Young people are fleeing the church faster than Nickelback fans to a sale on Ed Hardy shirts and Axe Body Spray. As I argued yesterday, the answer, as far as the church is concerned, is to preach deeper messages and to train all Christians in becoming capable lay theologians and apologists. But how?
I recommend every Christian leader undergo some form of formal training in defending the faith. I earned a certificate in apologetics from BIOLA, hope to attend Frank Turek’s CrossExamined Instructor Academy this August and will begin an M.A. in apologetics from Houston Baptist University this fall. I would tweak BIOLA’s distance program a bit but I still recommend it and I have heard nothing but great things about CrossExamined and HBU. I hope you will check them all out.
But for those of you who are self-learners, let me beg you to add the following to your church library and to read them carefully and repeatedly in order to marshall them in training your congregation especially those in your children’s and youth ministry. Now, open up a tab at Amazon or CBD, blow the dust off your credit card and let’s get crackin’.
For your children’s ministry the following books are a MUST:
First, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago (Zonderkids 2007). Children’s curriculum is typically moralistic. They teach silly things like, “We need to be like David and face our Goliaths.” Jesus was clear that all Scripture points to Him (John 5:39-40) and when He made that statement the only Scripture Jews knew was the Old Testament. Thus, every jot and tittle of the Hebrew Bible points to Jesus and the Gospel. Sally Lloyd-Jones has written a marvelous children’s Bible that underscores the Gospel at every point. It is a wonderful tool to teach children the Biblical narrative and the grace of the Gospel, which is what they really need.
Next, William Lane Craig has written a number of great Apologetic and Theological Resources for Your Children. Melissa Cain-Travis and illustrator Christopher Voss have now written two excellent apologetic books for kids. My son, who is 10-years old, loves them! These two are also necessary. I heartily recommend that your children’s ministry work through The Jesus Storybook Bible and then hit these series and then, if necessary, repeat it all again. They are that good!
Be sure to check out various conferences to help train young people. Check out the links to various groups on the right hand side of the blog.
Now, when a pastor sits down to pen his sermon for the congregation, he should, at the very least, have a good study Bible like the excellent ESV Study Bible (Crossway 2008) or the NIV Study Bible (Zondervan 2014). The minister should also possess two good commentaries for each book of the Bible, for, in the words of the great preacher Fred Craddock, “this stuff is too important to be left to your own opinion.”
Pastors also need to consult a thoughtful systematic theology. For Arminians, I would recommend Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology by Thomas Oden (HarperOne 2009). For those in the reformed camp I heartily commend Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan 1995). It seems imposing because of its size but it is actually an easy read. Neither of these imposing works are beyond the grasp of your youth group as well, by the way!
Speaking of which, all youth leaders and pastors also need to read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (Zondervan 1998), The Case for Faith (Zondervan 2000), The Case for a Creator (Zondervan 2004) and The Case for the Real Jesus (Zondervan 2007). Strobel is a gifted writer and, like me, a former atheist with a keen nose for poor arguments. Every Christian leader should also read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace (David C. Cook 2013) for it is a riveting defense of the gospels.
Of course, the objection to the problem of evil is seemingly the most problematic for people of faith but, unfortunately, that is partly due to the fact that few have read God, Freedom and Evil by Alvin Plantinga (Eerdmans 1977) or, of you’re a Calvinist How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson (Baker 2006). I would also heartily recommend Paul Copan’s Is God A Moral Monster? (Baker 2011). The author does a magnificent job of responding to criticisms of God’s commands in the Old Testament.
But how does a pastor train a congregation and especially the youth group into how to apply all this knowledge? To begin with, I hope every committed Christian reads Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Zondervan 2009). The “Columbo Method” is the best tool I know of for training Christians in how to have fruitful discussions about their faith.
Finally, I also heartily recommend Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney (NavPress 1997). My chief objection to the Christian faith when I was a young atheist was that it didn’t work but I wrongly assumed it was easy. I didn’t know about the grace of spiritual disciplines like fasting and silent, contemplative prayer. In my opinion, there is nothing better than on these subjects than Whitney’s book.
My friends, in the end, its all about discipleship (Matt. 28:16-20) for adults and our young people who are so vulnerable. Let’s get to work.