by Emad Botros and Bassem Melki
From September 21 to September 23, ABTS hosted the online Middle East Consultation 2022 entitled “Peace I Leave With You: Theories and Practices for Peace Ministry in the Middle East.” A collection of contributors gathered virtually to help us consider how the Church can be peacemakers in times of conflict. To do this, MEC explored the topic through lenses of peace ministry across personal, group, and national dimensions. This is the first article in a 3-part MEC 2022 ABTS Blog series reflecting on the consultation’s sweeping discussion.
We began MEC 2022 with the topic of personal/inner peace, but before we dug deep into our conversation on peace-making, a definition of peace was sought out. The popular understanding of peace as a state of tranquility was questioned. In many cases peace is understood as the absence of conflict or as sweeping conflict under the rug. Rather, peace throughout the consultation was framed in terms of the health of our relationships, a state of complete well-being of a person and not merely the absence of disturbing circumstances.
The biblical understanding of peace touches, embraces, and energizes every possible relationship. We are to live in peace with God, with every human being, with the whole of the natural world (living and inert), and with and within ourselves. In this sense, God created us as relational beings, and these relationships need to be nurtured for flourishing.
These needs contribute to our mental and emotional well-being. For example, we need to foster affection, respect, and appreciation for relationships to flourish. Otherwise, if these qualities are unmet, painful feelings (anger, anxiety, disappointment…etc.) develop over time.
In Middle Eastern societies known for their relational and communal character, the challenge is not so much building relationships but sustaining and fostering healthy ones. This requires intentional investment as part of our discipleship journey.
As we continued our MEC conversations we learned that the wellbeing of leadership contributes to healthy societies. Pastors and ministry leaders face the challenge of burning out and becoming exhausted souls, particularly when they serve in a region where unrest, conflict, and economic and political instability color the map.
Although we know that the most important and essential dimension of our lives is our soul, we tend to neglect it rather than prioritize its wellbeing. The problem in our region is that communities often do not consider their leaders to be good servants of God if they are not overextended in ministry. In this context, pastors and ministry leaders fall into the trap of continuously thinking they are not “meeting peoples’ needs and expectations.”
Based on a study among Lebanese pastors and ministry leaders, we identified the following reasons for feeling constant fatigue: unresolved conflict, lack of control over situations, false expectations, and- at the top of the list- over fifty percent expressed that they get no rest.
This study also raised the question of what ministry leaders can do to sustain their inner peace. It found that the two main two needs of leaders are 1) having a mentor and 2) a sound theology of Sabbath. “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
The Lord promised that the God of peace Himself will “sanctify you entirely, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do this. Will we allow Him to?
We were challenged during MEC 2022 as servants of Christ to remember that the best gift we can give people around us is a healthy, energetic, and focused, self fully surrounded to Christ, and no one can do that for us.
Another challenge presented was the complexity of the self, and to what extent we allow the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to change us from the inside out to bring healing and peace.
Some layers within our being discussed during the consultation were: our motives, weaknesses, limitations, flaws, past issues and traumas, and finally our being impacted by our own shame and honor culture.
Some of the cultural sins that we bring with us into the church unnoticed are envy, judgemental attitudes, masks and no transparency, gossip, and slander. While these attributes are part of human nature, they are amplified and accepted as norms in shame and honor cultures. And therefore, they are rarely addressed by churches.
While we tend, in our culture, to address sins of doings and actions, we can easily miss dealing with these inner issues impacting our actions. Experiencing inner peace can be strengthened by adopting transformational discipleship in our churches that allows followers of Christ to become more like Him.
Peacemakers are peace-beings, peace-doers, peace-fulfillers, peace-causers, and peace-bearers. They take initiative and mandate action. They are restless when conflict, injustice, and evil is around. They are people who are unsettled when their community is lacking any kind of wellbeing. They are at the front lines of building relationships. The enemy, Satan, seeks to destroy relationships and create walls of hatred, fear, and enmity. Let us ask God to use us as His agents for love, healing, and restoration.
Emad Botros is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at ABTS. Bassem Melki is Dean of Faculty and leader of Peacemaking Initiatives at ABTS.