Ministry Lessons From a Muslim
His unexpected message to church leaders: fully embrace your Christian identity.

Eboo Patel is not the most likely seminary professor. His credentials are not the issue. Patel earned his doctorate from Oxford University, and he is a respected commentator on religion for The Washington Post and National Public Radio. He has spoken in venues across the world, including conferences for evangelical church leaders.

What makes Eboo Patel an unlikely seminary professor is that he is Muslim.

The editors of Leadership first encountered Patel at the 2008 Q Conference, where he challenged 500 Christian leaders to change the rules of interfaith dialogue. "Muslims and Christians might not fully agree on worldview," he said, "but we share a world." Patel spoke of his enduring friendships with a number of evangelicals and his desire to move beyond the "clash of civilizations" rhetoric that dominates Christian/Muslim interaction. While holding firmly to his belief in Islam, he also affirmed church leaders. "Even though it is not my tradition and my community," Patel wrote after the conference, "I believe deeply that this type of evangelical Christianity is one of the most positive forces on Earth."

We were intrigued, so we contacted Patel to talk more about the ramifications of increasing religious diversity in America, as well as his outsider's perspective of the church's response. Patel gave us more than we bargained for. He invited us to attend a class he was teaching on interfaith leadership at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Patel is not on the seminary faculty. He serves as the executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) - a Chicago-based international non-profit that brings together religiously diverse young leaders to serve their communities. The seminary invited Patel to co-teach the course on interfaith leadership with Cassie Meyer, a Christian who serves as the training director at IFYC.

Be more Christian

When we arrived in the class, which included twenty seminarians - men and women from diverse racial and denominational backgrounds - the students were discussing a newspaper article. Patel and Meyer were using the report about tensions between Somali Muslim immigrants and Latino workers at a meatpacking plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, as a case study. The Muslims wanted the factory's managers to adjust production schedules to accommodate their prayer times and holidays like Ramadan. Others in the rural community admitted being uncomfortable with the influx of so many Muslim neighbors - particularly after September 11, 2001.

July 08, 2009

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

Paul Dalach

July 13, 2009  9:15am

I was greatly intrigued and encouraged by this article. Thanks.

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July 12, 2009  9:48pm

“Be more Christian” On such call, Gandhi could have said today, “Been there; done that,” jogging our memory with his famous commentary: “I love your Christ but not your Christians.” Straight and cutting words, indeed, but no hard feelings, for to be a real Christian is no smooth sailing. A. W. Tozer thoughtfully spelled this out. “A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passeth knowledge.” Ministry lesson from Jesus: Be more than just a carpenter.

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July 10, 2009  3:26pm

Well, I think before any Christian can speak in response to a challenge from a Muslim, or questions regarding muslims they must first consult with their Christianized RReligiously Approved ight Wing political representative, who will first beseech the high mouth piece for the Religious Right, Rush Limbaugh. Then, Mr. Limbaugh, in consultation (read: interview) with Pastors of [fill-in-approved-conseravtive-church-name-here] will issue his edict to Fox news, who will distribute the message so that all Christians have their talking points. Then, and only then will Christians be able to work out a narrative that is both unitable, and actionable by the Daily News lampooning staff. What? Too close to the truth? It is nice of Mr. Patel to give his advice on the obvious...but really...his advice isn't all that novel...except these United States.

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July 09, 2009  3:43pm

As someone who grew up as a missionary kid in a Muslim nation, I found this intriguing and right on the mark. Patel's exhortation for us to operate out of the Christian narrative is something I wish we'd hear more often from Christian leaders and teachers in this country; too often it's the other narratives me he mentions that occupy us. Another strength of this approach is that it helps reach post-modern audiences, who are much more attuned to a narrative, a story, than to a tightly logical system or presentation.

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