Friday, January 24, 2014

A Word About Reaching Pastors [Jay Watts]

In recent Q&A sessions at apologetics conferences, the question of pastors and apologetics has come up multiple times. Unfortunately, it usually comes up in the context of an adversarial relationship. A gentleman commented to me at one talk that pastors are afraid of apologetics. One seminary student even asked me if I thought pastors were lazy and that is why they don't like apologetics; either general apologetics or specifically pro-life apologetics.

I hate how everyone always paints in such broad negative strokes when talking about pastors. Do you see what is wrong with that last sentence? Most people reading this do not fall into the single category I offered as representative of everyone. It may have irked you a bit to be lumped into such a broad generalization. It is unfair.

I offered that to illustrate that we need to be careful about how we generalize in discussing any particular problem as it pertains to other people. Pastors are people, and people vary. There are dishonest pastors, lazy pastors, and craven pastors that refuse to confront the issue of abortion for fear of negative feedback.

There are also honest pastors doing the best they can to impact a congregation that resists the leadings that are most important to their pastor's heart. There are pastors tired, disappointed, and spiritually defeated by years of investing in the lives of a flock that seemingly never changes. There are pastors less afraid of making people angry than they are of inadvertently hurting the women within their congregations that are suffering from the pain of a past abortion. They know those women are there.

In light of all of this, I offer these items of advice to help us all process how we can approach pastors to work together in using apologetics to serve the body of Christ.

Remember that ministers and pastors are constantly approached by people looking to use the pastor's influence within their congregation to further personal causes. You are one of hundreds of people that petition them; both from within their church and from the outside. All of these petitioners believe that their issue is the most important issue.

Instead of using the pastor to further your goals, find a way to demonstrate to the pastor that the proper use of apologetics serves his congregation and helps him accomplish his goals. Help him to see how apologetics reach men often disenchanted with church. Help church leaders to see that apologetics answer questions our young people raise while struggling to reconcile the faith of their family with the secular world that dominates their lives. Apologetics help me to temporarily root my faith in rational arguments while I wrestle with doubts birthed through emotional difficulties. These are uplifting outcomes that good pastors want to see in their churches.

Encourage pastors that are afraid to confront abortion, out of fear of hurting people, that doing so offers the opportunity to further the gospel within their flock. We know that people are hurting as a result of abortion already. Properly addressing the issue opens the altar of God to men and women struggling with the pain of a past abortion. Some have heard clearly that abortion is wrong but have not heard as clearly that the grace and mercy of Christ is sufficient for forgiveness. They carry a burden that God never intended them to carry and that he desires to lift from their weary shoulders.

Other women have been so encouraged by a “tolerant” society to believe that they have done nothing wrong that they struggle to reconcile this assertion with the depression and loss that they feel. A fellow speaker at a conference recently shared that when a counselor finally simply stated her abortion was wrong and explained why she didn't feel judged; she felt released. Her pain made sense in that context. She stopped worrying that her inability to “just get over it” indicated a personal weakness or psychological failing on her part.

We have done wrong, all of us. Our intuition that things are not as they should be is correct. We have all sinned before God. And yet, he offers unmerited grace and forgiveness through the death burial and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ so that whosever confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their hearts that he was raised shall be saved. There is no finite sin so terrible that it cannot be forgiven through Christ. It is surprising how often those who regularly attend church and even serve in ministry need to be reminded of that truth. Many men and women working in ministry approach me after presentations to thank me for helping them to finally accept God's forgiveness. They only needed someone to open the altar of God for them with the dual message; abortion is wrong and God forgives our sin through his unmatched love.

Finally, it may be wise to both (1) develop a preliminary plan or vision for accomplishing goals so that they can see how their involvement will produce kingdom focused results and (2) be willing to adapt your plans in light of incorporating them into a larger vision provided by the church leadership. Failure to do these things represent to two shortcomings I commonly see.

I know many congregants with fantastic abstract ideas like “apologetics are great and you should use them or let me teach them”, but they offer no insight at all into how that translates into genuine impact. Ideas and passions are great, but sooner or later we must turn our attention to the serious and difficult job of motivating people toward a vision. That is hard work so give some thought to how you intend to do it.

Even worse than that is the church member or para-church ministry that shows up at the pastor's door with an idea, all the time making it clear that the only way the pastor or leadership can avoid falling into the category of coward, failure, or slothful impediment is by doing things exactly how the group or individual deems it needs to be done. This is not how we work together to further the kingdom. This is how we further discourage men and women who already live a life of spiritual assault the likes of which most of us can't imagine.

We can't offer apologetics and pro-life advocacy as the solution to everything the church is doing wrong and expect the church to embrace it. We must offer our service to the church to advance the work of the body of Christ in a lost and dark world and within our own congregations by the full and wise use of all the tools God has provided us to better serve Him.

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