Apologetics conference strengthens foundation of students’ faith in Christ

Lead>Defend participants raise their hands in prayer. (Photo by Ethan Dial)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – More than 1,800 students, young adults and church leaders converged in Little Rock on Saturday for the 2024 Lead Defend apologetics conference.  

A Cooperative Program ministry of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC), the event featured nationally known guest speakers, such as Brett and Erin Kunkle, Brent Crowe, and Kolby King, along with breakout sessions led by a variety of ministry leaders from Arkansas.  

“My goal for the whole conference would be for our students to truly fall in love with Jesus and to truly examine where they are in their walk with Christ, and then to build that foundation that can’t be shaken that Jesus talked about in Matthew 7,” King said during the Lead Defend mobilizer event for speakers on Friday.  

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Photo by Ethan Dial

From the main stage and in the breakouts, all involved are given a biblical worldview on difficult and hot topics. The conference can help students wrestling with their own beliefs and doubts find answers and help solidify their commitment to Christ. 

“We’ve always liked this conference because it does engage [the students] about their faith. It’s a very short drive and it gives them a way to engage in different ways with really good speakers and to think about some deep questions.,” said Matthew Sisson, student and young adult pastor at First Baptist Church in Vilonia.  

While teaching at a Christian school in former years, Sisson said that from the ages of 10 to 12 people tend to start to really solidify their worldview.  

“It really stuck out to me because many times the church tries to prepare kids for college life, adult life, but we only focus when they’re 16, 17 or 18 when a lot of the groundwork with foundations needs to happen to them when they’re younger,” Sisson said.  

“People sometimes debate in the church about when you do apologetics and how much emphasis you should give, and I think apologetics has to be part of the foundation. At some point, as they’re coming through our churches, we have to give them a safe space. Whether they hear it from us or not, they are going to face it, so we have an opportunity to engage them as a family that loves them and wants to not just protect them but expose them in a biblical way.”  

Grand Avenue Baptist Church Middle School Minister A.J. Popa echoed Sisson, saying the students are going to experience opposition and wrestle with their faith.  

Photo by Ethan Dial

“It is easy to know the what, but you have to know the heart of why do I believe what I believe,” he said. “Sooner or later, they are going to have to wrestle with their own faith because there are things in this world they start encountering in middle school, but if they have a good foundation … if you know the why, it is going to have way more impact on them leading on into middle school, high school and college because they have that firm foundation set now.”  

Popa said that is why he is so glad they added Lead Defend: Foundations three years ago, opening the conference to middle school students because “it gives them that firm foundation.”  

Photo by Ethan Dial

“This is the second year for me bringing middle school kids. It’s been really cool just seeing how coming to a conference like this and then having fruitful discussions at dinner times evolves into a deeper kind of conversation about apologetics, their faith and why they believe what they believe,” he said. “It is something else to add to their everyday life that they wouldn’t be able to have if this kind of thing didn’t happen. It allows these students to dive deeper into their faith. It’s easy to say I believe in Jesus, but why do I believe? Why do I believe the Bible?”  

Indian Springs Baptist Church Student and Teaching Pastor Matt Bell and First Baptist Church in Monticello Student Pastor Luke Dawson both brought several of their student leaders hungry for apologetics to Lead Defend.  

Bell said the hope is for their students to be “able to engage intelligently in conversations even with those more difficult or those against the faith.”   

Dawson said as information becomes more and more widespread and accessible to people, apologetics becomes more and more important for their students in sharing the Gospel.  

“I hope the students that we brought here today will be able to have more tools in their tool belt for sharing the Gospel, another avenue for them to expand their ability to better share the Gospel,” he said.  

Lead Defend podcast host Brock Caldwell and guest host Bill Newton, next gen and discipleship strategist with the ABSC Evangelism + Church Health Team, sat down with several of the speakers of the apologetics conference over the weekend. Check out absc.org/podcasts for upcoming episodes.   

Plans are underway for next year’s Lead>Defend conferences to be held on Saturday, March 8, 2025, so mark your calendars and clear your schedule.    

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