Tactics and Tools

So You Want to Be an Apologist?

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 09/06/2023

I’m often asked how someone can start a career or part-time apologetics ministry. That question is encouraging to hear. The church needs more people who can train other believers in apologetics. What makes it challenging is that it takes time to study and develop your skills before you can make a living out of it. If you merely want to use apologetics, then you can start today. Grab an apologetics book, explore a website, or attend a lecture. Learning apologetics is a practical step within anyone’s reach. If, however, you want to pursue a career in apologetics, here are eight suggestions that will put you on the right path.

One, develop your writing skill. Writing is essential for apologetics. As you improve, writing will force you to organize your thoughts and help you think clearly. Focus on making complex ideas accessible to your audience. That’s a necessity when you’re teaching about scientific, philosophical, or theological matters. Trust me, your readers will thank you.

Your writing doesn’t need to be book-length treatments or even long essays. Start with short, blog-length pieces that convey a message or make a point. You can always make them longer. One of the benefits of writing is that it’s leveraged work. Whatever you write can be read by others while you sleep. You do the work once, but it continues to train others long after you’ve finished. I suggest reading William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. It’s a classic guide to writing non-fiction and required reading here at Stand to Reason.

Two, develop your speaking skill. Like writing, public speaking is crucial to apologetics. What makes it more challenging, though, is that you must organize your thoughts and deliver them verbally in front of an audience, in a clear and memorable way. Start now, and develop your craft slowly over time. Although not every apologist needs to be a platform speaker, there will be times when you will need to speak in front of a group. Therefore, even if you’re not planning to present in front of large crowds, the skill of public speaking will still be valuable. If, however, you plan on teaching apologetics through public presentations, then mastering the craft of speaking is a non-negotiable.

There are many ways to develop your skill. Find a speaker who excels at public speaking and attend their presentation. Pay attention to what they do and how they speak. If you want formal training, I’d suggest a course on public speaking like CrossExamined Instructor Academy or SCORRE Speaker Academy.

Three, solicit critical feedback. Anyone can write and speak, but few people do it well. If you want to improve at teaching apologetics, you need to ask others to give you constructive assessments of your work. Getting that can be difficult because Christians tend to avoid giving negative feedback to other believers. They’ll simply tell you you’re doing a great job. Don’t settle for false encouragement, though. Find seasoned writers and speakers and ask them to give you constructive feedback. Invite them to read your articles, listen to your podcast, and/or watch your presentations. If they’re not available in person, record your event and send them a video. Ask them to note what you do well and what areas need improvement. This should be a lifelong practice, not something you do only when you start.

Keep in mind, though, that soliciting feedback will require humility. It will be painful, too. You need to be willing to accept that there are many things you do that you do not do well. That’s okay. We all start at the beginning. If you can learn to accept critical feedback (even when it’s not charitably offered), you’re bound to improve. At Stand to Reason, we routinely solicit feedback from each other. Even our president, Greg Koukl, still asks us to comment on his presentations after he finishes. Therefore, make it a regular habit and get used to it.

Four, bloom where you’re planted. Find where God has you right now, and look for ways to serve there. In many cases, that will be your local church. That’s good. Churches need apologetics, and most likely the pastor and other staff are overwhelmed with other tasks. Find a way to teach Christians where you are now. That might be at a Bible study, small group, youth group, or campus fellowship.

Stand to Reason offers the opportunity to start an Outpost at your church or school. This is a great way to take a leadership role without starting an organization. It also helps you learn good apologetics content because you’re responsible for leading discussions. Other ideas include starting a podcast, guest writing for a website, or leading a book club. As you are faithful in the small things, God will open bigger opportunities, which will give you more avenues to develop your skills. In time, you might get the chance to start part-time or full-time apologetics work on your own or get invited to join the team of an existing organization.

Five, engage non-Christians. One of the primary roles of apologetics is to respond to challenges raised by skeptics, atheists, and people of other religious traditions. Therefore, it’s essential to routinely talk to or engage people who disagree with your convictions. This will allow you to practice your skills, refine your ideas, and learn precisely what other people believe.

