According to Lifeway Research, 46% of pastors say they are challenged by the resistance to change in the church. Issa Safadi, pastor of Arabic Church of Milwaukee, joins Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, to discuss the Greatest Needs of Pastors study and how he’s navigating change in his church while being compassionate toward people and their various backgrounds and needs.
Ben Mandrell: Forty-six percent of pastors say they’re challenged by the resistance to change in the church. People really don’t want change.
Issa Safadi: My experience with my people is the same because I started four years ago in Wisconsin. [There was] no Arabic church before. We start[ed] the first Arabic church in Wisconsin.
Mandrell: First Arabic church in Wisconsin.
Safadi: First Arabic church in all of Wisconsin.
So the people [there are] Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim. We didn’t have any Evangelical people before—just one lady. So when we start[ed], so we have [people from] Catholic, Orthodox, Islam[ic] [backgrounds]… how [can we] worship? How [can we] read the Bible? Everyone [has] a mood and [they’re] different. So when we start[ed], some people told me, “We need the old songs. We need to sing old songs.” Some people [say], “We need the new; sing new song[s]. We don’t need to preach in this way.” [So pastors and church planters think,] “Okay, the people, are not, first of all. I need to be in this way, and anyone can go or continue or leave, no problem.”
So now I think, “No, the people [are] right because they’re thinking they like it in this way— like my kids.” I need to be thinking about them. So I make [a] balance. I sing a new song and an old song. They say, “We [don’t] like this sermon in this way. We need to be [simpler],” So I think about [how they’re honest, and] they want it to be in this way.
They grow in this way. This song [makes him close to] God more than anything else. So I need him to grow. I don’t want [to make him do] what I like to do. I want to do what they like to do because they want to grow.
Now, we have Orthodox, Catholic, Islam[ic people] in our church. We have good harmony [among] the people—good harmony with me. And the people come to the church every time because they trust and have friendship with [one another]. And now when I need to make any change in the church, they trust me more to make it.
Mandrell: Let me get this straight. You have in your church, people who have come from Islam who are now Christians …
Safadi: We have some people, [who are] Christians, [and] some people [who are] open-mind[ed] about [Christianity].
Mandrell: And so you have these people hanging out with Catholic people, Orthodox people, and they’re all supposed to get along.
Mandrell: That sounds like a recipe … like New Testament Jews and Gentiles trying to figure that out.
Safadi: Yeah, but that happened because they saw me … I understand them, so they understand [one another].
Mandrell: They trust you.
Safadi: Yeah. I understand them, so they understand [one another]. If I don’t understand them [and] tell them, “No, we’re not singing an old song; we need to [do it] in this way,” they will make [something else] together. The same thing [with] my kids. When I teach them something, they will do [the same thing] with others. So I plan good things in our people, and they do good together.
Mandrell: I love hearing stories like that. It’s neat to hear churches that are reaching such a diversity of churches.