An Israelite named Nathaniel once asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
Moments later, he was face-to-face with Jesus of Nazareth, declaring him the Son of God and king of Israel.
More than 2,000 years after that good confession, a small congregation of Christ followers in Jesus’ hometown became the first Church of Christ in the Middle East to appoint elders.
Before a record attendance of 76 people, Bishara Bishara and Suhail Shleyan were charged with shepherding the Nazareth Church of Christ — a congregation of about 50 Arab Christians in the modern-day State of Israel.
“Don’t call us elders. Just call us servants,” said Bishara, a member of the Nazareth church since 1968 and retired principal for Galilee Christian High School. “We only seek to be spiritual leaders, and our confidence is based on the Word of God to guide us.”
Shleyan became a member of the church in 1982 and works as an engineer for the municipality of Nazareth. He said he views the appointment as “a great responsibility.”
“We understand that our future growth is dependent on good leadership,” Shleyan said. “Pray for us as we seek to do God’s will.”
The church in Nazareth began in 1960 through the efforts of missionaries Ernest Stewart and Ralph Henley.
At least nine families have served as missionaries in Nazareth in the years since, said Evertt Huffard, vice president and dean of Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tenn., who attended the dedication service.
Huffard, an elder of the Church of Christ at White Station in Memphis, and his wife, Ileene, served as missionaries in Nazareth for five years and return almost every year to encourage the church.
“The last year we lived in Nazareth, I did a lot of teaching on leadership,” Huffard said. “For the past three years, at their request, I have been coaching the church in developing leaders.”
Maurice Jadon, the church’s minister for more than 30 years, was an ardent supporter of the congregation’s effort to identify potential elders.
“My wife and I feel like we have been carrying the responsibilities and burdens of the church alone for decades,” Jadon said. “Now we are blessed with these two families to share the load. This has been an extremely exciting time for us and the whole church.”
Jadon explained the importance of elders to the congregation during the dedication service.
The church worshiped in Arabic and English, in recognition of its American guests.
Among the attendees was Bob Mayes, an elder of the Signal Mountain Church of Christ in Tennessee. That congregation has supported Jadon for 13 years.
Also present was Bob Cowan, an elder of the Red Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Tennessee, which will take over Jadon’s support in January. Donnie Barnes, minister for the Red Boiling Springs church, also has been an encourager for the church in Nazareth for 40 years and participated in the service.
Several other U.S. congregations have supported the Nazareth church, Huffard said, including the Echo Meadows Church of Christ in Oregon, Ohio, the Park Avenue Church of Christ in Memphis and the Piedmont Road Church of Christ in Marietta, Ga.
“For almost 50 years, the church (in Nazareth) has been under the oversight of American churches,” Huffard said, “so I view this process as a great step in the maturing of the church to have its own spiritual leaders. It has been an interesting innovation since no church in Nazareth has elders.”
Two thousand years after Jesus walked the streets of his childhood home, Nazareth has a population of about 65,900 people and is the largest predominantly Arab city in the State of Israel. Many Arabs there practice Greek Orthodox or Coptic Christianity. The city’s Muslim population is growing.
Evangelism in Nazareth is challenging, Jadon said. Now that the church has elders, “the real work has started,” he added.
“Both elders and myself will begin to prepare the congregation for better life, for service in the kingdom and for eternal life,” Jadon said.
The church knows the work will be difficult, filled with ups and downs, he added, but “we choose to grow.”
“Our goal and dream,” he said, “is that the Church of Christ in Nazareth will be a center of preaching” to save the lost.