Right before we returned to Lebanon the ministry we were returning to split in half.
I have been part of three churches that have closed and two that have split in half, and in every situation it has caused a rippling current akin to a death and divorce all wrapped together. So when I heard that the ministry was splitting in half as I was preparing to return to the Middle East, a cold chill gathered at the base of my neck and I thought, “Not again.”
Instead, upon our return, I found something remarkably different than I ever could have suspected.
From the beginning of our ministry in Lebanon one of our core principles has always been that our outreach center is not a church. Our passion is to light a fire under the local church so that they would, for the first time, embrace evangelism and discipleship to those who are not from a Christian background and who are not Lebanese. We want the local churches to work together as a single organism in order to battle the forces that bare down against them. The challenge is that each church is in competition with one another, even within denominations, to be the best ministry in Lebanon and all are threatened by the competition of other local leaders.
So who is the person that we sent to bring unity to the disconnected body of believers? A singing carpenter.
Our worship leader, named Boutros went from parish to parish asking each pastor to come and preach to the refugees at our center. Everyone was happy to meet with a lowly carpenter, because he couldn’t possibly be a threat to anyone’s ministry. One by one the pastors came and saw what they didn’t think possible. There were hundreds of Christians freshly delivered from Islam praising and worshiping God. There was ministry being run by lay people of over a dozen different cultural backgrounds who shared only a passion to reach the lost.
When these pastors came to our staff and asked them what they could do to help they were all told the same thing: “Steal our sheep.”
Steal our sheep. They’re not ours to begin with; they are God’s sheep. So who are we to lay claim to them, and this ministry is really the job of the local church. Initially God used us to bring them into the kingdom. Then God began using local Lebanese leaders to disciple these believers. The churches went from looking down on Syrians to embracing them and are now able to boast about entire services filled from wall to wall with refugees from around the region.
Finally, something happened that we had been praying about for years.
A local church started its own refugee center in our neighborhood of Naba3. Those of our staff who were members at this church went fully equipped to start a new facility and continue the work of evangelism to the lost that we had begun.
This could have broken our ministry.
Half of our staff just quit and went to work at a center “in competition” with us just next door! It could have brought dissension. It may have even caused some to fall away and never return to worship. That has always been my experience and was my fear as soon as I heard what had happened. Instead when our leadership was approached by the church to let us know of their plans we were exuberant. The plan all along was to help the local church wake up.
Instead of dividing the ministries, now both centers are overflowing.
This has allowed us to enter into a season of discipleship. Those who remain at our location are ready to go deeper. Meetings that began with 50 people are now 10 meetings of 5 people each. Home ministry is increasing, and we are able to dig in and raise up the next wave of believers to bring people to Jesus. God is using this season to heal my heart as well. Instead of being heartbroken at the pain and loss of a church divided I can sit and saturate in the hope of glory shown through smooth transitions like this. God wants His family to work together and when they do the gates of hell cannot withstand it.