Church Planting In The United Arab Emirates

Church Planting In The United Arab Emirates

During our recent family holiday to Dubai we met an impressive young couple currently preparing to plant a church in Fujairah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE. Steve Jennings has kindly agreed to share something of the hopes they have for their future ministry.

 Tell us a little about yourself

My wife Katie and I along with our three children: Siena, Auggie, and George, are from the state of Texas and we moved to the east coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) shortly after we got married, nearly 5 years ago.

Tell us about the UAE

Many people are not very familiar with the UAE, although they have heard of Dubai. The country is, in general, very cosmopolitan with many more expatriates than indigenous locals. The indigenous population is pretty much 100% Islamic, varying in degrees of devotion. The expatriate population is also largely Muslim, though there is a blend of Hinduism and various forms of Christianity.

Tell us a little about your vision

When we originally moved here we had ambitions to take the Gospel to the completely unreached.  At first we didn’t know where that was going to be exactly. We originally took the step to move here when Katie was approached about working at a Christian maternity hospital as a midwife. We arrived with the intention of only staying for two years before returning to the States, but God had other ideas and our vision began to change not long after arriving.

As we spent more time here two things began to weigh on our hearts. The first was a burden to see the indigenous locals reached with the Gospel. The second, which eventually came to the foreground, was a burden to see “diasporic” believers that were working in Fujairah, shepherded and discipled. That burden eventually became driven by a general vision to see the Gospel preached and lived out on the east coast of the UAE.

When we began to meet Christians of many different nationalities and church backgrounds who were living here for work, we began to see how well our vision of a church for these Christians and outreach to the unreached could be linked together. We realized that if we could plant a church that was set on preaching God’s Word faithfully, coupled with discipling people toward obedience, we could grow a church that would share the workload of fulfilling the Great Commission.

Do you have a team or do you work alone? Why?

Very early on I read a book called “A Vision of the Possible –Pioneer Church Planting in Teams”. This book had a big impact on shaping our determination to do this plant with a team or not at all. Two big reasons why we saw that we must have a team:

  1. We needed a core group of faithful, mature believers with a passion to make disciples who could help us with the ministry of the Word, especially to the lost.
  2. I desired and prayed for a team that, however small, would represent a variety of spiritual gifts and personality types. Christ was the entire package yet none of us reflects that alone. We are parts of one body, thus we desired to have a team which could present a more complete body than I could on my own. God has blessed us with a small team of a young family and a single man –all of which I am humbled and blessed to serve with!

Do you have a plan or a strategy for reaching out with Christ?

Our strategy for growth and evangelism is to start with the team and work outward by discipling believers that live here with the goal of equipping them to declare the Gospel in their spheres of influence. One of the blessings and challenges of planting an international church is that you will almost certainly have a church that is made up people that vary widely culturally, denominationally and economically. The reason I mention this here is that one of the blessings is the broad field that is open to evangelism based on the varying social spheres that these diverse people are located in. A brother in the church who is from the Philippines may not have much of a chance to witness to a national due to the disparity in the socio-economic setting, but that brother may have a better chance of reaching out to south Asians in his neighbourhood. Likewise, a Westerner will immediately have more of a chance to share with the national. The strategy, then, is to be a diverse church held together by a common message (the Gospel) and a common vision (that God be glorified by being made known). We want to be the church to each other in areas of teaching, worship, sacraments, and community and to be a distinctly missional church toward those without. (By “distinctly missional” I am merely meaning a church obedient to Christ.)

Tell us a little about some of the difficulties of ministry

Some of the challenges that we anticipate come from the fact that an international church like this will be so diverse that it will be either easy for it to become “segregated” over time as people naturally gravitate toward fellowship with others like themselves. In the launching phase the church will likely be so small that this will not be a factor, but starting small allows us to be aware of this danger and to cultivate genuine cross-cultural community early on. The next challenge with this comes in preaching and discipleship; this requires that those teaching and discipling be aware of the diversity. In this setting it is always wise to have diversity amongst the elders and deacons who can help discern cultural complexities in this type of pastoral care. The last challenge I will address is the obvious legal one that comes with being in a Islamic country that is under Sharia law. We must be careful that we respond with respect and gratitude to the UAE for the freedom we have been given as expatriates while also being faithful to live intentional, Gospel-centered lives among our local neighbours.

What are the best resources you have come across?

I would have to say that the greatest resource is those that have done this before and have gotten their hands dirty and been bruised and cut along the way. I am a big reader and nothing compares to moving beyond the “ivory tower” and hypothetical models to the grittiness of pioneer, cross-cultural church planting in an alien country. Reading is great, but being mentored by someone who has done the work is priceless. For the next ten months we are an hour and a half away from the city that God has drawn our gaze to in order that I can take part in a pastoral internship under a fellow church planter who is well established. His context is a bit different but the lessons, especially of leadership, are much the same.

How important is training leaders for this work?

It is our burden to see many churches that share our vision all over this region, flooding it with the light of the Gospel. But this vision is only going to be realized if we are faithful in discipling a generation to maturity who can carry the torch on to the next dark corner. Not everyone will plant a church but it is my desire that we disciple and equip everyone in the church as if they might. In bringing me here God used men in my life who were insistent about seeing me become a mature leader. I have not arrived yet, but I hope that on the journey we may by the grace of God equip many to lead, help the saints to endure, and lead many in darkness to the glorious knowledge of the Gospel.

How can people pray for you?

  • Wisdom as we meet with people from Fujairah and strategize over the next few months.
  • The God would lead together a good core group to launch with.
  • That we would be faithful from the start in evangelism and making disciples, building the body from the fruits of evangelism.
  • Protection from and favour with the local authorities
  • Finances

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Steve’s Blog:

Katie’s Blog:

Thanks Steve. We want to wish you God’s blessing for the future and we hope to keep updated with your progress from time to time.