Editorial note: This article is part 3 of a multipart series by Dr. Hikmat Kashouh.
We must not forget that the gospel (the good news) transcends both the preacher and the person preached to. In other words, both the evangelist and the listener are changed and transformed by the power of the word of God.
The story of the conversion of the house of Cornelius (a Gentile centurion) in Acts 10 is too well known to need to be repeated here fully. A key point in that story is that it was not just Cornelius who was converted. Peter’s vision from God led him also to a different kind of conversion. is “second conversion” (to embrace Gentiles as fellow Christians) was necessary in order for Peter to lead Cornelius to faith. Sometimes we too need a second conversion before we can embrace and welcome in those we think of as outsiders.
Transformation is always a two-way street; it never goes just one way. I can confidently say that our church in Beirut was transformed by the ministry to refugees as much as they were transformed by the message of the gospel and the work of the church.
When you think about it, it is not surprising that Peter was the one who had to be transformed first. He was the leader of the apostles, and once he was convinced of the need to reach out to Gentiles, others would follow. In the same way, it was one of our church leaders who took it upon himself to visit refugees who opened the door for our wider ministry.
Transforming the Leadership Team
Sometimes pastors complain to me that although they wish to broaden their ministry, their congregations are not embracing different ethnic groups within the church. My question to them is always, are people from other ethnic groups embraced on the leadership team? If your church in England or Germany or Sweden wants to reach out to refugee communities, are you willing to invite refugee believers and emerging leaders onto the leadership team? Ethnic divisions within the congregation are far more easily addressed when the leaders model unity, trust and collaboration in a multi-ethnic team. …
Transforming the Congregation
Do not make the mistake of assuming that this transformation will be easy. At RCB we found that when the Syrian refugees first started arriving in Lebanon, the congregation and many of our leaders were annoyed and even hostile to them.
One very effective technique for bringing people together is to ask people to give their testimonies. When, for example, the Lebanese hear the testimonies of Syrians or Iraqis during a service or other gathering, they are convinced of the genuineness of their faith and this builds a spiritual bond and develops trust.
Transforming Our Style of Worship
In his incarnation, Jesus became like us, flesh and blood, and moved into our neighborhood. This also means that he physically looked like us. … The church should follow Jesus’s model of integration in order not to look bizarre to its community and be rejected.
Yet as a consequence of missionaries coming to the Arab world in the mid-twentieth century, most evangelical churches in Lebanon today look like mid-1950s buildings in the USA and nothing like the historic Catholic and Orthodox churches of the Middle East. Yet if you look at mosques in the Arab world today, they look similar to the old Orthodox churches and cathedrals, mainly because centuries ago Arab invaders built their mosques on the pattern of the local churches, hiring local Christians to plan and build them, or in many cases, taking over church buildings and turning them into mosques. Church planters today could do well to follow their example—not by invading and taking over other people’s religious properties but by learning about and preserving cultural norms and aesthetic shapes and structure as a vehicle for carrying the word of the kingdom.
Above all, we are to be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, just as the church in Antioch was when it set Paul and Barnabas apart for a new ministry (Acts 13:2). … It is said that “when the wind of change blows, some build walls while others build windmills.” We don’t want to be a church that builds walls when the wind of God sweeps throughout the Middle East.