Month: January 2017

Why Student Apologetics? – Part 4 of 6 – Include Apologetics

The third step in this process is to “Include Apologetics”: You don’t do one shot by bringing in the guest speaker and say “okay, we’re done.” We had the chaplain for the San Antonio Spurs come up to talk to us one Sunday. He was an outstanding speaker and had a great message for us, but that was it. You can’t do that with apologetics. This is a discipline that needs to be fostered and promoted. So you include it as part of a curriculum.

In our first full year with high school students, Sean McDowell helped us kick-off apologetics training on Sunday, with a special service for the students on Sunday afternoon. He challenged the students with his “atheist encounter” role play and we had one specific student, a senior that was one of our pilot students the year before, challenge him on the accuracy of the Bible. He didn’t let her win the argument, but later he confided he recognized that she must have been one of the students trained in apol11062769_10205051371469412_2166579646276651966_nogetics because she spoke in a way that only a student familiar with apologetics would do. Here’s Sean with Danielle and Jarrett, two prior high school seniors that came back from college for the weekend to help us kick-off our first event.

The day after our kick-off event, Monday evening, we had about 20 students. Three nights later it was aroun12195935_10205270659431474_6496620524297698867_nd 40 students. Keep in mind, this was in addition to their regular Wednesday night youth group. These students were making an additional commitment to come and learn. Why? It was something that they had never been taught before.

At this point, you may be thinking “that’s easy enough to do if you have someone in your church that is trained in apologetics and can teach, but our church doesn’t have anyone that can do that.”
The solution is easier than you might think.

There are abundant resources available that can be used to teach apologetics. Most only require that someone facilitate the training. I’ll address resources in more depth in Part 6 of this series.

A good curriculum would include, besides lessons, other activities to reinforce the training. On this site under the “Resources” tab, you will find our complete listing for our first full year of apologetics training for our students. Figure if you follow a school year, you will have about 16 nights of training per semester. The curriculum I’ve created includes 8 lessons and 4 suggested breakout sessions per semester. These can be supplemented with optional activities.

Mix it up. Teach, train, engage others to help. Lectures/lessons, field trips, guest speakers and special events can encourage students to engage and learn much more about their faith and how to defend it.

If you live in a large metropolitan area, see if there are museums that have content that support the study of biblical time or lands. Here in Texas, in Fort Worth, the Tandy Archaeological Museum contains artifacts from various locations as well as the Baxley Archaeological Park which features a scale model of Qumran, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Houston, the Dunham Bible Museum contains a rich collection of bibles throughout the centuries and an operational, replica Gutenberg printing press.
Our guest speakers (not our kick-off speakers) are local. We’ve had our pastor share with students about leading someone to salvation in a winsome manner. We’ve had a former atheist and research astrophysicist visit and share how modern cosmology supports the creation account in Genesis. This was open to the entire church and in addition to our students, about 100 members from the church and surrounding community came to hear her speak. Inviting others to your student apologetics training is how you can instill apologetics into your church. That will be our topic next week.

Why Student Apologetics? – Part 3 of 6 – Introduce Apologetics

Now that we’ve established the reality that the data is accurate and young people are leaving their faith, if there any data that suggests we can reverse the trend or at least have an impact on it?

I’ve been involved with Summit Ministries as a volunteer and go-to apologist for both staff and students.  Summit does a deep 2-week conference each summer in three locations. Last year they averaged about 2,500 students. Let’s look at their data in a report called Turning the Tide, available from their website.[1]

By examining 50 years of their student graduates, they compiled the following chart, taken from their report mentioned above. This first chart reflects the changes in the student’s faith before and after they attended Summit.

Before they attenSummit 1ded Summit, 15% understood world views, after Summit 85%.

The ability to defend their faith went from about 20% to 80%!

But here’s one that’s in support of all the data I’m sharing. Church attendance.  It’s identical. The before-and-after is no different. There’s a lot of students that go to church that can’t defend their faith. They don’t understand world views. They don’t know how to share their faith. Their devotional and prayer life are lacking and only 1/3 of them have no confidence in the truth of the Christian worldview. Perhaps they are the ones that see no issue in co-habitation prior to marriage. If it even leads to marriage.

So let me ask a poignant question. In which column do your students fit?

This next chart is the core Christian values, the six values, as defined by Barna Research.

Summit 2

This chart compares the results of the average American, the average born-again Christian and Summit graduates. Summit grads fare significantly better than the other two groups. Summit grads are above the 90 percentile range in their beliefs regarding core Christian values.

Regarding the six core values, Summit grads hold firm to an absolute moral truth, in contrast to the rampant moral relativism of society today. They believe the Bible is accurate and that both God and Jesus as presented in the Bible are real.

This data supports the idea that the trend identified in Part 2 of this series can be reversed by implementing a worldview and apologetics-based curriculum for your students. So the next question is, how do you start?

The first step is to get buy-in from your church leadership, usually the senior pastor. You will usually encounter three types of pastors.

The first type is the pastor that is already there. He recognizes the problem and is ready to address it. I was especially blessed as this was my pastor.

The second type is the pastor that may be somewhat unaware or unsure, but is at least interested in getting more information.

The third type is the pastor that is hostile to the idea the science, reason and logic have any place in the church. They can be openly hostile to idea that we should teach anything that is not in the Bible. With this type, often the best you can do is give them a copy of You Lost Me and Turning the Tide, and sharing the names of two of the earliest Christian apologists (Jesus[2] and the apostle Paul)

The next step is to share the preceding data. I like to summarize the data on one page, highlighting the most relevant points (see the resource page of my website for an example).  Once you have the buy-in to proceed, it’s time to introduce apologetics to your church if it hasn’t been done before.

