The challenge of shepherding a wounded flock.
Equipping an underground church in a nation so vehemently opposed to the gospel is a mighty undertaking. Iran may be a world–leader in numerical church growth, but how will that growth continue, and how will new believers deepen their faith without wise pastors and mature believers around them? How will they move on from milk to solid food if there is nobody suitably prepared to feed the sheep? The added pressures of mature believers fleeing the country and countless Iranian pastors finding themselves in prison make these questions even more important.
Our Iranian partners are seeking to respond by preparing leaders to serve, sacrifice and stand in solidarity, both within Iran and beyond. For over ten years, their desire has been to provide deep, holistic and contextual leadership training to raise up a community of biblically rooted, theologically informed and spiritually mature servant leaders who will bring the light of God’s presence to Iran and the wider Persian world.
The work has several strands, each designed to achieve these purposes. First, a school of theology and leadership offers theological qualifications through online classes and tutoring, week–long residential conferences and a robust mentoring and ministerial practice scheme. The curriculum is carefully designed to grow and nurture the spiritual, personal, communal and missional life of the students. Meanwhile, an Iranian leaders’ forum equips church leaders to address the challenges and opportunities arising in their own context.
Another significant strand of the ministry is a counselling centre, established to tackle the trauma and stress experienced so widely among our persecuted brothers and sisters here. As vast numbers have found freedom in Christ, they have also faced growing attacks from the world around them, making depression, anxiety, grief, loss and trauma from abuse all commonplace.
Since 2018, our partners have sought to address these challenges through treatment which helps believers actively and faithfully process their lived experiences. They also train church leaders to do the same, enabling them to care for the wounded among the flock. The traumas of past experience have often led to over–zealous behaviour among new and immature believers, so our partners are eager to develop a culture of thoughtful and engaging faith which responds with the gentleness and humility of Christ.
Daria* is 38 years old and came to faith five years ago. She said to our partners, “I experienced a difficult childhood that overshadows my life. In my first session I realised how my obsessive thoughts were affecting my behaviour and my relationship with my husband. I felt like I was alone in a desert and there was no rescuer! Going to counselling was the beginning of freedom and healing. I started to face the roots of my issues even though I was so terrified of change. I am hopeful now about the future. I am not the same person crippled with fear. I am so thankful for all those who helped me through this time.”
Meanwhile, Amir* leads several churches and has found the training to be both incredibly faithful and thoroughly practical. He explained, “Many in the house churches I lead struggle with wounds from the past or some kind of demonic influence. As a pastor, I have often felt very inadequate when trying to address these struggles. The course helped me understand the spiritual roots of emotional wounds and invite God’s presence into those darkest of places. It taught me that Christ’s power is the hope of freedom and inner healing. The course was thoroughly practical but also biblical. I am profoundly grateful to all who made it possible. It has already had an enormous impact on me as a pastor and servant of multiple house churches.”
Students are referred to the training programme through leaders among the house church movement and at present, there are more people being referred than can be enrolled. There is a great desire to increase capacity by 100 students per year, but this will require significant expansion to provide the teaching, mentoring and counselling which make the programmes so valuable and so well–suited to the Iranian context. Your support has enabled 17 students to undertake the programme over the past year, and we are eager to deepen our relationship with this fantastic work even further, by God’s grace, in the years ahead.
Help train Iranians for ministry through our Middle East fund.