “Reason” claiming they aren’t compatible. These accusations can easily be shown false. But for the majority of Christians today with zero apologetics training, these attacks are devastating!
Intellectual skepticism looms as the Goliath of our time! Like the Goliath of David’s day who mocked and intimidated the armies of God, educators and outspoken skeptics in many fields are wreaking havoc on the faith of millions. Most churches are doing nothing about it! In most cases, the total emphasis on experience and feeling has become so dominant that little if any emphasis on Bible Doctrine and Christian Apologetics is found within local church ministries. There are exceptions, of course, and I commend those who are already bringing apologetics into their churches. But sadly this is not the case for the majority.
I find that many believers are hungry for answers that will help them obey the command of 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be ready to give an answer to those who ask about the hope that is in you.” Christian young people madly seek answers because they are in the middle of the battle, and Christian parents and grandparents desperately seek answers because so many of them have family members who have now walked away from the faith. I see this everywhere I go! When I speak at men’s conferences and introduce my topic, I typically have one of the largest breakout sessions because men flock to find solutions. It’s a real need that must be addressed or churches will continue to dwindle and the faith of many will be shipwrecked!
The key is the local church! Conferences and seminars are great. They play a role. But the real answer is to get apologetics into the local church where ministry happens week after week after week. Pastors are the gatekeepers who determine much of what is emphasized and focused on within their church, and rightly so, as the Lord’s under-shepherd for their people.
Pastor, I challenge you to consider what your church is doing to equip your people in this area. You make a difference! There are great resources available for this task, but you must decisively make this a priority. I am confident that your people will respond and appreciate you bringing them apologetics training. Let’s raise up warriors who can share and defend their faith on this generation’s cultural battlefield!
Our ministry, Local Church Apologetics, has produced a church training seminar called Faith & Reason Made Simple that includes eight 30-minute video sessions, student manuals, a teacher’s manual, and the book Faith & Reason Made Simple. We are now working on a children’s version of apologetics training, as well, a 6-week Children’s Church Curriculum. We hope to have it available within the next year so that church leaders can take the entire church through an apologetics emphasis together and families can talk together at home about what they are all learning at church.
If you are reading this and you are not a pastor, please pray about how you can bring apologetics into your church. You may want to humbly approach your pastor and offer to help get something started. Never be demanding or condescending, but approach your leaders with respect and a kind, gentle spirit.
Clearly, we are engaged in spiritual combat for the souls of men! Apologetics must play a leading role in the battle plan if Christians are to be victorious. Please consider your duty in warfare. May God bless you as we serve the Great Commander, King Jesus!