The Table Podcast

Equipping and Apologetics Ministry

In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario and Nathan Wagnon discuss how a church can effectively create and integrate an apologetics ministry into their congregation.

Timecodes
00:37
Wagnon shares his background
05:39
Why should a church have an apologetics ministry?
08:35
What does an apologetics ministry at a church look like?
18:33
How do you properly engage a person who asks questions?
22:58
How can you integrate apologetics into other ministries?
28:27
What are the next steps in creating an apologetics ministry?
31:56
How can a lay leader help their church in apologetics?
39:31
How pastoral should a apologist be?
Resources
Transcript
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And our topic today is helping your church defend the faith. How can we help our brothers and sisters in the church explain the faith to people who see Christianity differently, and grow in their faith in Christ. And my guest in studio today is Nathan Wagnon. Welcome.
Nathan Wagnon
Thanks, Mikel. It’s great to be here, man.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Good to have you again. Second time on The Table.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, right.
Mikel Del Rosario
And your title is a pretty unique one. It’s Director of Equipping & Apologetics, at Watermark Community Church. And do you know anybody else who has Pastor of Apologetics, or Director of Apologetics in their title?
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, not personally, no. I’m sure they’re probably out there somewhere, but I would imagine there’s not very many of us.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. It’s a pretty rare thing, for sure. So we’re happy to have you here to talk about this particular topic.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, thanks, man.
Mikel Del Rosario
And you are a DTS grad.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. THM 2006. I was a New Testament guy.
Mikel Del Rosario
Okay, great. New Testament is my area, as well.
Nathan Wagnon
That’s right, yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario
And what did you do after DTS? And get us up to speed from the time you graduated until you started working in your church now.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. So I was here, actually was in this room. It looked different back then, but was in this room, and graduated in the spring of 2006. And then about a year, year and a half later, I joined the military, which was a pretty significant left turn. If you understand the whole story, then it makes sense. But a lot of people are like, “Wait. You went to seminary and then you joined the military?” And I’d done … I grew up Southern Baptist. I went to a Southern Baptist university, and then I came straight here and worked on my THM. And then I looked at my background and was like, “Hey. I’ve done a lot of different Christian ministry things. But they’ve always been in the context of a Christian environment.”

And so … and I wrote my thesis on The Great Commission. So was thinking about, “Hey. How do you do incarnational ministry like Jesus did in a totally secular environment?” And a mentor of mine here, Andy Seidel, pushed me toward the Army. And I looked at it and was like, “You know what? I think that’s what the Lord’s got for me next.”

So, I went into that, and it was a massive culture shock. I went from … I literally went from going on an expedition with the Center for the study of New Testament manuscripts, to basic training.

Mikel Del Rosario
Oh, wow. [Laughter]
Nathan Wagnon
It was like, “This is very different,” academic work to the Army. But I found that the Lord really used that time. I was an infantryman, and deployed twice to Afghanistan, and just got a broader sense for what was going on in the world. But then also what was going on just in our military with those young men and women who are serving our country. And I was able to lead Bible studies, and lead people to the Lord, and then just had a very incarnational in it type ministry while I was there.

And after my second deployment my wife got pregnant with our first child, and it was like, “Hey. You know what? I’m probably done being shot at, so let’s transition.” And so we moved back here, and I started my Doctorate of Ministry in discipleship and spiritual formation at Biola University. And then I’ve been on staff at Watermark the whole time that I’ve been doing that, so about six years, as the Director of Equipping and Apologetics.

Mikel Del Rosario
Now was that something in place before you got here? Did you apply for that job?
Nathan Wagnon
I was at Watermark, which Watermark was really young when I was there while I was going through seminary, while I was going through DTS. And so I was a lay leader, and pretty heavily involved before I joined the military. So when I came back I had a lot of relational connections there. I came back, and the position did not exist. The ministries that I now oversee existed in some form, but didn’t have a whole lot of oversight from a staff perspective.

And so when I came back, I remember the very first day I came back, my boss at the time, Blake Holmes, who’s now our campus pastor, came and got me. He was like, “Hey, we’re gonna go meet these guys.” And we sat down with the Apologetics team at Watermark, which is this group of dudes with a handful of women thrown in there. And it was like, “Hey. You’re gonna lead this team.” And I was like, “Okay.” So here we to. And that’s when we really started to form a lot of the Apologetics ministry at Watermark. That’s a whole other story that maybe we can get into in a minute.

