Books I Have Read: Following Jesus in Turbulent Times

In short, Following Jesus in Turbulent Times: Disciple-Making in the Arab World is a remarkable book and for less than a tenner for the paperback and much less for the Kindle book, I believe it should be widely read. The main thing to highlight is that this is a book about disciple-making, the Arab World is the backdrop to the book, but the principles it teaches could be applied anywhere. Church leaders in the UK would profit greatly from giving this a read.

The book is a medium format paperback of 130 pages. It is written in an easily accessible style, with plenty of illustrative stories which move the text along. That being said, this isn’t an easy read, you need to stop and ponder at regular intervals. Thankfully, the chapters are short (less than ten pages on average) and so there is time to gather your thoughts and process what you have read.

The author, Hikmat Kashouh, is senior pastor of Resurrection Church in Beirut, a community of around one hundred believers who welcomed refugees from other Middle Eastern countries and which subsequently and saw their membership grow to several thousand.

In many ways, this is a conventional book on disciple-making, the sort of thing that most of us have read many times over, however, the background of reaching out to Muslim refugees brings an added dimension which makes this book really stand out. Even before getting to the nitty-gritty of disciple making, it gives a remarkable insight to the way that God is working in the Arab world; this is a challenging, but immensely encouraging book. There are things here which sound strange to readers accustomed to church in the West – even the author seems surprised at times.

As someone with a Baptist background and a PhD in theology from Birmingham University, I am not accustomed to casting out demons…

After an initial chapter introducing the author, the book proceeds by covering the sorts of subjects that one would expect to find in a book on disciple-making; witnessing, teaching, prayer and so on. However, these familiar subjects are given a degree of urgency and importance by the situation in which the author is writing. A few illustrative quotes will give a feel for what I mean.

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 leaders model unity, trust and collaboration in a multi-ethnic team.

When new believers are welcomed into our church, they are nurtured and encouraged to grow. We expect them to start manifesting evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives…

The prayerful life of Jesus and his disciples was not a religious obligation but a practice woven into their daily life. Prayer is communing with God and seeking his will in all life circumstances. There are plenty of stories of transformation based on powerful encounters with God through prayer and of Muslims experiencing the presence of God in a mighty way while praying.

“Give us our daily bread” is the paradoxical cry of the meek who will one day inherit the earth.

There is some content that you wouldn’t find in most books on discipleship, such as s discussion on what sort of head covering a woman should where and why. There is a fascinating dissection of the complexities of inter-cultural and inter-religious marriages. Most significantly, there is a whole chapter given over to suffering, something which is absent from most Western books on discipleship, despite its prominence in the New Testament.

The whole book is a challenge to Western Christianity, but at times there are some overt comments which ring home:

It is thus safe to say that imitating Jesus requires both bold teaching and intentional actions. In a discussion with a Muslim friend who lives in the UK, he told me that his relatives and friends have little respect for Christian leaders. They find them weak, indecisive, shaky and uncertain; whereas Jesus in his teaching by word and deed was daring, courageous, brave and fearless. To be courageous does not mean to be polemic and attack other faiths (though this method is being used and has its pros and cons); it means proclaiming Christ boldly yet lovingly, using confident rhetoric accompanied by a transformational way of life and radical deeds of one that witness to the power of the words spoken. Followers of Jesus should be exhorted to imitate Jesus by teaching the ways of the kingdom through words and deeds.

So who should read this book? In short, I think that just about everyone should read it. It is encouraging and challenging, easily accessible and not very expensive. While it is aimed at church-leaders, it deserves a much wider readership. However, I would suggest that there are two categories of people who might particularly benefit from it.

  • Church leaders who have significant Islamic populations in their catchment areas; especially where there are refugees and asylum seekers. If you are struggling with how to reach out to Muslims and how to integrate new Muslim-background believers into your church, you will find much that is helpful here.
  • Church leaders who are making significant efforts to reach out to secular Brits (which should be all of them) especially when working across social and class boundaries. Although the content of this book is played out against a specific religious and cultural background, the principles it teaches are universally applicable. Some of the suggestions might need a little tweaking before they can be applied in Guildford, but the basic principles don’t change.

In case you haven’t realised, I think this is an excellent book.

I was provided with a copy of this book by the publishers in exchange for a review on this blog. I am grateful for this generosity, but have not allowed it to influence what I have written.