Working to replace a pastor can be a very difficult time for an evangelical church. So often the church is unaware of their pastor’s intention to move on, and his decision comes as a painful shock.
And even if there is a good team of elders to lead the church through the period of transition, it can still be a time of stressful uncertainty, made more tense by differences of opinion as to what is needed, and also by the generally opaque nature of the process.
In truth, of course, it can also be a valuable time for the church, in which we are forced to look much more really than before to the Lord, for his help, wisdom and providential leading. Yet it is rarely a comfortable time, and transitions are only occasionally ‘smooth’ and ‘seamless’.
If that is true of a church seeking a new pastor-teacher, how much more likely is it to be the case if a church is seeking to find a replacement evangelist, to help it to reach out with the gospel to a significant ethnic minority in its town?
And that is the task facing Dewsbury Evangelical Church at present, following the recent retirement of Javed, our full-time Asian outreach worker.
Javed has been working with the church since the year 2000. Prior to his coming, the church was blessed with American help from the mid-1980s, but with Javed we had a man brought up in Muslim-dominated Pakistan, who is at home speaking his native Urdu and Punjabi.
He also brought 25 years of experience working as a hospital chaplain in the north of his country and many years church leadership experience.
Javed’s ministry among us has been one of constantly befriending his countrymen, seeking all the time to interest them with the glorious gospel of God’s free grace in Christ.
His has been a tireless and enthusiastic labour, in spite of the smallness of the fruit, which has been far less than he had previously seen in his homeland.
Yet even beyond retirement he remains very active with the gospel locally. And now his dream is that we find someone with greater energy and stamina to pick up his work and carry it forward to success.
We as a church share that vision with him, for we passionately believe that someone else may be able to enter into his labours and see the seed that has been faithfully sown at last reap a harvest to the glory of our Saviour, in line with the maxim ‘one sows and another reaps’.
One key problem facing us is that we do not know where to look for a ‘replacement’ for our dear friend. We are reluctant to look in Pakistan for a number of reasons. Most importantly, we have no desire to weaken the church there by stealing one of her best men.
On top of that, we recognise the difficulty of assessing the motivation of anyone from there who might respond to our need. Britain is an attractive place to any believer from there who wants to escape the worst pressures of following Christ, and to gain a better standard of living.
Our experience is that many in Pakistan seem to think that Britain is a land of great wealth and easily gained prosperity. Certainly, Dewsbury, the town in which David Cameron was first stirred to use the expression ‘broken Britain’, is not such a place!
On top of questions about applicants’ motives, we face the decision as to whether it would be wise to employ a Muslim-background believer to head up this work.
We have already seen the value of the testimony of such men in evangelistic meetings with an Asian focus. Yet we are also aware of how hated such men are by many in the Asian community, even locally.
Such an evangelist could easily find themselves the target of great and murderous hostility that someone from the Christian community in Pakistan may not experience.
Yet, if we do not look to Pakistan for our outreach worker, where can we expect to find a suitable candidate for the role? That we need such a man is evident to us, if we are to reach these dear folk who make up a third of the population of our town — where there are far more mosques than gospel churches.
However, it is certainly not a job to be left to one evangelist. All our members need to be witnesses to these people that God has brought to our doorstep. Yet we need the help of someone who can spur us to the task and help us in it.
While most of our Asians were probably born here, and speak English with a Yorkshire accent, many others have Urdu, or even Pahari, as their heart language and need to hear the gospel in their own mother tongue.
And we need someone who better understands their culture and to whom they can more easily relate. But where and how can we find such a person?
If Pakistan is not the ideal place to search, we must also face the fact that there are few Urdu-speaking Christians in the UK, and fewer still for whom Pahari is their mother tongue.
Perhaps there is a retired missionary who has worked in Pakistan and who knows Urdu and would be willing to come and work alongside us? But at present we are not aware of any such. Hence we are seeking to make our needs widely known among the Lord’s people, as well as looking to the Lord to supply a man after his own heart.
We would be glad to hear from anyone who might know someone suitable for this difficult, demanding and potentially dangerous job.
Dewsbury has been my home for the last 41 years, and is a good place to live. Community tensions here seem to be less than in many northern towns. Housing is cheap compared to most of the UK and transport links are good. And there is plenty that is attractive about our area.
Furthermore, ours is a warm and loving church that delights in difference and wants to see more Asians among us. The Asian community here has been prayed for much, and many Asians are ready to talk about serious things and listen to the gospel being explained.
Certainly there are many opportunities to serve the Lord and speak for him here, and much reason to hope for gospel success.
Indeed, it is evident also that, while many of our local Asians are serious, committed Muslims, not a few are disillusioned with the horrors that go on in the name of Islam and can be convincingly found in parts of the Koran.
Such people can be reached by loving, thoughtful Spirit-filled servants of the Saviour, whose compassion is clearly revealed in Scripture.
Surely we must believe that many of our Asian friends have been brought by the Lord to the UK, not only that they might find life and hope in Jesus, but that they might then become evangelists to their own people, both here and back in the gospel-starved lands from which they or their parents have come.
The author was pastor of Dewsbury Evangelical Church for 41 years