27 Oct, 2022 Introducing “Why Christians believe Christianity to be true”
We’re excited to announce that a new resource is on it’s way.
It is called ‘Why Christians believe Christianity to be true’ – and we’ve created it for a reason!
- Re what was created – the resource needed some uniqueness to it – and to have notable value for outreach – otherwise there was no point.
- Regarding the reasons for creating it – it was primarily created in view of TWO ‘GAPS’ we had identified in the outreaching efforts of the NZ Church as a whole in mind – noting this is the primary objective of our wider work.
This blog is a ‘strategic document’ – outlining our thinking, purpose and intent – noting was not for a resource or its use – but to do something in view of a much wider needed change.
Here’s the thinking behind the resource…
The resource itself was written/created to hold 3 objectives in balance
The objectives that needed balancing in what was created were:
- Something to suit non-believers. The series was therefore to never claim Christianity is true – but instead to explain why Christians believe it to be true. This is a ‘gentle and respectful’ tone (1 Peter 3:15).
- Something to suit the young – noting a specific need for more discussion on these topics in our churches.
- Something considerably holistic – not merely answering some questions, but actually explaining, from God to Jesus to today, why Christians believe this faith to be true.
The primary writing challenge was to present a coherent and defensible argument (with an older thinking person in mind) – yet with simplicity suiting a youth.
For the process
In 2011 I (Dave) wrote 20,000 word summaries on each of 7 copies from my research into them
- …which were reduced to 10,000 words
- …and then very painfully to 5,000 words. However, too much of the needed breadth of thought was lost. The project was therefore postponed – pending clarity to assess what to add back in.
- The result (completed in 2022) was 6,000 word booklets (on average) – with endnotes.
- …then summarised into the 2000 word video scripts.
What was not achieved: A reading age of 13+. These are better suited to age 16+ (though in our testing of the resource, we did have 13 and 14yos read and understand them – but we think the were good readers).
What was achieved:
- Videos suiting age 13+.
- Booklets for age 16+.
- A ‘gentle and respectful’ tone that avoids certain assumptions, never coercing the reader etc… therefore well-suiting non-church audiences.
- A significant scope of content – beyond what most would ever consider – yet all very concisely conveyed.
- Presentation that explains points through stories and illustrations rather than statements.
- Videos that are creative and only 15mins in length (Suiting easy use in small group / discussion groups).
- Booklets that are graphically visually appealing.
- ALSO – a resource that will be FREE online – with printed booklets available for sale.
- A partnership with RightNow Media – for international promotion.
- And discussion guides that are strategic from an educational / discipleship point of view (results matter!).
Regarding why the project was undertaken – while the resource has clear potential uses with non-church people, and can suit discussion within churches by both youth and adults – two ‘gaps’ motivated us.
Identified gap #1: Very little talk in and through our churches on why we believe our faith to be true
Our churches have, in general, neglected the area of ‘apologetics’.
In terms of our general attitude as NZ churches toward ‘apologetics’ , it became viewed as argumentation. Argumentation doesn’t work in a postmodern society – so we abandoned our interest or diligence in understanding the sound reasons for believing this faith.
Our members became ill-equipped as a result.
We suggest this general ‘neglect’ was reflective of a misinterpretation of the cultural changes we were looking at. No one is to blame. We were all in the journey together. But in hindsight…
- With the rise of ‘postmodern’ thinking in our culture – rejecting the idea of truth, the public asked less questions. However, this didn’t mean they didn’t still have those questions!
- Consider the decades of scepticism poured onto our faith via public media and education. Our culture AS A WHOLE reached a place where it became GENERALLY ACCEPTED that our faith had been PROVEN to be false!
- So there was no point in asking questions!
The role of discussing ‘reason for faith’ therefore needed to shift from answering questions – to raising questions.
- The need is to INTRIGUE people – to therefore raise the question in their minds – so as to then discuss it.
To note two cultural factors.
- We live in the most rational wider civilisation in all of human history!!! We will be ill-informed were we to think that discussing the many sound reasons that exist for believing our faith to be true had become irrelevant.
- If we note the Apostle Pauls approach – he reasoned with people wherever he went. He tried to ‘entice’ and intrigue them. IN Acts 17 it is notable how much he did NOT say about the gospel in his first talk (which the chapter records a summary of). With skill he (a) applauded their spiritual interest (b) found a bridge in their inscription ‘to the unknown god’, (c) pointed to the plausibility of a Great God who was over the entire creation – who had no regard for man-made idols, and (d) then intrigued them further by claiming this God had visited earth and proven his identity by rising fro the dead. Many were intrigued – and therefore interested to talk with him more on another occasion.
