Desiring God Conference for Pastors – Day Three

Day Three at the Desiring God conference was a shorter day, but a great way to end the conference! Overall, this was a good conference. The theme was woven into all of the sessions, but it seemed like it might have been a bit overdone, or stretched a bit too far.

Today was probably my favorite day, with a session by Ramez Attalah with a focus on evangelism, and then a panel discussion with questions from the audience.

Ramez Atallah

“Pastoring with Vision, Creativity, and Courage in Hard Places”by Ramez Atallah

What a great session! This was one of my favorite sessions in the whole conference.  Ramez is serving as the general secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt and shared some great insights on what is happening in Egypt right now, as well as a detailed history of Christianity in Egypt and finally some leadership principles we can gain from his experience.

He started with a fascinating story of how John Mark was the first missionary to Egypt in AD 43, after he had been written off by Paul.  He shared how Egyptians were involved with the spread of Christianity at the Council of Nicea, and other important contributions.  John Mark went back to Egypt but was martyred there.  Even though Egypt was one of the first Christian nations, the country eventually became mostly Muslim, with now only about 10% Christian.

A Scottish missionary, Rev. John Hogg, came to Egypt to revive the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt back in the 19th century. He wasn’t received well by the Coptic church, thinking he was coming to force their religion on them.  There was a man named Tanassah that the Coptics had hoped would argue against the missionaries for them, because back then the priests in that church were not well educated, but he actually hosted them in his home, and began to support the missionaries. He was excommunicated from the orthodox church, and became the first elder in the new Protestant church.  Tanassah became a missionary and his goal was to regain the orthodox church.

The Coptic church saw what the Protestant church was doing to reach the people, especially with the kids, and decided to host their own Sunday School, a new concept for them! They needed teachers, so they had their brightest students actually open and read the Bible themselves, another new concept, in order to teach the kids. These Sunday School teaches eventually became revived and made alive through the Scriptures and the Orthodox church had its own revival through them. So the two churches – the Protestant and the Orthodox churches existed separately, but side by side, as it is to this day.

Ramez then told his story about how he grew up in Egypt in a small Episcopal church, but had no relationship with Jesus. His grandfather took hold of him and plotted a course for his life, since his grandfather had no sons of his own, only daughters. He wanted his grandson to carry on the family business of engineering.  Because of turmoil in Egypt he fled to Canada with his grandparents when he was 16. His grandfather soon died, and grandmother left the country, so he was left alone to fend for himself there.  He went to college there, was saved while there, and began to work with InterVarsity reaching the campus for Christ. He had a burden, though, for Egypt. So 18 years later, went back to Egypt with his wife (American turned Canadian) and two children.

He had a burden to reach the youth of the Protestant church there by the use of inductive Bible study. By God’s grace, he ended up being accepted in both the Coptic and Protestant churches, and allowed to teach them how to study the Bible, and my doing that, many people were saved.  He eventually became the director of the Bible Society in Egypt and works to this day distributing tracts and Bibles to people there, reaching that country for Christ.  He shared some very creative ways they work within the laws there to accomplis this task.   He spoke of the recent revolutions there in Egypt, and how now the people that are the most in danger are the moderate Muslims; the Christians will probably be left alone, but yet many want to emigrate and many already have left.

Then he connected the dots for us, and shared the big picture of how God works.  When he went back to Egypt, he found a family picture, and in it was his great-grandfather. He was holding a Bible, which was quite unusual in that day. He shared with us that he discovered his great-grandfather was none other than Tanassah, the man who had helped start the Protestant churched in Egypt many years ago, and was one of the first missionaries there to reach the orthodox church.  God’s plan wasn’t for him to be the heir of his grandfather and take over his business. It was to be the heir of his great-grandfather, Tanassah, and spread the news of Christ to both Protestants and the Orthodox church. Amazing!

He then shared five leadership principles he has learned through his life. He said effective leaders have:

  1. Vision which empowers others
  2. Trust in God’s sovereignty which gives meaning to seeming failures
  3. Creativity which transforms obstacles into opportunities
  4. Faith which respects people who are eccentric and/or marginal
  5. Humility which allows them to be mission-oriented rather than gift-oriented
    • About this, he said that some have a sense that we need to be fulfilled by using our gifts, but God never promised that we would be in a place where we can use all our gifts.
    • God calls us to a mission, and then asks us to muster any gifts or skills we need to accomplish that mission. We may have to say “no” to other gifts we have.
    • Where God has put me is more important than the gifts He has given me. He develops the gifts/skills in you to accomplish the task He has called you to.
    • Don’t run after your gifts, run after God’s calling for you life

He concluded with an amazing story of a garbage village in Egypt; a village that is actually built on a garbage dump, and all the families there are garbage workers. They live among the garbage. It’s a very dirty place, and people living there feel like they themselves are garbage. His wife, Rebecca, felt a burden to reach that community, and along with the Coptic priest that was assigned to that area, began to work on reaching that village for Christ.  Amazing things happened! A church was built, a school came to be, and kids and families were reached for Christ. The housing and public services improved.

The priest wanted to build a cathedral, so he excavated the mountain right next to this village, and built a huge cave church. It has now become the largest church in all of  the Middle East, seating about 15,000! On 11/11/11, they held a service combining Christians from both the Protestant and Orthodox churches for a time of worship in these cave churches. Over 50,000 people were there lifting up the name of Christ amidst this time of turmoil in Egypt. At one point during this 12 hour “Night of Prayer and Return to God”, this huge crowd shouted the name of Jesus for 10 minutes straight!  This was an amazing story of God’s redemption and how He is at work all around the world!

Cave Church

“Q & A Panel” with all the speakers

This final session brought back all of the speakers for one last time to answer questions submitted by conference attendees.  There were several questions that asked the speakers to dive deeper into topics they brought up in earlier talks, and some other general questions.  Several of the questions dealt with this main topic of masculinity in the church, like “What is Biblical femininity?”, “Advice for fathers of daughters?”, and “Disciplining Foster Children?”.

One of the questions that received the most time was “How to balance strictness with grace?” which led to a good discussion between John Piper and Doug Wilson, mainly, about the role of anger in discipline.  Wilson maintained that when you are angry at your child for what he/she has done, you are not then qualified to discipline them. You need to wait until emotions have settled before carrying out discipline, so as to avoid disciplining out of anger. Piper didn’t disagree with that, but just added that it’s good for kids sometimes to see the righteous anger that should accompany severe infractions of the family rules, such as disrespecting mom.  All agreed that anger itself is not bad, but that there needed to be control and it should not be motivation for discipline.

The next line of questioning had to do with worship, which I was glad to hear.  Doug Wilson was asked to clarify a point he made about how corporate worship is an attack on the culture. His main point there was that when we gather to worship the Father, we are basically saying to the leaders of this world that there is a higher power that you have to answer to. They don’t want to hear that, and it is threatening to them.  There was also a question about how music lyrics now can be somewhat “feminine”, and how to reconcile that with our discussion about masculinity in the church. Piper acknowledged that, and said there needs to be a balance. There should be a strong feel to worship, but we also need to realize that it is masculine to be emotionally engaged about the love of the King.

The session wrapped up with questions about who you should have around you to challenge you and help you move along in your walk, and finally encouragement to fathers who have grown children or older kids and who have not been good fathers so far that it’s not too late to change, or to fix relationships.  We just need to be honest with kids, acknowledge what we’ve done wrong, and keep walking into tough situations, not away from.

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