Mikel Del Rosario
About how many people work with you right now in that ministry?
Nathan Wagnon
We normally have between 22 and 24, we call them facilitators, who oversee our Monday night ministry where people can come in. It’s like a living room environment. And they can come in, and it’s an open forum. You can ask whatever you want. So we never know what people are gonna ask. They just come in, and it’s fair game. So it’s a lot of fun.
Mikel Del Rosario
So when we think about the whole concept of apologetics, of defending the faith, we have the positive side where we give people reasons to believe. We have the more defensive side where we help people answer challenges, work through challenges that they’re maybe going through in their own minds, times of doubt. How would you explain to somebody if someone were to ask you, “Why do you have an apologetics ministry, an equipping ministry at your church?” How would you explain the importance of that in terms of how that fits in the church mission?
Nathan Wagnon
My first thought is, if you’re doing evangelism, then you’re gonna be doing apologetics. You don’t go up to somebody who doesn’t believe and just be like, “Believe,” and then they just believe. That’s not how it works. So, … And I think one of the reasons that we’ve been able to have a strong apologetics ministry at Watermark is because our senior leadership has pushed forward a very strong community ethos of evangelism. So if you go to … Probably if you’re listening to this or if you’re watching this and you know somebody who goes to Watermark, or you’ve heard of it, then you probably, at least at some point in time have heard them talk about Jesus, or share their faith, or … It’s just evangelism is a high value for us. It’s not aspirational, it’s real.

And so a lot of this, a lot of our Great Questions, which is the title of our apologetics ministry, a lot of our Great Questions ministry was born out of just necessity, because everybody’s sharing their faith. And so, of course, you share your faith, and somebody asks you a question, and you don’t know the answer to it. And so you’re like, “Uh.”

Mikel Del Rosario
We’ve all been there.
Nathan Wagnon
“Help, please.” And so, we just built a team that not only equips our body … we do equipping stuff for our body … but also just provides that area where we’re like, “Hey. If you don’t know the answer, then bring them to us.” And that’s really the majority of our apologetics ministry is born out of our members who are active in personal evangelism.
Mikel Del Rosario
How much of the ministry is split between the more evangelism side, for seekers, for people with questions, people in other religions, vs. the discipleship side, that’s the more equipping side?
Nathan Wagnon
It’s disproportionate toward the skeptic. So, we tell people, we’re like, “Hey. This is for people who … two categories. One, questions are keeping you from a relationship with Christ, or two, questions are keeping you from growing in your relationship with Christ.” So either people who are considering Christianity, or are having a crisis of faith. So that’s who we target.

And so the equipping side of it, tends to happen a little bit through some courses that we teach. But the ongoing, week in, week out ministry is to people who don’t yet believe.

Mikel Del Rosario
Okay. That’s awesome. So you mentioned Great Questions. So that’s the, you can ask any question you want for people, atheists, people of other religions. What about the other offerings you have? Tell us about those.
Nathan Wagnon
We really view Monday night is what we’ve already talked about where people can come ask whatever they want. And we really view that as a front door, because we can have … in fact this summer, we’ve had high numbers, between 30 and 50 every single week come in. And that’s … we try to keep it small, because … think about it. Maybe you went to church as a kid, and then you’ve stopped going to church, and you did 20 years worth of whatever. And then you come back and maybe Great Questions is the first time you’ve stepped in a church in 20 years, which is not super common, but it definitely happens. People come in and have been away from the church for a long time, or people who have never been in church at all.

We have a lot of international students here in Dallas. Dallas is very much a cultural melting pot from around the world. So we’ve had all kinds of students come in. And this was not only their first encounter with a church, but their first encounter with Christianity. And so it’s a … we try to keep it as small as possible, as the least amount of intimidation. And so when you have a room full of people, and you want to ask a question, then it’s intimidating to raise your hand in a roomful of 50 people. So we try to keep it really small. And we’ve found that that has worked.

But we found that that also is, really that time is like the front porch, or the front door to really get into the relational space with people. So we encourage and we follow up with people to say, “Hey. We’d love to buy you coffee or lunch or a meal, a breakfast, whatever. We just want to hear your story.” Because, as you know, you do apologetics, you can answer somebody’s questions. But I tell people all the time, I’m like, “Hey. You’re not actually answering a question, you’re answering a person. And the person is asking a question.”

The question is actually very quite secondary. The primary deal is who are you? What’s your story? Where did you come from? What shapes the way that you think about the world and God? And not just what you think about him, but how you think about him. And does that line up with scripture? And you just can’t know that in an initial meeting. And so we really try to cultivate relationships with people so that we’re meeting with them outside of that Monday evening expression. That’s where the real work, I would say, of apologetics is going on.

