by Elie Haddad
From September 30 to October 2, ABTS hosted the Middle East Consultation 2021 entitled “Towards a Dynamic Church: Making Disciples, Developing Leaders, and Engaging Society in Lebanon and Beyond.” During the three-day online event, we invited local, regional, and global voices to consider urgent matters of faith and witness for churches. In last week’s blog post, Warrick Farah reflected on day one of the consultation, Disciple Making. This blog post is a reflection on day two of the consultation, Developing Leaders.
One of the things we looked at in this year’s Middle East Consultation is how the Church in Lebanon is adjusting and responding to daunting crises. In the second day’s discussion, we raised questions about approaches to developing church leadership. Two local Lebanese pastors, Jirair Ghazarian and Andrew Salameh (from the Armenian Evangelical Church and the Church of the Nazarene respectively), presented how their churches are developing leaders in response to the growth and increased impact of their ministries. Grace Al-Zoughbi provided a regional perspective, and Perry Shaw a global perspective. I presented a reflection that sought to develop a theological framework for the accounts offered by the two pastors. The highlight of the day was the theme that Grace introduced on the urgency of developing women leaders for the Church in our region and the discussion that ensued. I look forward to Grace sharing her thoughts in a future blog post. This post, however, is mostly based on my theological reflection.
The way the Lebanese Church is responding to the crises is very encouraging. Certainly, not every local church is, but overall, the witness of the Church in Lebanon is demonstrating an inspiring, innovative, and instructive example of how churches minister the kingdom. It is obvious that God is shaping and maturing the ministry and response of the Church these days. In the end, a mature church is not a church that does not face difficulties. Rather, a mature church responds to God’s invitation to join His work in the midst of difficulties. This is precisely what we see happening in and through the Lebanese Church today.
The following are some of the ways that the Church in Lebanon is learning and changing. I am not suggesting that all change is necessarily good. In a recent post, Walid Zailaa observed some unhealthy practices that challenge the Church. However, in this post, I am highlighting what I consider are positive trends.
We find this pattern in the New Testament Church. A crisis hits. The Church responds. God grows the Church. Here are a couple out of many examples:
The context: Peter and John proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. The religious leaders are disturbed. They seize Peter and John and put them in jail.
The result: “many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4)
The context: After the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54–60), a great persecution breaks out against the church in Jerusalem, and all are scattered across Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles.
The result: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4), and there was great joy in Samaria (Acts 8:8).
The Church in the New Testament grew and multiplied during hardships more than when times were good. Even in the Old Testament, we find that God’s people experienced spiritual renewal when things were tough but fell into pitfalls when things were comfortable. The Church in Lebanon is experiencing the same thing today.
Spirit-filled men and women are selected to be leaders. Their character is more important than their skills and reputation. While leaders with a celebrity status are becoming more popular in many places around the world, churches in Lebanon are learning to recognize and favor spiritual character over personality. This is much like what we see in Acts 6 when choosing the seven to serve overlooked members of the church and in Acts 1 while waiting until the Holy Spirit moved the apostles. The Lebanese churches are increasingly looking for characteristics that are more in line with Paul’s lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2.
More and more, churches in Lebanon are recognizing leaders who emerge from within their congregations. God calls, and the church prays and supports. This goes against the popular practice of calling leaders from the outside, much like professional recruitment. The churches in Lebanon are learning to rely on those whom God brings up from within. This is similar to the pattern that we see in the New Testament, such as in Titus 1:5 where Paul writes to Titus: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” The role of elders and leaders in churches is becoming more of a calling than a job.
There is a growing conviction that every member of the church has a role to play. The journey of the leader starts by being observed in ministry, among ministry teams, followed by coaching. This method of apprenticeship is more widely used today, much like Jesus and Paul did. They taught and they modeled.
The Lebanese Church has already come a long way, and its view of leadership is maturing. However, the journey of change is not over. I would like to suggest that more change is needed, especially in the areas of roles and calling.
Although the base of responsibility is widening due to the growth of ministry, authority and decision-making still tend to be concentrated at the top with positional leaders. Developing missional leaders who serve God in the world and on behalf of the Church is needed. This calls for developing a more pronounced theology of calling and a theology of work. This requires moving the understanding from a calling of the few (the ordained, the positional leaders) to the calling of all. Some are called to church-based ministry while others are called to workplace-based and marketplace-based ministry. All should consider themselves called and effectively in full-time ministry.
I suggest that our churches need to bridge the sacred-secular divide. Everything that we do inside the church and in the world, sent by the church, should be done in response to God’s calling. We serve God in the world just as much as we serve Him inside the church. Alongside that, I suggest that our churches need to bridge the clergy-laity divide, to move from priesthood of the clergy to the priesthood of all believers. Every member of the church is called to be a minister and a missionary sent to impact their own spheres of influence, whether at work, at home or wherever God calls. It is in the workplace and marketplace that the majority of the church members spend the majority of their time interacting with the majority of the lost world. Church leaders equip. It is the members who live at the frontline of engaging the world. How a church member can be a minister and a missionary in the workplace requires a lot more discussion and another post. But, at a minimum, this is what Dorothy Sayers suggests as a starting point:
The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself.
This does not mean that there is no need for strong leadership in the church. On the contrary, a wider ministry base requires highly skilled leadership. What this means, however, is that the type of leadership needed is empowering leadership rather than authoritative leadership. Leaders who are coaches-players rather than solo players. Leaders who believe in the multi-gifted body rather than the omni-gifted leader. Leaders who believe in succession planning and in strategically preparing new generations of leaders. Strong leadership that is comfortable with pushing power and decision-making down the hierarchy, or in other words, flattening the hierarchy.
To help bridge the clergy-laity divide, I suggest that the Church in Lebanon revisits its ordination practices. The way ordination is viewed is that it moves people from laity to clergy, into a tier that has privileges, authority, status, honor, and power that the laity does not have. I suggest that our churches practice the laying of hands that we find in the New Testament. The laying of hands is the setting apart of an individual for a specific ministry, be it for church-based leadership or for ministry in the workplace and marketplace. Just like we set apart a leader for pastoral ministry, why not set apart a schoolteacher for their ministry at the school, and a carpenter for their carpentry? The laying of hands would be accompanied by the church supporting, equipping, and praying for such a dedicated ministry in the workplace.
I find that 1 Peter 2:9 summarizes well God’s intention for His Church: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” It is the whole community of faith, collectively, that has the glorious privilege and responsibility of proclaiming the majesty of God.
It is such a joy to see God’s church in Lebanon be transformed by the hardships that it is facing. God is preparing it for greater impact at a crucial time in its history. The journey of transformation is not over yet. There are still many more disciples to be made and more leaders to be developed, especially in groups that have been little impacted by the gospel. I pray that the Church continues to be open to God’s transforming power.
Elie Haddad is the President of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and is passionate about developing leaders, men and women, for effective missional ministry.