The 2023 Lead>Defend apologetics conference welcomed record attendance Saturday, March 4, as more than 2,000 students, young adults and church leaders gathered at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.
That number includes the more than 700 middle/junior high students who attended Lead>Defend: Foundations which was held for the second year at the City Center, a ministry point located on the south end of the church’s campus.
“Lead>Defend and Lead>Defend: Foundations were incredible. If you want to know if God is working in this generation look no further than 2000 students who showed up in one location on a Saturday to learn about Christian apologetics,” College + Young Leaders Team Leader Bruce Venable said.
A Cooperative Program ministry of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, the event featured nationally known guest speakers and breakout sessions led by a variety of ministry leaders from Arkansas.
Laura Snyder, a leader from First Baptist Church in Rogers, said the apologetics conference is “great.” Their group left at 6 a.m. and traveled more than three hours to the event.
“I think it’s just great for our young people to be exposed to the apologetics,” Snyder said. “It makes them have to think about what they’re taking in and what they’re around and evaluate that against the word of God.”
Looking forward to the worship and breakout sessions on Saturday were Little Rock Metro Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) students Elliyanah Ellis, David King, Kensey King and Sydney Ward.
“It’s good to see that there are other colleges and college kids doing the same thing that you are. You go to the BCM and it’s like a set group of people. They go every week. You see them all the time. Then you come here and are like, wow, there are so many people that are going through this walk with God at the same time,” Ward said.
Bill Newton of First Baptist Church in Hot Springs said students are bombarded with unbiblical messages every day through social media and more.
“This (conference) is an avenue to give a counteraction to that. It gives us a chance to speak into some of the lies they’re being told by culture,” Newton said. “I love it. I got to help launch Lead>Defend when it started. When they started Foundations, they asked if I would help with Foundations. This has gone better than I ever dreamed it would go. To have almost 800 registrations in the second year is just incredible. I think it’s amazing.”
Newton said every believer needs to know the basics of why they believe the things they believe.
“That is commanded in scripture. Previously, there hadn’t been a lot of attention given to that. I am really glad to see that it is beginning to get some traction. I love it,” Newton said.
What is apologetics
One-minute Apologist Bobby Conway, a speaker at the conference, said apologetics comes from the Greek word, apologia, which means to give defense.
“The first time I heard of the word apologetics, I was riding on a freeway in southern California not long after becoming a Christian at the age of 19 and I thought what in the world, apologetics, why are we apologizing?” Conway said.
But apologetics does not mean to apologize.
“It means we are giving a defense. What we are attempting to do with apologetics is to provide a rational defense for the truth or trustworthiness of Christianity so that people can set aside certain obstacles. A lot of times people think that Christianity is just a leap into the dark or we don’t have credible answers to curious questions. Apologetics is we are prepared to have a conversation about the most intellectually robust objections that you might have.”
Sean McDowell, associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and fellow guest speaker at the apologetics conference, referenced 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
“Apologetics is the practice that all Christians are called to be ready with an answer when people ask, why do you think Jesus rose from the grave? Why does God allow evil? How do we know God exists? And other tough questions to the faith,” McDowell said.
Importance of apologetics
The Bible teaches apologetics and models apologetics, McDowell said.
“You see (Jesus) reasoning in John 5-8 with religious leaders. Paul certainly used apologetics. Some of the early Church fathers are called the apologists for defending their faith in Greco-Roman culture,” McDowell said.
Additionally, apologetics give Christians confidence in their faith.
“When you not only believe you experienced God, but then you see, wow, there is scientific and philosophical evidence, it builds confidence for Christians. And I think for many non-Christians with questions it can help remove barriers to faith for those who are open to following truth,” McDowell said.
Conway said apologetics can also help a Christian who is struggling with doubts.
“Suppose you came to a place in your life where you were struggling with some of the objections in the Bible. Like, if God is good, why would he allow so much suffering in the world? Apologetics can really come alongside somebody down the road struggling and that can help you. It helped me during a big season of doubt in my life and apologetics was able to help me know why I believe what I believe to be able to give an answer to these questions.”
In addition, apologetics can help in evangelism.
“The more you are trained, the more you’ll have confidence on how to provide answers,” Conway said. “I kicked off sharing the Gospel when I was in college. I would go out by myself and share the Gospel with 50 to 100 people a week in evangelism. I would just walk on campus and cold turkey go up to people. I had no idea how to answer their questions, but the Holy Spirit would use their questions as my study guide. I would learn and know the answers to those questions, and I started to grow as an apologist.”
Plans are underway for next year’s Lead>Defend conferences to be held on Saturday, March 2, 2024, so mark your calendars and clear your schedule.
Are these apologetic conferences recorded? There’s a lot of folks that need this and it would be a shame to have to wait for an annual conference.
Yes, we do actually record the sessions. We also have our Lead>Defend podcast with interviews from the conference speakers along with other topics throughout the year. We will be posting some of the recordings in the weeks to come on the leaddefend.org website