Let’s say you’ve spent several years studying the Faith and now you want to defend it as a full-time profession. Where do you start? How does someone become a professional “apologist?” Here are three paths:
1. Become a university professor
Professors have the benefit of a stable income as they engage in research, write articles and books, and teach students how to defend the Faith. This is especially true in the theology or philosophy department of an authentically Catholic university.
There are tradeoffs. As a professor, your obligation to teach students and generate academic research must supersede your desire to engage in apologetics. Moreover, in order to obtain a teaching position, you will probably need a doctoral degree. This can require five to seven years of intensive schooling, which may be out of reach for apologists who have families to support.
You should also know that most professors who publish apologetic works do not consider themselves “full-time” apologists. Instead, they identify as scholars who contribute knowledge to their respective fields of study. Their works might have apologetic content, but they are usually penned for fellow scholars, which reduces their circulation among lay people.
2. Join an apologetics organization
My journey to becoming a full-time Catholic apologist took a dramatic turn four years ago when I stepped into the office of Catholic Answers. Back then I served as the respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Phoenix, and I was leading a group of college students on a trip to a marriage conference in San Diego. Since the Catholic Answers office was nearby, I scheduled a tour for the students, but the night before the tour I got a fateful phone call.
A friend told me that Catholic Answers was hiring a new apologist, so I cobbled together a resume and prayed about what should I say the next day. When I stepped into Tim Staples’s office after the tour, I introduced myself and said, “I heard you were looking for new apologists. I’d like to throw my hat into the ring.”
A few months later, after reviewing my experience and seeing how I fared as a guest on an episode of Catholic Answers Live, I was formally offered the position of staff apologist. One reason I was given this opportunity was because I showed Catholic Answers a portfolio that included apologetics material I created and videos showing me defending the Faith on university campuses. And therein lies the difficulty with this path to full-time apologetics work.
Very few Catholic organizations hire apologists or are dedicated to apologetics. Of the few apologetic organizations that do exist, most have limited budgets and rarely bring on new staff members. But even if you find such an organization, and it is hiring apologists, you will need to prove you are worth of a full-time salary. Have you been formally trained in theology or philosophy? Have you published a book or other materials related to defending the Faith? Do you have a well-trafficked blog, podcast, or YouTube channel? Are you regularly asked to speak in your local community or even on a national level?
Most apologists spend years practicing apologetics as a hobby before they are able to engage in it as a full-time profession. That being said, this next path may be your best stepping stone into entering the world of full-time apologetics.
3. Become a freelance apologist
Unlike apologists who work for a university or apostolate, freelance apologists work for themselves and fund their own salaries. Some freelance apologists supplement their income with book royalties and/or honoraria from speaking events. But if you’re just starting out, you probably won’t have the notoriety that is needed to live off this kind of income. In my experience, it takes two to five years of speaking and writing before these activities have the potential to become reliable sources of income.
Another option is to ask family, friends, neighbors, your dentist, and basically anyone you know if they want to pledge a monthly or annual donation to support your work. This model, also called “support raising,” is popular among missionary-centered organizations like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
In 2008, I became a full-time pro-life apologist and joined an organization that could not pay me a salary. But this group did teach me how to raise support, and for nine months I made phone calls, sent out letters, and scheduled meetings with prospective donors. It was tough, especially since I did all of this during the “Great Recession,” but the hard work paid off, and for the next two years I traveled the country engaging pro-choice students on university campuses.
If you choose this path, remember that raising support isn’t easy, and you will have to get used to asking for money as well as having your solicitations declined. I would also caution you against leaving a stable job in order to pursue this kind of fundraising, especially if you have a family to support. This tactic is more common among unmarried college graduates, since they have to raise relatively low salaries; but I know some older, married couples with children who make it work.
Finally, I had the benefit of directing my donations toward an established nonprofit organization with a human resources staff. If you become a self-employed apologist funded by donations, you will need to follow applicable business and tax laws lest you find yourself giving a “defense” before agents of the IRS!
Start small, dream big
I know some of this advice isn’t easy to hear, but don’t let the challenges stop you from pursuing full-time apologetics work, and don’t wait to do apologetics until you have your apologetics dream job.
Before I came to work at Catholic Answers, I was essentially a freelance apologist. During the time I worked for the Phoenix diocese, at night I created apologetics materials, and on weekends I hosted free apologetics seminars at local churches. Once I even cut my own birthday party short to stay up until 3 a.m. creating a response to a viral anti-Catholic video being passed around on Facebook.
I didn’t make these sacrifices because I wanted to one day become a full-time apologist. I thought that kind of job was a wonderful fiction, like a genie or a unicorn. Instead, I did it because no one was else was offering apologetics in my community, and I felt God had given me the skills and the calling to fill that void.
If you feel you have that same calling, then offer your talents to local churches and schools, or make them available to a global audience online. As more and more people recognize your work, they will gradually trust you with more and more speaking or publishing opportunities. As Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10, NIV).
Who knows—after lots of prayer, study, and practice on your part, Catholic Answers might invite you to visit our office to chat about how we can work together to build up the body of Christ and defend the Catholic Faith.