- The current generation of young people are MORE interested and open to discussing the Christian faith than the prior generation – and the prior before that – and the prior before that. You can see a very brief summary on this data in an article at our Godtalk.nz website here.
I think we misinterpreted our culture. While the word ‘apologetics’ is maybe wisely changed to ‘reasons ministry’ (this is how I describe it) – the learning is vital.
The change is in HOW we communicate reasons for faith, not in the fact that we need to do so as a part of our witness in a highly sceptical culture… …that is also stealing our youth and our adults!
Our widest hope (‘Goals #1’) with this initiative is therefore to catalyse conversations amongst key Christian leaders on this very topic.
- ‘Reasons ministry’ needs a restoration in all of God’s Church.
- Concurrent equipping on storytelling – to help church leaders, and then their members, master the ART of storytelling, with Christian content, in public square settings, is then we would suggest a needed focus.
- We have thoughts / inspiration / teaching on this
- We will likely create resources in the next year to two – similar to the conversational outreach equipping resources (see the ‘Because We Care‘ video series or pulpit and small group resources on the same) already created. We believe this specific area of equipping and inspiration is strategically concurrently needed to aid a restored voice of witness from our churches in our society!
As always, we invite leaders to consider the strategic rationale and importance of what is stated here. If there were 100 things we could do to strengthen outreach, which 5 would we focus on at the united Church (pastors’ group) and denominational levels – and why?
- Also, in what order, and why?
We suggest HABITS (not programmes) are the first priority
- …through which SPECIFIC areas of equipping can be considered. (All of this sits with the ‘areas of equipping – which does mean catalysing certain HABITS is the logical prerequisite)
Identified gap #2: The attrition of young adults from our churches.
It’s widely recognised that about 2/3 of the young in our churches leave in the approx 18 to 22 year old age bracket.
I’ve read various studies on the topic across the past 30+ year – and the disturbing part is that the pattern hasn’t changed, while there are things we could do!
Regarding priorities for us as the united Church – with our mission in view, it makes little sense to invest so much energy in outreach when our ‘back door’ is wide open! Addressing this attrition is therefore a growth strategy – in and of itself!
In considering why the various studies on this have made little difference – I wonder if a sense of emotional defeat sits within many of us as Christian leaders.
- We are concurrently very good at talking sometimes – while not actually so good at leading in a way that produces change (even though we like to think we are all good leaders).
- If I had to make one statement on this it would be that leaders are made not born. Put differently, the key for a disciple is ‘choice’, while the key word for a disciple-maker (leader) is ‘intentionality’. What I suspect we often lack is INTENTIONALITY in our leadership – to do the things that are needed to generate lasting change. We instead do what gets us approval, or what we’re told to do by others, or what we saw others do – so we’re imitating. Clear thinking, with a results-orientated measurement in mind, is rare – because it’s costly.
- Specifically, it requires discipline – while we all would naturally rather ‘go with the flow’ or ‘do what we feel is needed at this moment’ – which we might call ‘following the Spirit’s leading’, or ‘staying in our land using our gift’ (therefore neglecting simple leadership things we could and maybe should do if we are in fact the key leader of a congregation, aka the ‘pastors’ / Vicar/ Minister).
Regarding why young adults are leaving – amongst the many and sometimes bizarre explanations I’ve read or heard on this topic – I see three core dynamics.
- Some lack a personal experience of God sufficient to convince them their faith and connection to God is true and real.
- Many struggle to find solid reasons to hold onto their faith in the face of (a) the arguments of secular humanism . atheism from Secondary and Tertiary educators and peers, (b) a growing awareness of the other religions, and (c) the challenging perception that Christian morality is itself prejudicial.
- Many lack the Christian support structures needed to stand fast when confronted with the various moral and other temptations of our day. The need for those in rural towns to move to cities for Tertiary study is a big factor.
There is no one thing we could all do to stop the attrition. However, it remains that there things we could do that would lessen it!
Our hope is therefore to see this resource getting into the hands of every young adult in every church in NZ!
- This begins to address an immediate problem
- This can catalyse a wider conversation with a wider hoped-for ‘augmentation’ of perspective in view.
As an article – you could end here. If you are a pastors or pastors’ group convenor or denominational leader, the below outlines an approach to changing the culture within us as the Church – to see us better positioned to engage in our society.
Re building a CULTURE of knowledge re ‘reason for faith’ to our churches:
I suggest this thought to be of particular relevance to ‘senior’ church leaders – meaning pastors’ group convenors, and also the leaders of denominational and similar support organisations to our local churches and their youth ministries. The only way to catalyse broad change is for key leaders – each in their network – to be aligned in simple but truly sensible goals
The two words ‘sensible’ and ‘simple’ define a specific criteria by which any wider strategy could be measured. These words aren’t said lightly. True change isn’t plausible if strategies don’t meet this criteria – and in a truly ‘superior’ / authentic / ‘far above average’ kind of way.