And so that’s really the … those are two sides of the same coin for us. But that’s the … yeah, that’s apologetics for us there at Watermark.

Mikel Del Rosario
Listening is such an important part of that, whether it’s having a meal with somebody. And it’s really important to allow someone to share their, not only just their story in general, but their own views, once they start opening up to start telling you their views on God, on Jesus, on the Bible. We miss out on that sometimes if we’re too quick to just try to give people answers to what we think they’re asking. But they are really giving us a window into their souls, and really where their heart is at when they share. So that’s amazing that you guys get to take that time with them outside of that Monday night.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. And we would … I would say that probably one of the greatest failures … or maybe that’s too strong of a word … one of the greatest mistakes that I think a lot of evangelicals make is we think of evangelism as like closing the deal. So these weird things start happening. You start to feel like a used car salesman, ’cause you’re trying to push people towards, “Yeah, but do you want to pray this prayer?” Or whatever kind of expression that takes. Do you want to accept Jesus? And unfortunately, Mikel, I think there’s a lot of people who are trying to push toward that because of insecurities in their own lives. Their spiritual life, a lot of times, is deficient. And so they’re trying to fill that void with ministry activism, so that they can raise their hand and go, “See how the Lord used me,” so that they can get this sense of self worth.

And that expresses itself, a lot of times, by people who don’t listen. They’re using the space, when someone else is talking, to formulate in their own minds how they’re gonna respond, instead of actually listening to what the person is saying. And what I would say to that is, we don’t get to do that. Jesus has called us to love people. And that looks like treating them with value and worth, because they are valuable, and they do matter to God.

And so you’re not talking to … When you do apologetics or evangelism, you’re not talking to somebody who’s another notch in your belt. You’re talking to somebody who’s made in the image of God, who’s deeply loved by God, who deeply matters. Their story matters. Their views matter. And so, yeah, we don’t get to just mow over people. We have to love them.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. And people can sense right away. If you’re treating them like a project, they can tell. That just shuts down communication. And how did you think about I Peter 3:15, our command to be prepared always to give an answer to anyone who asks us about the hope that we have in Jesus? But do it with gentleness and respect.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. That part gets left out an awful lot.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. And, the whole context of I Peter 3, how did God … what was God’s attitude toward us before we had embraced him or his message, and why can’t we be like that with other people? That’s how God was with us.
Nathan Wagnon
Well, it requires somebody to take their personal walk with Jesus really seriously. You can’t just … we have to get away from this superficial Christianity. But I go to church, I do these things. I’m checking these boxes, but the actual substance of a vibrant, healthy relationship with Christ, a lot of times is missing for people.

And so, I would say they’re like, “Hey. How do you do evangelism? How do you do apologetics? How do you do these things?” The first thing I would say is, “You gotta get close to Jesus.” There’s a way that you can do these things and do them apart from the energizing work of the holy spirit. It’s called legalism. But there’s a lot of us that fall into that. As opposed to, that’s not the ultimate aim. I’m never asking myself, “How can I do evangelism today?”

The question is, how can I agree with Jesus? How can I walk with Jesus today? ‘Cause I promise you, if you get close to Jesus, you will do evangelism and apologetics, because if you follow him, he’s leading you to … he’s saving the world. So if you’re near him, that stuff will absolutely spill over and you’ll be involved. But then, you’ll be involved not in your own strength. You’re gonna be … he’s with you. And you’re co-laboring with him in the gospel.

Mikel Del Rosario
So, when it comes to the people in the church who you’re trying … you’re trying to train them to be able to give those answers. What are some of the classes that you offer, both in the Sunday school hour, vs. outside Sundays? How does that work with you guys?
Nathan Wagnon
We’ve taken advantage of technology, and understanding that the vast majority of people … we were talking about this before we went on … a lot of people are consuming content online. So YouTube or podcasts or anything like that. That’s the in thing right now. So the question is not, well, are they gonna do this or not? They are doing that. The real question is, how do we meet them in that content consumption where they are? And so we’ve developed one of our … we used to call the core classes, but now they’re just equipping courses … is called Answering the Tough Ones. And we take six of the most commonly asked questions of the Christian faith and take about 90 minutes for each question, and walk them through like, “Hey. Here’s the issue. Here’s how you need to think about this. Here are some points that we would encourage you to push forward in a conversation.”

But then there’s also this piece in that course that is not just this is the information, it’s also coaching people on how to have the conversation, how to engage the person. Because that’s just as important as the content. We could talk about that more if you want. I could get on a soap box, but I’ll spare you guys. That’s just as important. And so we’ve taught that class, and then now it’s available on a cohort base online. So anybody can take it in the world, as long as you have Internet access.

