Sean McDowell | July 2, 2019

How Apologetics Can Change a Life

How Apologetics Can Change a Life

Last summer I spoke at a week-long youth camp. After one of my talks, a youth pastor asked me if I was willing to briefly meet with one of his students. I happily said yes and then quickly learned that the student had been struggling with severe depression for the past 2-3 years.

In these kinds of instances, I always ask myself, “Can I really help? What can I say to genuinely encourage this young person?”

His depression stemmed largely from his parents’ recent divorce and his experience of bullying at school. In a moment of candor, he told me that he just wanted to be known and loved. And yet he had some sincere questions about the Christian faith he wanted to ask me.

I was happy to minister to this young man by trying to answer his questions. But it turns out the youth pastor ministered much more deeply to me. Let me explain.

Relational Apologetics

As I started addressing his questions, it was clear that the youth pastor had personally invested in this young man’s life. In the midst of the conversation he personally told the student how much he cared about him and enjoyed being in relationship with him. And I could tell he meant it.

The student would ask a question, and the youth pastor would often chime in after my response and personalize it for him. At one point he said, “If you want, when we get back home, we can meet regularly over coffee and start working through these questions together. We can read the Bible and an apologetics book together.” The student loved the idea and asked how soon they could start.

I love speaking, teaching and writing. I believe God has gifted me in these areas and I hope to continue to do them for a while. These are part of my contribution to the body of Christ. Yet I also realize that real life change primarily takes place through relationship.

Committing to People

This youth pastor is committed to remaining in the life of this student for the long haul. He is the one helping truth to take root in the soil of this young man’s life. He understands that the “one” is just as important as the “ninety-nine.”

You will probably never meet this youth pastor or hear of his name. But I doubt he even cares. He is primarily concerned with reaching the next generation by being faithful to God’s call on his life.

We all have different gifts. Some get more praise and publicity than others. Yet this youth pastor reminded me that apologetics is simply a ministry that involves relationally helping people find answers to difficult questions. It involves listening to people, building relationships with people, and deeply caring about them.

This kind of ministry is something each of us can­–and must–do.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: