Have you ever had the desire to be an apologist? Here is Greg’s sage advice to get you started on your way.
I get asked a particular question fairly frequently. It’s not a question about apologetics. It’s a question about this kind of work. I thought maybe I’d take a few moments to give you the answer I give when I’m asked, How does one get into the line of work that you’re in?
I take that as a kind of a compliment, in a way, that someone who is participating with Stand to Reason would be drawn to this kind work and want to be useful in terms of the Kingdom in this way.
The simple answer is, It’s not easy to get into this business. If what you mean is, make a living at defending the faith, or speaking on these issues, or writing on these issues, it’s not easy. I’m going to give you a general response in just a few seconds that would be applicable to most people who want to make a difference for the Kingdom in this way, but don’t see an entrée at the moment. The fact is, there is no career path for being a professional apologist because this isn’t a line of work, in the same sense as other careers.
As I look around me at people who are doing what I’m doing, and most of them doing this professionally are men. There are a few exceptions, Gretchen Passantino and Nancy Pearcey. I don’t know that it’s harder for a woman. Maybe it is.
The people that I know that are in the business are able to generate an income that supports them in one of three ways or some combination. That is, you can start your own organization. That’s what we did at Stand to Reason. But I don’t recommend most people do that, and here’s the reason why: It’s hard, and it’s expensive, and it takes a lot of work, and the attrition rate is high. When Scott Klusendorf came to us 12 years ago, he already was part of an organization. He asked us, “How do you start your own organization? You started yours.” And he wanted to start his. I said, “Why do you want to start your own organization, Scott?” He said, “Well, because right now I’m just not doing enough speaking. I want to do more speaking and less fundraising,” which is what he was doing with the organization he was with. I said, “Well, if you want to do more speaking and less fundraising you don’t want to start your own organization because you’ll be doing all the fundraising. It could be harder to get out speaking.” I said, “Find an organization that values your skills and is willing to free you up to do what you do best.” And then I said, “Why don’t you come work for us?” Which he did for several years. Now he has started his own organization about five years ago: Life Training Institute. He decided it was worth the risk to go ahead and do what he needed to do to start anew, do the legal work, and get capitalized so he could buy the computers, rent the room, hire the staff. All of that costs money, and that’s something to consider if you’re considering starting your own enterprise.
Thank God, quite literally, as I look back, there were a whole bunch of things that were in place that were important for the success of this organization that we didn’t realize were in place by the sovereign hand of God that made a big difference for our success and longevity. For example, I was already in radio. I’d been doing radio for four years when we started Stand to Reason and had some local name recognition because of that and a library of articles from radio transcriptions that we could offer as resources.
Number two: You can work for somebody else who has their own enterprise, and there are organizations all over the country. Stand to Reason isn’t hiring right now, so don’t give us a call, but groups like us, and campus groups, and churches that have youth group pastors or associate pastors that might focus in these things could be looking for someone like you. A lot of people who are doing this kind of thing are attached to other organizations that guarantee an income for them, and to some degree provide an audience for them built in, so they don’t have to drum up the business, which is hard when you’re first starting out.
The third option is you could be a professor. That’s kind of a variation of option number two. You can teach to provide an income and the opportunity with the students, and then from that foundation foray out and make yourself available as a speaker or a writer. I think of J.P. Moreland, and just off the top of my head, Ben Witherington, who I just interviewed. They have a situation in the academic world, and this becomes their knowledge base from which they write and speak. That usually requires a Ph.D. It at least requires an M.A., because you can’t teach in the university setting without an advanced degree. That means more schooling for some of you, but that is an option.
Those are the only three options that I know of if you want to make some kind of living at apologetics. But I don’t think you need to do that. I don’t think most people who are interested and gifted in apologetics should do that. You don’t have to get paid in order to do apologetics.