And so we try to utilize that, and then we also do a lot of different seminar type things. Dr. Bock’s been with us on a handful of those. And whether they’re seminar style or a conference or … we’re pretty consistently throwing apologetics content at our body. But I would say Answering the Tough Ones is the primary one that we push people toward, if for no other reason, if it just gets the conversation started with them, it whets an appetite, then we have a ton of resources we can throw to people as they’re like, “Whoa, I want more.”

Mikel Del Rosario
So you were talking earlier about … maybe we will get into that … the way in which we engage is so important. When people have questions, one, if they just have questions in their own mind, wrestling with their own doubts, there’s the answer, so that you don’t have to lie awake in bed at night, wondering how can there be a God when there’s evil in the world? But then also, so once you get the answer for yourself, how do you share that answer with somebody, knowing that the question they’re asking might come from five, six, seven different areas in their lives where they’re seeing dysfunction, where they’re seeing the effects of sin? You might be taking a pastoral route before you actually answer the evidential problem of evil…
Nathan Wagnon
Totally. A story comes to mind. We were, Monday night … this was a couple years ago now … but there was a woman who came in, and she had come a handful of times before. This is an open forum. You can come as much as you want. And she had come a couple of times prior, and had asked all of the major questions that a Muslim would ask of the Christian faith. So, it was the text been corrupted? Did Jesus really die on the cross? Those types of things. And so we answered all of her questions. When you’re in the room with those people … my radar’s always up. What’s actually going on here? There are unicorns out there where, whatever they’re asking is actually what’s driving them. But they’re few and far between. Most of the time, as you said, there’s a bunch of stuff behind what the questions are.

And so I was just aware, and I was praying, ’cause we pray a lot. I was like, “Hey, Lord. What’s … how do you want me to interact with her in this moment?” ‘Cause there’s 20 other people in the room. And so I called her by name, ’cause she had been there. I was like, “Hey. Let me just ask you a question. I feel like you’ve asked a lot of different questions of us, and I feel like we’ve given you pretty satisfactory answers. If we haven’t, please let us know, ’cause we want to clarify. But I just want to ask, what’s behind this? What’s driving this?” And the room got real still, ’cause everybody’s like, “Oh, snap. It just got real, man.” And it also got really quiet, ’cause she started to cry. And so I’m like half going, “Okay. Now we’re getting somewhere,” and the other half of me’s going, “Oh, dang it. I just made somebody cry.”

And so it was real still for a little bit, and she finally said, “I actually think you guys are right. I want to believe this, but my husband is Muslim, and I’m afraid if I convert to Christianity, he’s gonna kill me.” And now all the smoke and mirrors of the questions are gone, and you’re dealing with the actual problem. And so we … There was a girl in there with us who has a degree from Dallas Seminary in counseling, which is great. And so I asked her to step out with her and spend the rest of the time just a focused one-on-one. And we labored with her.

But that just illustrates … You don’t ever want to be weird about it and be like, “Hey, what are you really asking me?” But you do want to be sensitive to the holy spirit, who could be in that moment drawing that out. And so, you just have to … it’s an art form. You have to listen and be sensitive to what’s going on.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. One question I like to ask is … just another way to put it … is of all the questions that you could ask about God, why that one? It’s a fair question, right?
Nathan Wagnon
It’s good.
Mikel Del Rosario
And then just, you mentioned prayer. Sometimes … it’s so basic, but sometimes it’s overlooked when someone says, “I want to get apologetic into my church,” and they whip out Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig. They just want to teach that class. But where is God asking you to step in? First of all, where has God placed you? Whether you’re in a small church, whether you’re in a large church, whether you’re on staff or not, where is God asking you to step in? And just ask him and just pray about it.

How would you handle integration? You said you just throw apologetics content at the body wherever you can. Do you do integration in terms of, do you reach out to, like for pulpit ministry? Can you get apologetics into there? Women’s small groups? Youth? How do you integrate that?

Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. So again, I would say … and this is a really critical point that I would encourage pastors who are listening or watching this. We have a saying around Watermark. It goes like this. I don’t know if we came up with it or not. I’m just repeating what I’ve heard. Average leaders think in terms of programs, and above averages leaders or great leaders think in terms of values. So a lot of times people are gonna go, “Man, we need an apologetics ministry,” whether it’s because they think it’s cool or in vogue or whatever it is. And they’ll be like, “We need an apologetics program, so let’s start a program.” And I would say, don’t ever do that. Why? Just because you start a program doesn’t mean that that, all of a sudden, becomes a value for you.

