Apologetics, also known as the ability to ‘defend’ your faith, has gotten a bit of a bad rep over the last years. Many have argued that this generation of young people doesn’t care about facts anymore, that it’s not logic that will convince them of God, but experiences.
At the Youth Work Summit, Ruth McGarahan offered a different and more balanced view. She stated that the fact that we ask young people to leave their brains at the door when they enter into the church is one of the reasons why they are leaving the church in such staggering numbers. Way too often, they cannot give a reason for the hope that’s in them (1 Peter 3:15). As Ruth put it:
We need to help the thinker believe and the believer think
Apologetics still matter in youth work. Young people often have many ‘why’ questions and we need to help them answer them. They want to think critically about their faith and they should, because head and heart have to go together. Sometimes the ‘head issues’ may very well block the heart to commit fully to Christ, Ruth argued.
I agree with her. Having done youth work in an area where the Muslim faith was very much present, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam. These kind of questions matter, because it will help young people get to what the Gospel is really about. Answering questions like these will help them understand that a life with Christ is a relationship, not a religion. Big difference!
Also, if we want young people to become witnesses, they’ll have to be able to explain and ‘defend’ their faith to others. That’s not something that comes natural, they need our help with that.
The basis however is that we lead our lives in such a way that young people want to ask us about the hope that’s in us. Then we can ask them questions to help them articulate where they stand when it comes to Jesus. Asking the right questions is an art, an effective way of showing we care, providing we’ve built a relationship first. Look at what Jesus did, He was constantly asking questions – and answering them.
So where does that leave us as youth workers, what do we need to do when it comes to apologetics? I think there are three take-aways here:
1. Lead a question-inspiring life
This is a given. Our lives must inspire young people to ask questions, they must want to know what makes us difference. If we don’t have that, how can we inspire them to be different?
2. Answer our own questions
Secondly, we must face our own questions and doubts and find answers where possible. Young people know if we are just repeating a ‘church position’ on a certain issue, or of we have mulled it over ourselves and express our own convictions. There are many questions that we need to find a position on, from ‘why does God allow evil things to happen’, to matters like homosexuality or the position of women in the church. And by the way: ‘I haven’t found an answer yet’ is also an acceptable response, there are issues that I have not formed a definitive opinion on, despite studying them. Just don’t avoid the hard questions, find your own answers!
3. Ask tough questions
In my opinion, apologetics is not about answering questions as much as about asking them. If we just tell young people what to think, it won’t impact them as much as when we encourage them to find their own answers. Of course they might need our help, for instance in finding appropriate Bible passages, books, or offering counter-arguments. But don’t just dish out the easy answers, it won’t help them think for themselves.
How are you helping your young people to defend their faith and find reasons for the hope that’s in them? What could you do to help them in this area?