There are many ways to do this, depending on your current life situation. If you’re at a secular university, there are clubs run by skeptics, Muslims, PETA, LGBT individuals, and many more. You could develop a healthy conversation with a friend or family member. Depending on your work environment, you could engage coworkers (perhaps at lunch or after work). At the very least, you need to engage ideas you don’t agree with, and that could be as simple as reading books written by atheists or reading material written by those who hold views you intend to engage. As a last resort, you could dialogue with non-Christians online, although I strongly discourage that for many reasons, one of which I’ll address in the next point.

Six, build conversational character. An essential but often overlooked trait among apologists is good character. I’m not talking about being a moral or faithful person (though those are obviously important). I’m talking about conversational character and social tact. Apologists must be kind, gracious, and winsome. After all, the most famous apologetics passage—1 Peter 3:15—commands us to make a defense, but with gentleness and respect. Sadly, I often notice apologists acting in ways that are unbecoming of a representative of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:20). They behave in rude, crass, and harsh ways. Online conversations that start out friendly and inviting quickly devolve into snark and condescension. That’s why I’m leery of suggesting online engagement with non-believers. Many internet skeptics are rude themselves, and it takes a lot of composure and self-control to respond every time with grace, love, and kindness.

How do you build conversational character, though? Honestly, I think it’s extremely difficult. You can’t do it without God’s help. Therefore, immerse yourself in the character of Jesus, and emulate him. In his earthly ministry, he was full of truth and grace (John 1:14). When reviled, he did not revile in return but entrusted himself to the Father (1 Pet. 2:21–23). Therefore, be “kindhearted…not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead” (1 Pet. 3:8–9). Pray, asking God to help transform you to be more like his Son.

At Stand to Reason, we also look for practical ways to flesh out this principle. That’s why we’ve developed the Ambassador’s Creed, where we emphasize the importance of traits like humility, patience, fairness, and attractiveness (in conduct). I recommend you read it today and re-read it every quarter.

Remember, though, developing your conversational character isn’t about learning a method to help you win arguments. Rather, your motivation for exemplifying a gracious character should be to represent Christ, even if it doesn’t result in the conversational outcome you want.

Seven, consider getting an apologetics certificate or degree. Depending on how confident you are that you’ll be involved in part-time or full-time apologetics ministry, it would benefit you to study it formally. There are several options around the United States where you can study apologetics either in person or online. Biola University, Liberty University, Colorado Christian University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Houston Christian University, Dallas Theological Seminary, Palm Beach Atlantic University, and Lancaster Bible College are several that come to mind. A certificate or degree from one of these institutions will not only bolster your knowledge and confidence in apologetics, but it will also add credibility to your resume.

Eight, build a platform. As you study and develop the skills necessary to get involved in apologetics ministry, it will be important to build your brand. Having an online presence is an important factor in reaching more people with your writing and speaking. Although your apologetics work might not be global-worthy now, it’s important to lay a foundation for the future when you will want to point a greater number of people to your podcasts, articles, or presentations. Determine the major platforms, and get accounts with the same username at all of them (e.g., I use the same @alanshlemon account name at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). That way, people will associate your personal name or ministry name with the kind of work you eventually will do.

At Stand to Reason, we leverage our work online. For example, I’ll write an article and post it on Stand to Reason’s website. Then, I might produce a podcast on the same topic and post it on social media. Later, I’ll take an excerpt from my article and post it as an Instagram quote. You get the idea. Eventually, you’ll want to leverage a website and social media to your advantage.

These eight steps are a good overview to get you started on your path to becoming an apologist. It would be ideal to find a seasoned apologist who can mentor you through the process. You can gain excellent insight from someone who has already taken the journey and is where you want to be.

I have two final thoughts. First, none of this advice is intended to replace studying God’s Word and nurturing your relationship with Christ. That must be a priority, because without it, nothing I’ve written here matters. Second, remember the role of apologetics. Although it’s a fun and powerful tool, don’t let it overshadow what’s important. Apologetics is not an end in itself. It’s a means to an end. The end is the gospel, the message of reconciliation God offers through his Son. Apologetics is simply a tool that helps remove obstacles that hold people back from the gospel.