Instead I would say, heat up the value. Don’t just start a program. Heat up the value. And the value is, are you sharing your faith? That’s the critical question. And if your church is not active in evangelism, don’t start an apologetics program. Teach your church to share their faith. And you do that by a bunch of different means, but primarily by modeling it for them. That’s a core principle in the Army. You don’t lead from behind. You lead from the front. You don’t tell the people, “You gotta need to be sharing your faith,” and then you don’t ever share your faith. So the way we champion this at Watermark is … I don’t know if you’ve ever met our senior pastor, Todd Wagner. But that dude, he’s just a … he’s a thoroughbred when it comes to evangelism. That’s one of the unique ways that God’s gifted him. And he’s just always talking about sharing his faith. And that’s real. I go to lunch with him, or I’m out with … and he’s always sharing his faith. And so you feel bad if you don’t, because you’re with him and you’re like, “I didn’t share my faith. I’m sorry.”

But that’s real. And so it spills over. And so a lot of our ministries, whether it’s our apologetics ministry, or our marriage enrichment ministry, which has a lot of people from outside the church come in, ’cause their marriage is on fire, and they’re like, “Help.” Our recovery ministry, regeneration is similar to that. And so people will come in, and they don’t know the Lord. So, as you share your faith, then apologetics just becomes a necessary ministry, because there’s a bunch of lost people around. And isn’t that the way the church is supposed to be?

And so I would just encourage people to think about it in terms like that. Don’t start a program, heat up a value. And as you heat that value up, you can’t stop. You will have to have an apologetics program, because there’s just people laying everywhere. It’s like, “Well, we gotta help these people.”

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. You think about one of the earliest apologetics for Jesus as Lord and Messiah in Acts 2. Peter’s doing it in the context of sharing the gospel.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, that’s right.
Mikel Del Rosario
And all these people get saved. We don’t ever … I always like to remind myself and people who are in apologetics ministry, our goal isn’t to get people to assent to intellectual truths. We want people to have the power of God in their lives, encounter God, and to follow him, and really have an authentic relationship. That’s the end of the thing. It’s not just you get to assent to the Christian worldview, and now I’m happy. That’s not the point.
Nathan Wagnon
There’s plenty … as you know … there’s plenty of people who believe that Jesus is who he said he was. But that doesn’t mean they’re regenerated by the holy spirit. And I would say, too … this has been working on this in my doctoral program … but there’s a bunch of people who can easily agree with a set of doctrinal propositions. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve experientially or emotionally connected to the truth of the gospel.

And so you want to do … in fact I ask people in our interview process when I’m interviewing people to join the team, which is not an easy interview. I’m like, “Hey. On a spectrum, do you tend more toward the rational side and just cogent arguments and convincing people from that stage or from that perspective, or do you tend to be more pastoral where …” And really what we’re looking for is somebody who is a good blend of both. They’re able to pastor people, and also be able to hang with them, intellectually, as they’re asking very good questions that people need to be asking.

Mikel Del Rosario
So when you take the value, then you heat that value up in your church. That’s … well, step one, I suppose, is prayer. That’s a basic, but sometimes we need to mention that. So pray.
Nathan Wagnon
Oh, you definitely should. ‘Cause there’s a lot of people who do all this stuff and they don’t rely on the holy spirit. That’s a problem.
Mikel Del Rosario
It is. So then you heat up this value in your church, and it starts to them spill out into not just a class that you’re doing, but it’ll be in the pulpit, it’ll be in youth ministry, it’ll be in small groups. What would you say would be the next step for someone who, let’s just say someone’s on staff, and they have the ability to do this. We’ll get to the lay leader later. So what would be the next step after that?
Nathan Wagnon
Well, you’ve definitely gotta find your champion. Once the value is heated up, then you’re looking for the guy who is already doing it. So you’re … Don’t ever put somebody in leadership who’s not already doing what you’re asking them to do. That’s not a good thing. So, you’re looking for that guy who’s like, “Hey, whether y’all do this or not, I’m here.” And you’re like, “Alright. We can play with that.”

And so you’re looking for that guy who’s gonna be your … he’s a gifted, visionary, godly leader who’s gonna carry the flag. And you can see them. Once you heat values up like this … you know the old adage … the cream rises to the top. And the people who are just messing around and playing games, they’ll fall away. The people who are like, “No. I’m serious about this,” they’ll stick around. And so with them you find your team.