The best strategies will be HABITS rather than programmes, and that are built into what we already do – rather than requiring extra work. They will be about training our leaders to lead with intentionality – rather than randomly, or based upon what they feel on a given day (no matter how that is spiritualised).
Habit based strategies are the most effective for catalysing actual change!
1. USE RESOURCES LIKE THIS TO EQUIP OUR OWN PEOPLE – AND THEIR CONVERSATIONAL SKILLS
As a habit (though this is the weakest of the points here by far) – using ‘current’ resources and ‘programmes- when they have momentum due to the fact that they are ‘new’ – can aid momentum.
- To be clear – this will always be noting more than a ‘temporary fix’
- However, momentum generated could then be leveraged for the more important longer-term conversation. This is the momentum that a leader needs – if generating longer term changes is the goal.
I consider Karl Faase’s ‘Belief Blockers’ series and then ‘Jesus the Game Changer’ series in recent years – our own ‘Because We Care’ series, and Doug Pollocks, ‘God Space’ series – and also the ‘Long Story Short’ series.
- Each can equip in its season
- All could have been leveraged for wider purposes – in their season.
- Also, where reason is seen in repeating use of these – I suggest the leader might be both genuinely WISE and a genius, in need of wider recognition. Education (discipleship) is not achieved through teaching something once!
- (I note especially with regard to the ‘Jesus the Game Changer’ series that no equivalent resource exists, while this is truly essential knowledge if a Christian wants to be able to stand and speak in a winsome way in the public square, pointing toward faith things – while having secular and religiously sceptical ‘audiences’ applaud them!)
So it is noted also – God has given the NZ Church as a whole a ministry that specialise in this whole areas of ‘reasons. Thinking Matters is our only national reasons ministry – bringing conferences to half a dozen of our cities annually, with some of the world’s best speakers on a number of culturally relevant topics within that mix.
- This ministry needs valuing more – as reflected in attendances at the conferences.
- There is nothing else like it.
To note it – the ‘Why Christians believe’ discussion guides have been created with educational / discipleship theory in view. We encourage that this be investigated – which is easily done by taking a thoughtful read through one of them – to consider what doing what is suggested might achieve from an educational point of view.
- The way they are shaped is not random, or just for a ‘good feel’
- (People remember 10% of what they hear, 40% of what they say and 60 to 70% of what they do – so the guides focus on getting people saying things, and then doing an activity which forces them to do the same, but specifically through short stories with questions as the ‘mode’ of communication, in role-play conversations).
- It is with intentionality – to ‘make disciples’!
2. HABIT: GIVE TIME ANNUALLY IN SUNDAY CHURCH SERVICES TO SHOW SOME BASIC FAITH Q&A VIDEOS
This is very, very easy to do – while from a discipleship (educational) point of view, the rational of doing it has strong merits.
- As a habit, across 5 weeks of each year we play one short Faith Q&A video during the offering time. We then encourage people “Answers to exist – ask your questions – seek out answers to your questions”.
- What is achieved?
- People not only hear some reasons for faith.
- They are reminded that they can (a) be confident in their faith – because reasons really do exist to support it,
- and are encouraged by you (b) to then go and find answers for the questions they or their friends have (which they could even discuss in their small groups).
3. HABIT: GIVE TIME BI-ANNUALLY IN SMALL GROUPS / ANNUALLY IN YOUTH GROUPS TO DOING THE SAME
As a simple pattern (and habit), ‘reasons for faith’ becomes the topic.
- 3 to 5 questions coudl be considered each week.
- (1) the question is raised,
- (2) members discuss their answers in small groups – then share,
- (3) a Faith Q&A video is played from the internet
- (4) members compare their answers to the one in the video. This can be fun!!! (And it equips everyone in the process).
Wider changes, and therefore also effectiveness in our public engagement as churches, rests principally within the HABITS we embrace as leaders! It’s a potentially profound insight.
In summary, we’ve been neglecting communication on the reasons for faith in our discipleship, and in our witness. We have likely paid a price for this in
- the attrition of youth and young adults,
- the attrition of adults – who haven’t walked their faith sincerely due to lingering unanswered doubts,
- and in the confidence and boldness of all of our members to engage faith conversations in the public square.
We genuinely could change this – in one congregation, as also in God’s Church.
We hope our new resources gets good use,
is useful for current learning
– but that is also then leveraged with view to the wider issue and need…
…being leveraged for the long-term strengthening of both our discipleship and witness as churches,
through the discover of HABITS we come to see there are good reasons to embrace
– which really do have the power to generate long-lasting and broad-reaching change!
God’s Church is amazing!