last step

June 25, 2016


Stage 3: Create “How-To” Experiences (last step)

In the Rhetoric Stage—high school age, roughly—it’s time to get the theological and apologetic training out of the classroom and into real life. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, and the rhetoric stage forces students to do just that. Students must learn to take the what and the why of Christianity and communicate it in a coherent and reasonable manner. We need to create experiences in which students have the opportunity to articulate what they believe and why they believe it. Here are three practical examples.

  1. Role-play.

I love being invited to an unsuspecting youth group to role-play an atheist or Mormon. By interacting with my non-Christian character, students are forced to explain and defend their Christian views. Unfortunately, most Christian youth are ill-equipped to do so. Worse, they don’t know how ill-equipped they are. After I thoroughly dismantle their responses through the role-play, the students’ eyes are opened and many are motivated to learn the what and the why. Over time, continued role-play can help students hone their ability to articulate the truth.

  1. Invite guests.

(make sure your students are ready, mature, well equipped and grounded, or you’ll actually have this backfire) I usually reserve this step to young adults or college age, but you will know better with your group. (it’s also harder now with the tolerance police.

Don’t just role-play non-Christian characters with your students, invite the real thing. After teaching your students about the Trinitarian nature of God, invite Jehovah’s Witnesses into your home or youth group to discuss the topic. Teach your students about the nature of salvation and invite Mormon missionaries over for a conversation on the matter. Once you’ve equipped your students with arguments for God’s existence, ask your atheist neighbor to discuss the topic with them. When students are forced to have real-time conversations with real-life people, their learning increases exponentially.

  1. Visit another religious site.

As a youth pastor, I would teach my students about other religions. I knew they would eventually encounter a friendly Hindu neighbor, a kind Muslim classmate, or some other person who held opposing beliefs, but I wanted to be the one to expose them to those ideas first. My strategy was inoculation, not isolation. So after teaching about a religion like Buddhism and offering a biblical and philosophical critique, I would arrange a field trip to the local Buddhist temple. A monk gave us a tour, explained their basic beliefs and practices, and answered students’ questions. Everything the students learned in the classroom prior to the field trip came to life as they engaged a Buddhist monk in the flesh. The encounter was exciting, and it gave students an opportunity to get the theology and apologetics out of the classroom and into a real conversation.

Again, they were forced to articulate the truth, and in doing so, they learned the truth in a deeper and more meaningful way.

Training Must Be Intentional

It’s time to stop bemoaning the exodus of students from our churches and start doing something intentional to stop it. The world is certainly serious about stripping students of their Christian faith. Atheist Daniel Dennett speaks for many when he said, “They will see me as just another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that—that’s what I am, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do.”  8 They’re intentional out there in the world. We’d better get intentional here in the church.

This three-stage plan of training provides a practical strategy that can be implemented immediately. Take it and use it. Build on it and add your own ideas. But do not wait to start training up the next generation. Too much is at stake.

God bless from

I don’t usually include bibliographies, but these books are of such great value I think those that are interested would be really well served by this short list.

This is excerpted from A New Kind of Apologist: Adopting Fresh Strategies, Addressing the Latest Issues, Engaging the Culture, edited by Sean McDowell, Harvest House Publishers

1 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1955), 207.

2 Susan Wise Bauer, “What is Classical Education?” Available online at

3 It’s certainly not the only, or even primary, indicator of academic “success,” but standardized test scores from the Association of Classical and Christian Schools indicate classically trained students clearly outperform their publicly educated counterparts:

4 It is a short 38-page booklet of theological Q & A for kids, published by Great Commission Publications. You can order it online at

5 Of course, this doesn’t mean they won’t begin asking “why” questions earlier or that you cannot begin teaching apologetics at younger ages. But generally speaking, they are most definitely ready to begin apologetic training in fourth or fifth grade.

6 The research was conducted by Kara Powell & Brad Griffin. Read more online at

7 Norm Geisler and Frank Turek wrote an excellent book answering these four questions entitled, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Crossway, 2004). I suggest every high schooler read this book before they graduate. There is also an excellent starter apologetics book for middle school students entitled, Living Loud: Defending Your Faith (B & H Publishers, 2002), that Geisler co-wrote with Joseph Holden.

8 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Penguin Group, 2006), 53.

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