I would say especially with apologetics, there’s a bunch of different people that are interested in it, because most of the time, in my experience, it’s because they want to know how to answer questions, but aren’t really equipped to do so, which is totally fine. That’s where they are. I’ve got equipping opportunities for them.

But for the people that you want leading the apologetics ministry, they need to have thought about these things. The need to have been trained in some way. They need to have a good baseline understanding of this is what’s going on with this. And then you begin to deploy them. Our very much, one of the bedrock verses of our equipping ministry at Watermark is Ephesians 4
12. He’s given us as pastors to equip the saints to do the work that he’s given them to do. It’s their ministry.

And so, even though I serve in our apologetics ministry, I’m not there every single Monday night. I help behind the scenes to equip our team, to help organize the team, all that kind of stuff. But at the end of the day, when the actual ministry happens, I’m just another voice on a team of 22, 23 people. And so we’re deploying people, and not doing it for them. We say all the time, “If you’re doing the ministry for your people, then you’re doing it wrong. You’re in the way.” And so, get out of the way. [Laughter] Stop. Get out of the way. Let them go. God’s called them to do that, so …

Mikel Del Rosario
That is our jobs, to equip people for works of service, not to try to do everything ourselves.
Nathan Wagnon
And when you do that, good luck trying to take that ministry away from them. So then, we don’t ever have to worry about volunteers, do we have enough people? Those are not issues for us, because when people own something, then they’re bought in.
Mikel Del Rosario
I think one of the crowning glories of a minster who’s able to move from one ministry to another is when they move, the whole thing doesn’t fall apart.
Nathan Wagnon
Totally. Absolutely.
Mikel Del Rosario
You did it right. It doesn’t rise and fall on you. It’s God’s ministry and not yours. These are God’s people. He loves them more than you do. So.

Well, okay. Let’s transition to now, there’s a person who is in lay leadership in the church, and they want to get their church onboard with this kind of thing. They see the need. They’re not really sure, “Who should I approach? Where should I start. God’s put this burden on my heart. I’ve prayed about it.” What advice would you give them?

Nathan Wagnon
Would start by saying, “Hey. Good for you. You can do your ministry whether or not the program exists in the church or not.” And so the first thing I would say to him is keep going. There may not be a structured program for you to plug into at your church, but that’s okay. God didn’t say, “Hey. Here’s your ministry. And, oh by the way, here are all the prerequisites that have to be in place in order for you to do your ministry.” No. He just called you to do your ministry. And so number one is be faithful to Jesus, regardless of what that looks like. Whether it’s here, or whether you’re traveling for business, or whether … Your ministry is not confined to a specific location or expression. You’re an apologist at your church and at your workplace and in the airplane while you’re traveling, and on the bus. It goes with you wherever you go. And so that’s the first thing.

The second thing I would say is, if you do see a need, then I would approach a staff person in the church and say, “Hey. I’ve seen this need. Here’s how I’ve been a part of the solution, and I would love to see us maybe address this need in a certain way. I’ve got some ideas about it.” There’s also … this happens quite a bit at Watermark … there’s also this sense of don’t ever raise an issue if you don’t have a solution. There’s all kinds of people that gripe and complain about, “Well, we need to do this.” And so a lot of times, especially people who are new, ’cause if you’re not new to Watermark, then you know not to gripe and complain about that stuff, ’cause a lot of people will be like, “Man, why don’t we have this?” And our answer is, “Why haven’t you started it?”

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, go ahead.
Nathan Wagnon
Like, “What are you waiting on?” It’s funny how, when the person who, “Why don’t we have this?” And then you tell them that, they’re like, “Oh, uh, uh, uh,” and they’ll immediately backpedal.
Mikel Del Rosario
Some people feel like they need permission to do something, but isn’t it true that ministers love, would rather, instead of somebody saying, “Why don’t we have this kind of apologetic study group?” would come up to you and say, “Hey. By the way, I hope it’s okay, but I’ve been doing a study of Greg Koukl’s Tactics at my house for the past three months.”
Nathan Wagnon
I love it. But see, that’s what we look at. We find the people who are doing that, and we’re like, “Awesome. You’re on my radar. And how can I come around you and support you?” And so I would just say to probably for the lay person who wants to get this started in a church, or have some kind of expression of this in their church, sometimes you’re gonna run across a staff person who might feel threatened by that. Like, “Hey. I’m doing this. Do you think we should do this?” And they’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We didn’t say that that was okay,” or whatever.