The easiest and best way to introduce apologetics is from the Sunday morning pulpit. The more support from the church, the better. There are any number of well-known apologists that can be booked for a Sunday morning or better yet, a Sunday morning and a Sunday afternoon event geared especially to the students. That’s what we did at Hill Country Fellowship. We brought in Sean McDowell and he helped us kick off our first full year of student apologetics. His father, Josh, did it for us our second year.

If your church is smaller and budget is an issue, there are any number of reasonable alternatives that will be discussed in Part 6 of this series. The important point to remember is that introducing apologetics to your entire church will be helpful as you rollout the “Include” part of these four processes to have a lifelong effect on your students. That will be our topic next week.

[1] www.summit.org

[2] Norman Geisler, The Apologetics of Jesus

Why Student Apologetics? – Part 2 of 6 – Identify the need.

Is the often-cited youth exodus real or just business as usual for another generation? The data suggests the former.

Back in 2002, the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life did a survey that said 88% of their young people left the church. Now the survey goes on to say a handful come back, but the bottom line is they leave.

Soul Searching, written in 2005 by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, presented the results of an exhaustive study of approximately 3,300 teenagers between 13 and 17 years of age. Their results were equally disheartening; of those students that claim to be Christian, they “were often woefully unable to express what they believe or why it is important to them.”[1] The cited article goes on to say this is “due to churches failing rather badly in religiously engaging and educating youth.” This study, the National Survey of Youth and Religion, has been funded through 2015.

A 2009 study by Jossey-Bass of youth active in high school drop out of church at an alarming 90% rate. Lifeway Research did a similar study in 2011, and they found that 70% leave the church between the ages of 17 and 19.

David Kinnaman who is now the head of Barna Research, authored You Lost Me, a book that should be mandatory reading for any youth pastor. Kinnaman examines not only the data but the reasons behind the data. Why are they leaving?

While each study cited presents its own reasons, they do tend to fall into six general categories:

  1. The church is overprotective. Don’t believe me? How about the vilification of the Harry Potter series by some churches? Some students are told to avoid certain movies, music and the like because it’s evil. It may well be, but we should teach how to apply discernment to what we consume. Kinnaman states “An overprotected generation has been sold the lie that Christian living means material blessing, automatic protection, and bulletproof safety. Two millennia of Christian martyrs beg to differ…”[2] As the adage goes, we are in the world but not of it.
  2. The church is shallow. “If there was a message it was simple; I wasn’t getting a deeper understanding of my faith. So I left.”[3] Many students echo the findings of Kinnaman[4]:
    1. Church is boring.
    2. Faith is not relevant to my career or my interests.
    3. My church does not prepare me for real life.
    4. My church does not help me find my purpose.
    5. The Bible is not taught clearly of often enough.
    6. God seems missing from my experience of church.
  3. The church is anti-science. Students often feel the antagonism of the church toward science (real or perceived) force them into an either/or decision. It should be an “and” decision as both science and faith are intertwined. The teleological argument for a purposefully designed universe needs modern science on which to base its claims.
  4. The church is repressive, especially as it related to sexuality. Students need clear teaching on issues facing them regarding sexuality.
  5. The church is exclusive. Some churches encourage its students to avoid coming to events held at other churches. While there may be legitimate concerns, often it’s more about “turf.”
  6. The church discourages doubt. Thou shalt not doubt. Thankfully, this didn’t make the list. Yet it remains gospel in some churches. Students are reluctant to ask tough questions because of how they will be viewed by their peers or teachers. Doubt should be encouraged to the point no student is afraid to ask. If doubt remains when they leave their home, they will be more likely to fall prey to arguments against their faith.

So now that the problem has been identified, what is the solution? Apologetics play a central role in addressing the solution and we will begin with how to introduce apologetics into a student curriculum next week.

[1] http://assets.ngin.com/attachments/document/0042/5177/NationalStudyYout_Religion.pdf, accessed 1/10/17.

[2] David Kinnaman, You Lost Me, pg. 105

[3] Direct quote from a student who left her former youth group.

[4] Kinnaman, pg. 116

Why Student Apologetics? Part 1 of 6

I’ve been involved with student ministry in varying capacities since accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in 1998. In those almost 20 years, I’ve seen many students walk away from their faith. It always bothered me. Why did they leave? Were our games boring? Pizza cold? Oh, and what about the messages? Truth is, the competition for our student’s attention has become more intense with the 30-second sound bites, instant access to data via the internet and later, smartphones and a world that has become increasingly secular and hostile toward Christianity.

Don’t believe me? Most of my career was spent dealing with data.  I was a IBM DB2 specialist for most of my career. I started working in the DB2 software development organization, and eventually ended up selling it.

Data is kind of the crown jewel of any business. Whether you’re a bank, grocery store, retail store or pollster, you always ask “What does our data tell us?”

Well data has an interesting characteristic. Data in and of itself is neither true nor false. It is just a fact. Now one could argue that data can be false and you’d be correct. But if you sold 5 widgets and said you sold 10, then the data would be falsely mispresented. Five sold widgets are just a fact, in this example.

So data is important. In the part 2 of “Why student apologetics?” we’ll be digging into some data that shows a youth exodus from the church that some pastors and youth leaders still deny.

I will be presenting four key processes on how to address this youth exodus. And yes, apologetics plays a critical role in equipping students to better grow in their faith, remain strong in their faith and learn how to share and defend what they believe.

In summary, those four key processes are 1.) Identify the need for apologetics in student ministry, 2.) Introduce apologetics to the church at large, 3.) Include apologetics as part of a regular student curriculum and 4.) Instill apologetics as part of the church culture.

In our next installment we’ll look at the data regarding the youth exodus and identify the need for apologetics as a means to counter the exodus.