It always has to start that way, doesn’t it? Jesus said, “If you are faithful in”—what?—“small things first, then you’re given larger things to be faithful in.” That’s the right sequence. I started out with a desire to make a difference for Christ and the responsibility to earn a living. And if I couldn’t do them both at the same time—that is, one wasn’t a means to the other—then I would find some other way to make a living while I fulfilled my desire and my responsibility as a member of the Body of Christ to use the gifts that I had to make a difference for the Kingdom. I had a very simple motto: Bloom where I was planted. I tried to take whatever circumstance was available to me. And sometimes that wasn’t much.
When I first became a Christian, within a few months I was living with a bunch of other Christians in a training school in Westwood Village by the UCLA campus called the Jesus Christ Light and Power House. It wasn’t long before I was teaching a Bible study—not because I knew a lot, but because I’d led a couple of people to the Lord so I met with them in the living room on the floor. I taught them what I knew, which wasn’t much, but it was more than what they knew.
Then early on, the following year, at Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach (a very small church at that time, less than 100 people) I was teaching a group of maybe ten people apologetics, or what I knew of apologetics at that time. I didn’t know much, but I knew more than them.
You can make a difference as long as you’re making a difference with someone else with whom you have a difference (here I mean difference in ability). So maybe you know a little bit of theology. Let’s say you know like three theological truths. Well, you can teach those to somebody who know less than three theological truths, or don’t know those three. You can teach them what you know. That means just about anybody can participate as long as you find someone who knows less than you do, and there’s a lot of them around.
Take what you know, take the circumstance you’re in, and bloom where you’re planted. And that is when you learn best. When you’re teaching someone else, you learn it better. It’s very simple. You have a small group. Sometimes your group is two or three people. You have an audience of one, over coffee at Starbucks. You could be sharing, talking, teaching, instructing. You take those opportunities, and you are faithful in those smaller opportunities, and more opportunities will probably come your way.
You may not have an audience of 100 or 1,000 or 3,000. I rarely have that size audience, anyway. But Jesus said, “If you’re faithful in smaller things, you’ll be given greater things.” Jesus wants you to make a difference in small ways. The fields are white with harvest. There are all kinds of need out there, and you’ve been gifted to meet that need. So it stands to reason, to coin a phrase, that you will be used as you become better at what you do by the One who distributes these gifts, God, through the person of the Holy Spirit.
My answer to the question is then, keep your eyes open, and take the opportunities that come your way, look for opportunities. Bloom where you’re planted. Do whatever you can, wherever you’re at. And then watch the Lord work and see what He decides to do with what you’ve done.
As you are given opportunities, be a student of your craft. There are books you can read that help you develop your communication skills. I just read two recently. One is called The Exceptional Presenter. It’s a secular book. Great book. I got some really good things out of it. The other one is called Made to Stick. It’s the idea of how you give presentations that people remember. I’ve been doing it for 35 years, but I’m a student of my craft.
Do you want to write better? Here’s a book for you: On Writing Well. It’s a pretty straightforward title. On Writing Well. The author is Zinsser. He says very helpful things like, “Give to the reader the most information, take from him the least time.” Oh, that’s great. And Zinsser practices what he preaches in that statement because it’s a powerful idea in a couple of words. You want to write like that.
Do you want to be more effective and make a difference, and then you’ve got to be a student. You’ve got to be a student of the information, of course, but you also need to be a student of your craft, your capability to communicate verbally or in writing, and the two are linked. Good writing sounds good to the ear. There’s a certain euphony to good writing. So try to find ways to be better in both.
So if you would like to be a professional apologist, the answer is, if you have a desire to make a difference, forget about making a living at it. That might come later, by God’s grace, but first you have to be someone who’s being a good steward with what you have, and that means blooming where you’re planted, taking whatever you have and whatever circumstances you’re in, and using that, and then growing. You’ll grow better if you are consciously a student of your craft. You’ll expand your knowledge, and become better at how you communicate that knowledge to others, both in speaking and writing. That’s my advice: Bloom where planted.