Discipleship often leads to more people coming into the kingdom of Christ. This increase requires selecting leaders. People commonly select leaders using filters such as prior relevant experience, number of followers, and education. Though these filters have value, using them alone can lead to missing some very good people.
The common filters mentioned above would have, at the beginning of their dealings with God in the Bible, ruled out as leaders: Abraham; Moses; Joseph; David; the eleven good disciples; Paul; and Jesus. Without them as leaders we have no father of faith, no Israel, no Law, no reason to write the New Testament, no salvation, and no way to recognize God. Though extreme examples, choosing God’s way matters.
There have to be better filters than the common ones, or at least other ones that will not exclude God’s chosen ones. This is especially true in contexts where there are few Christians – contexts in which there is little to no opportunity to gain experience, followers or education.
A way to select leaders in a Muslim context is to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit. I discuss this further in Discipling Muslim Background Believers. Following the Holy Spirit is not always easy, and you may make mistakes. However, you will not miss those He selects to the extent that you follow Him.
Will we choose those He selects or take the safe, common path of backing only those who already seem successful? If we choose the latter, are we willing to miss the leaders that God selects and the blessing that comes with them?
Keywords: Muslim background believer, discipleship, leadership, selection, Holy Spirit
Christians are called to love God and others, as well as seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness. To do this, Christians should love as Jesus did – by serving others for their benefit. For an MBB leader, and all Christian leaders, the outworking of your calling often involves magnifying God by building up others.
A key understanding to leading this way is that the kingdom is not yours, but God’s. Though you lead, your leadership is a stewardship of service rather than seeking your own glory or position. A true leader serves others for their sake and for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Jesus did this with His disciples. They had no track record of leadership success in the church. There was no church. He saw what was in them, and led them by investing time and effort in them. He taught them truths that developed their giftings and callings. He did not wait for them to succeed and then side with them. He led them by siding with them, encouraging them, equipping them and then releasing them into ministry when few if any believed they could lead anything.
Potential MBB leaders are often in geographical areas where there is very little of the church nearby. Because of the great need for leaders, those that lead potential MBB leaders often must commit to those potential leaders before seeing success. The process of selection must be led by the Holy Spirit, and should be free of the perversion of self-reference.
As indicated above, leaders are most effective when operating with a motive of serving another for the benefit of the one served. The leader can be derailed if they serve self-referentially, often asking, “What does that do for me or to me?” That attitude is a form of pride. It can manifest in many ways, including not fully training someone for fear that they might surpass the trainer; withholding support or blessing; preventing someone from operating in their calling; or not supporting someone until that person is fully established as a leader. The last one indicates that you are not really leading — you are simply jumping on bandwagons. All of the listed manifestations lack the hallmark of love — serving for another’s benefit.
Leaders, if you lead self-referentially, you do not have to stop leading. Repent of your sin, ask for God’s grace, change your motive, and lead in a way that encourages others to find their giftings and callings, support them actively, and release them into ministry. You do not need to protect your position nor seek your own advancement — God is the sole giver of both position and advancement.
In a sense, leaders, the way you choose to lead — serving or self-referentially — will bring spiritual life or death to others. Those you lead will either flourish in God’s kingdom or be restricted by your selfishness, leading to a loss in their ministry and thereby in God’s kingdom. God holds you to account for the way that you lead. Please pay close attention to your motives and actions when leading, ensuring that you are serving others without self-reference and for their benefit.
Keywords: leadership, MBB, love, self-referential
Most Christians know the name of the apostles in the Bible. They are given high importance, and rightly so. One of the most important leaders — less well known — was Barnabas. Why was he so critical to the life of the church?
The early church was experiencing great persecution, part of which was spearheaded by Saul of Tarsus. Saul experienced a radical conversion when he encountered the risen Lord Jesus. He was renamed Paul. Paul was certainly not someone that the disciples and apostles wanted to be near, much less work with or listen to, even though God had appointed Him to be an apostle. Barnabas heard him speak, recognized the anointing on him, and risked his own reputation with his friends — and perhaps even all of their lives — by bringing Paul to them with a positive recommendation.
Please note that Barnabas did not wait for Paul to develop a long-term, successful reputation — he acted on with a heart of encouragement and discernment from the Spirit of God. Without Barnabas’ positive recommendation, it is very likely that the church would not have grown as fast nor as vibrantly as it did.
MBBs tend to be skeptical of outsiders, especially concerned that the incoming MBB might be a plant from the religious police (or the equivalent). There is a lack of trust based on skepticism. This skepticism grows from valid concerns, but often blocks fellowship and the growth of the church because of hypervigilance.
In order to grow properly, MBB leaders will need to pray for the ability to discern who is called to lead, then act bring those new leaders into fellowship with positive recommendations, often without waiting for years to ensure that the new person is as anointed as the leader had suspected. Yes, guidance by the Holy Spirit and courage will be needed, but MBB small groups and churches will not grow as God intends in Muslim contexts unless MBB leaders chose to lead with a heart of encouragement.
Keywords: Encouragement, Barnabas, persecution, discernment, choosing leaders, MBB
Ideally, longer is better, but MBBs rarely experience ideal circumstances. Paul warned Timothy to not allow new believers to become leaders because they might become prideful. Yet, Paul selected leaders in churches after sometimes knowing them for a few weeks to a few months. His actions seem to indicate that he expected rapid growth.
MBBs may have no Christians around them, and they may be used by God to lead Muslims around them to the Lord. Leaders would then be needed for small groups and even churches. MBBs may need to assume responsibilities earlier than some Christians feel is appropriate. The key is, as always, to follow the Holy Spirit. Paul did that. Even so, some leaders made mistakes in his time that needed correcting. The growth of the church has never been error-free, and there are always messes.
Some say that the key to leadership selection is to see who keeps showing up. There is certainly merit in demonstrated faithfulness as a qualification for leadership, but please do not discount the role of discernment. A wait-and-see approach may leave an MBB church without needed leadership and stifle growth. Also, note that leaders may not always continue doing what they were doing previously – Joseph was in jail one day and helping run Egypt the next; David was anointed to lead Israel while tending sheep; and Saul was on a quest to imprison Christians when he was called to lead. Please do not be too dogmatic about process because God does not always require a specific process, as can be clearly seen in the life of Joseph.
If you are an MBB leader and need to appoint people to leadership, trust God to guide you to the right people through prayer. Use the biblical qualifications for elders and deacons to guide you when looking at character, and be prepared to monitor the progress and growth of your leaders. If you see areas needing correction, address them supportively and with the goal of finding God’s best for those leaders and those they are leading.
To do all of the above, MBBs will need to study leadership in the Bible, and the writings of Paul are especially helpful. My book, Discipling Muslim Background Believers, covers selecting leaders as well as having an intimate relationship with God in which you can grow in your own ability to hear the Lord and to lead and select leaders.
Keywords: MBB, leadership, selecting leaders