And I would say that as long as the Lord’s got you there, then it’s like a Daniel leading up to his king where he’s like, “Uh, you know what? Okay. I can play by whatever rules we have. That’s fine. I’m flexible.” You can still do your ministry. You don’t need permission for that. And then I would say slowly, in appropriate ways, continue to raise the, “Hey. I feel like I’ve got a good solution for this.” And then, at some point though, there is a time where it’s like … if the church is just like, “No. We’re just not gonna do that. We don’t value that.” Then I would say at that point, I think it’s time to start looking for new leadership. Not necessarily at the church. Don’t usurp people and kick people out.

But at some point there is a time where it’s like, “You know what? I don’t think this is optional for me, so I’m gonna shift to a local expression of the church that is gonna meet my values where they are.” And I think that’s totally fine. I wouldn’t … don’t start there. But I think, after a process of working through it, I think that’s totally appropriate.

Mikel Del Rosario
It’s always good, I tell people to … Greg Koukl, we had him on the show recently.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah. He’s a friend of mine. He’s good.
Mikel Del Rosario
He likes to say, bloom where your planted. And I like that. So not everyone has to be a debater. Not everyone has to be leading up their own apologetics ministry. If God has you leading little book study groups at a coffee shop, and that’s your ministry, then God bless you in that.
Nathan Wagnon
Oh, yeah. Please. That’s what we need more of. That’s the grass roots kind of stuff. Because it’s relationally driven. You’re across from the table from somebody who has real questions. And it’s okay if you don’t know the answer to their questions. That’s one of the things we say. I tell our team all the time, “If you don’t know the answer to the question, just say, ‘I don’t know.’ And that’s a perfectly acceptable answer, response to their question. But just make sure you follow it up with, ‘Hey. I don’t know. But why don’t we explore that together?'” Now you’ve just created a relational engagement with somebody where instead of trying to …

‘Cause a lot of people do. They feel like … This is one of the ways that Koukl, I think, has been really helpful form me in that book, Tactics. He’s like, “A lot of people feel the weight of all of Christendom on their shoulders to respond.” It’s like, “Oh, I’ve gotta have … I’ve got this awesome response.” And he’s like, “No, you just need to put a stone in their shoe.” This stone in the shoe principle, where whether it’s a response or the way you engage with them, where they walk away, and it’s like a little … you ever have a pebble in your shoe, and you’re walking, you’re like, “This is annoying. I gotta get that out.” And a lot of times that stone in the shoe principle is the getting it out is to come back around, to circle back around. People will come back and be like, “That’s really interesting, what you said there.” And so you don’t give them the final answer. You might just give them a piece of the answer, and they’ll come back and want more, for sure.

But those grass roots, across the table from people kind of ministries, that is apologetics. So don’t think of it like debates with professional people. There’s very few people who do that. And I would say that, while that is an expression of apologetics, it should not be the dominant one. The dominant one should be the conversation you have with your neighbor, the conversation you have with your coworker, the conversation you’re having sitting across the table with somebody.

And if you don’t know the answer, say that. Invite people into an engagement. And then there are plenty of resources to pursue the answer to that, including us, and including you guys. Email us, call us. We’d love to help.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Just getting somebody to the next step in the conversation, even just getting to the next conversation, there is even a next conversation, that’s a step in the right direction right there. We don’t have to pretend to have all the answers, or feel like now I have to defend the entire contents of the whole Christian worldview, because someone just expressed a view I disagree with.
Nathan Wagnon
Man, who can even do that? [Laughter] Dr. Bock’s not here, so he can’t even do that. Nobody has all the answers. But, we do know the way. And Jesus is like, “Hey. Bring them to me. I got them.”
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. And Jesus is the way.
Nathan Wagnon
That’s right.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s awesome. When I was a youth pastor in San Francisco, there was a guy who was an atheist, married to a Christian. His wife became a Christian and they started going to the church. And they were going to the church for four years. And after awhile he told me, “You know, Mikel, I pretty much have all my questions answered. The only thing I have to ask myself now is do I want to give control of my life over to someone else?” And when you get someone to that point, where’s the next step? You’re moving out of equipping and apologetics and you’re moving into now a more pastoral role. Do you handle that within your ministry, or do you give them to the counselors?
Nathan Wagnon
No. We … If we can’t handle that question, what are we doing? That’s … Typically the way that we handle that issue is, again, you’re recognizing that, “I’m not the solution to your problem.” And there’s a lot of transference that can happen in those moments, where people are looking to you to be the answer, or to give them a final answer or to, “Take all this angst that I’m feeling away from me.” And actually, I think the holy spirit is using that angst to create tension points in that person’s life to force them to choose. And so you’re recognizing that that’s going on.

And then, at the same time, I think a counter question to that question is … or to that statement … I’m not really ready to give up control of my life, I think I would just ask them the question like, “Well, yeah. It may be costly to give up control, but what does it cost you not to?” And most of the time people have a very pervasive sense of their own brokenness, and they realize that even though they functionally try to be God, they’re not very good at it. And a lot of times, just asking those probing questions to pull that up from underneath the surface, to just go, “Hey. That’s totally fine. You don’t have to give up control to God. That’s one of the miracles of creation is that you do have a choice. However, that choice has consequences. And oh, by the way,” saying this as gently as I can, “how’s that working out for you?”

I told a guy just recently, who is walking away from his faith, which is really sad. That’s … Being in this position, too, you see people who do that. And I just told him in a very … he’s angry at a lot of things, and the last correspondence we had I just said, “Hey, man. I love you. God loves you. He loves you more than you’ll ever know. And when it gets to the point where you can’t take this anymore, then we’re waiting right here. We’re here. You’re going … The thing that makes me sad is you’re going down a road that I know it’s not gonna end well. And I think you probably know it, too.”

And so you just love people. You love them unconditionally. You look at them and say, “Hey, man. Yeah, you don’t have to give up control. But that’s not gonna go well. And when it doesn’t go well, I’m here for you.” And that’s when I think, because when the stuff hits the fan, and people do come back to you, they come back and you’re able to show them, “God never left you. He’s not mad at you. He’s not trying to,” another thing we say a lot is, “he’s not trying to rip you off. He’s trying to set you free. But you do have to get to the point where you’ve gotta let him. You gotta give up control.”

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. God does that a lot, doesn’t he? He just goes, “Well, you want to go your own way. I’m here when you’re …”
Nathan Wagnon
He does it because he loves us. And also he does it because we force him to. We don’t cooperate with him. And a lot of times, too, I’ll ask this in apologetic type conversations where people are like, “Well, why did God do this and that?” I was like, “Well, there are somethings, like we’ve said, are beyond our ability to comprehend.” But, a lot of times, though, it’s like, “Hey. I wonder how, when we respond to him in rebellious type ways over an over and over again, how does that make him feel?” So putting flesh and bone onto this kind of abstract God, really helps people, which is … maybe that’s what the incarnation was all about. I don’t know.
Mikel Del Rosario
So tell us a little bit more about how people can get in touch with your ministry, and then the resources that you mention that anybody can take these online classes, and things like that.
Nathan Wagnon
You can email us anytime at greatquestions@watermark.org. That’s our catchall email address. But it gets monitored, and we do respond to people’s questions like that. And then, I would say, if you want to … an easy, since I’m here on your podcast, then I’ll give myself a push … is our equipping podcast has a ton of apologetics type episodes on there. So, I would encourage you guys to check that out. That’s called The Equipping Podcast. And then also the Answering the Tough Ones course. You can go on our website, watermark.org/equipping and you’ll see our equipping courses, and that’s one of the equipping courses you can take.

Again, they’re online cohorts, so there’s people … I think we have … we’ve got 19 or 20 different states represented, and then some people in Guam, and then some random dude in Australia. It’s like taking a course. I don’t know. He must know somebody at Watermark. But there’s people who get put into these cohorts, and then you walk through the content with a cohort online. So I’d encourage people to check that out as well. But if there’s any way that we can serve the church, obviously we are a church, but if we can serve the church, equip them, resource them in any way, or just encourage them, be a sounding board for them, we’d love to do that.

Mikel Del Rosario
Awesome. Well thank you so much for being on the show. We appreciate it.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a pleasure.
Mikel Del Rosario
Good to have you in the studio again.
Nathan Wagnon
Yeah, man.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, we thank you so much for joining us here on The Table once again. If you have a topic that you would like us to consider for a future episode, please feel free to email us here at The Table. And our email address is thetable@dts.edu. Again, that’s thetable@dts.edu. And we hope you will join us once again on The
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Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion through his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
Nathan Wagnon
Nathan began his journey of discipleship to Jesus as a child and consistently grew in the context of a strong Christian family. After graduating from Ouachita Baptist University and Dallas Seminary he joined the United States Army. After his second deployment to Afghanistan he began to sense the Lord leading him into vocational ministry which brought him to Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX in 2014. At Watermark, Nathan serves on the equipping team where he trains people to use their gifts for the kingdom of God. He is married to Margaret and has two sons, Nate and Miles, and one baby girl, Jules. He enjoys traveling, snow-skiing and hanging with friends.
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