Malath Baythoon, Pastor of Christian Missionary Alliance in Erbil, Iraq knows the true meaning of being a good shepherd — protecting and feeding God’s flock and being an example of living faith.
In 2014, many members of his 200-person congregation were forced to flee their hometowns when ISIS took control of Mosul and surrounding areas. As Christians, their only chance of survival was to abandon their homes and run for safety. Many fled with less than an hour’s notice and have never returned.
Today, Christian Missionary Alliance serves not only as a house of worship, but also as a refuge for the displaced families. While church growth has never been a problem, it’s church health that Pastor Baythoon is seeking.
From January 16-18, he joined 40 delegates at Saddleback’s PEACE Leader Training held at the Rancho Capistrano Retreat Center. His goal was to gain tools to fully implement Purpose Driven (PD) principles and The PEACE Plan through his church.
Prior to the training, he already spent five months introducing PD to his members. He first heard of the movement in 2016 from PEACE Plan Pastor, Mike Constantz and Pastor of Missions, Andrew Lossau. In early 2017, the two Saddleback pastors returned to the Middle East in response to the refugee crisis and to partner with local churches in Northern Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Pastor Baythoon’s desire to bring change through church health resulted in his leadership team taking immediate steps to get equipped.
“Pastors Mike and Andrew dedicated two days to sharing the basics of PD,” Pastor Baythoon recalls of their 2016 meeting. “It was exactly what we needed at that time. We were a young church looking for a system.”
Following that brief training, Pastor Baythoon utilized PD resources, including videos and teaching materials, to introduce the concepts to 20 church leaders during a two-day retreat.
“We were absorbing the PD vision and how to apply the principles in the Middle East,” he says.
In April 2017, Pastor Mike Constantz and his wife Cathy returned to Christian Missionary Alliance to provide an in-depth look at PD and PEACE. Each morning, they met with five main church leaders, guiding them on ways to apply the five purposes. By August of that same year, Christian Missionary Alliance rolled out PD by focusing on one purpose at a time.
First they started with Discipleship, and then Fellowship, and most recently Worship, which has been in place since November 2017. One month later, they added 10 new small groups to their already existing five.
“We started little by little,” explains Pastor Baythoon. “By God’s grace, we have three purposes fully formed and functioning. We’re still in the early stages of becoming a PD Church, but we’re certainly PD minded and oriented, and ready for the journey ahead.”
Feedback from church members has been positive, yet the best reviews come from Pastor Baythoon himself. “I used to take on too many roles,” he admits. “Now with teams in place, I feel less burdened with the small things. Plus, the people are being used by God and the church is more organized.”
In the process, leadership has been able to focus on serving the community and reaching their target demographic of young married couples. Since launching PD, the church has formed an ushering team, ministries for kids and students, and an internal database to track attendance and church health.
Of the 215 members, 65 percent are refugees, many of them from Syria. The church’s key focus is to make people feel welcomed and engaged in their new “home.”
“We want to encourage visitors to come, join, and stay,” he says. “We do this by offering housing, visitation, and financial support. We also help build community within the church with small groups.”
In addition to distributing relief goods to refugees, the church hosts a monthly “Jesus Banquet” for the poor. This free, three-hour dinner provides gourmet food to those in need, making them feel valued, loved, and connected. As a result, most of the visitors eventually become members.
The next step for Christian Missionary Alliance is to make 2018 the year of missions and church planting. Already God is opening doors in Mosul, a city struggling to rebuild in the wake of ISIS destruction. The physical danger lies in one’s boldness of faith, however, with fanatics waiting to attack within terrorist sleeper cells.
“As Christians, we have to be wise,” says the open-hearted pastor. “Our plan is to bring PD and PEACE to these war-torn areas. We already planted one church in a village, and now we want to plant more in Mosul.”
To learn more about building a Purpose Driven Church, visit pdchurch.flywheelstaging.com/start.