As I write this I'm on the east coast on Solomon's Island in Maryland. I've been speaking this week at Southern Calvert Baptist Church and it is one of the best evangelistic events I've ever been a part of in a church of this size. We have seen many saved and many commit to a closer walk with Christ. Yet, what I experienced yesterday spoke directly to me about preaching, evangelism and Christian apologetics.
Near here is the United States Naval Air Station at Patuxent River. On that base is the Naval Test Pilot School. The school trains elite pilots to actually do the testing on military aircraft. Only the best of the best are allowed to enter the school, and those who make the grade will have a heavy burden. Several astronauts were selected from the school including two men who are currently on our space station. There is no room for error. In the words of the Commanding Officer, they have to be both "geeks and warriors." They don't just know how to fly (everything), but they are also academically superior. They will also oversee the production of new technology that may or may not make it onto certain planes or helicopters. Each new piece of equipment must be shown to be of great value since space and weight on the control panels is limited. This I think speaks to the task of preaching, evangelism and Christian defense indirectly in several powerful ways. Namely, preachers and Christian apologists must:
1. KNOW HOW TO "FLY" - Simply put, preachers must know how to preach well. Every pilot that makes it to the test pilot school is already well trained and among the best in terms of his ability to manipulate his craft in the air. All the knowledge in the world will do the preacher no good in the goal of preaching if he cannot communicate his message in a way that connects with the people. There is a move among younger preachers, however, that certain types of preaching (the best in fact) involve ivory tower articulations of the passages they are preaching without illustration, humor, emotion or pathos. This kind of flying is bad. We need to actually connect. If we have all of the academics, but can't make our sermons "fly" then they will crash land on the audience. The same goes for any apologetic presentation.
2. KNOW THEIR "EQUIPMENT" - Preachers need to know their equipment as intimately as these pilots know theirs. There is an alternate movement among some pastors today that implies an understanding of the importance of knowing how to make their sermons "fly" but minimizes the importance of knowing how the "equipment" works. Both are necessary. This speaks to the Christian apologist as well. If those testing the equipment which will serve in defense of our country have to be incredibly knowledgeable about the minutia of their apparatuses then we ministers certainly need to be at least as knowledgable about the facts, biblical data and arguments used in the proclamation of the gospel and defense of that gospel. Though this will annoy some who don't see the value in such academics, the denial of this principle amounts to the affirmation that the defense of the US is more important than the defense of Christianity. I'm a patriot, but I serve a greater kingdom. If we are going to take the defense of our country that seriously, we need to take the defense of and preaching about our faith just as seriously.
3. WEIGH THE COST OF NEW "TECHNOLOGY" - Just as the "geek-warriors" at Patuxent River must get their new technology past waves of scrutiny before it is installed in military aircraft, preachers and apologists must do the same for every fact, argument, illustration, joke and biblical case they will involve in a sermon or presentation. Just as there is limited space on the control panel of an F-18, there is also limited space in any gospel presentation. Much material must be left on the cutting room floor. The CO at the test pilot school explained to me that often they develop or locate technology that they think will be an undeniable upgrade, but for whatever reason it is culled away. I can't tell you how many times I have personally been frustrated when writing a sermon, article or book and discovered that a piece of data or illustration that I was incredibly excited about just wasn't going to work the way I wanted it to for that particular project. The danger of just shoving it all in anyway should be obvious. On a military aircraft the controls will be confusing, the weight will be off, and the unnecessary gear will get in the way of a successful objective. For the Christian minister, the message will be confusing, the weight will be off (meaning that the presentation will go too long or drag the people down) and the unnecessary material will get in the way of the ultimate objective.
Again, we need to take what we do as preachers of the gospel and Christian apologists at least as seriously as military personnel take the defense of our nation. As I left Patuxent River I looked around at the various types of aircraft. They were all different sizes and served different purposes. One well known jet had wings that were actually too short (a design flaw) making it hard to control. Even it served a great purpose in terms of training. They have helicopters that were in use during Vietnam. The CO explained that it's helpful to have older combat aircraft, because we can learn a lot from the designs of the past, even though they don't have all the bells and whistles of the newer models. You can easily see the other obvious analogies here with the differences in individual ministers' gifts and the value of the way aging veterans of the faith designed their own materials. In the end, though, I was inspired. I was impressed with the work being done at Patuxent River, but I was inspired by it to be a better preacher, evangelist and Christian apologist. I hope you will be too.