David, BJU Alumnus
Twenty-eight years ago, I moved from BJU–Brokenshire to a Muslim-majority country. I remember my first evenings here. At dusk I would climb onto the roof of an orphanage and hear the muezzins wailing out their calls to prayer. Since then I’ve heard that call some 40,000 times, but by the grace of God it still brings a lump to my throat. The first line of the call says, “Allah is great,” but it is the fifth line that grips me deeply: “Hasten to the salvation!” This saddens me as I consider how many are running to the wrong prophet, but it gives me hope to think about Our Loving Salvation’s finding those who seek Him, even if they are currently hastening to the wrong direction, knowing not Whom they really need.
As I write this in my study, I count some thirty-some books about Islam on my bookshelves (these are just the ones I’ve decided to keep). I’ve read the Quran, many of the hadith, and histories of the world from an Islamic perspective. I’ve studied Sufism and observed howling dervishes in their tekkes (dizzying stuff!). To learn more about Islam, I prefer going to their bookstores, not ours.
Beyond my research, I’ve talked to and shared the Gospel with countless Muslims, mystics, and scholars—even former Guantanamo Bay detainees and a few confirmed terrorists. I don’t consider myself an expert on Islam, but I was happy for the invitation to write on this theme—the dos and don’ts of talking to Muslims. I hope it helps:
Dr. Jacob Pursley, Friend to the Muslim World
Mass Muslim Conversions
We Christians have a problem. For over 1,200 years there was no movement of Muslims to Christ. Muhammad died in 632 A.D., but his new religion spread and thrived, unhindered. That is until the 19th century onward. David Garrison in his book, A Wind in the House of Islam, explains that a movement of Muslims to Christ means, “at least 1,000 baptized believers of the past one or two decades or 100 new churches are established over the same time frame within a given people group or ethnic Muslim community.”
The Christians’ problem is not the lack of movements to Christ from 632-1870, but rather the explosion of conversions from 1870 to the present. There were two movements in the 19th century, eleven movements in the 20th. century, and now in the 21st century there have been sixty-nine movements (recorded from 2000-2012).
So what are the exact numbers of converts today? This is hard to say. According to strict figures, in North America alone, there are estimated to be 493,000 Believers from a Muslim Background (hereafter BMBs), and worldwide that figure grows to 985,300.
Due to persecution and anonymity, it is difficult to estimate the actual number of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. Some have suggested that in Iran alone, there are as many as one million converts, though more conservative figures estimate around 450,000. According to David Garrison, there has never been a time in history wherein so many Muslims have come to faith in Christ (his figures are somewhere between two and seven million).
So why are the number of conversions a problem for Christians? It is because we are called to disciple them, and we are not equipped to do so. When Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations and teach them to observe all that he commanded us (Matt. 28:19-20), this includes all of these new converts. Those from a western background, who are not familiar with the impact of the Islamic primary sources (Qur’an, Hadith, Sirat) and Muslim culture on BMBs, are faced with unique challenges to fulfill Jesus’ commandment. We must prepare ourselves for this harvest and its unique challenges.
I have been in ministry among Muslims now for over 20 years (during this exponential growth of BMBs). My ministry has primarily been among Kurmanji speaking Kurds, Persians, Zazas, and Turks. I found apologetics and evangelism among Muslims to be much easier than with westerners. Muslims want to talk about the two taboos in the West—politics and religion. They usually bring up the subject of religion first, and almost every encounter with a Muslim may lead to answering their objections to Christianity and presenting the gospel. Let’s look at some fresh research on how Muslims are coming to Christ and the implications.
Factors that Led Muslims to Christ
In 2019, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation concerning discipling BMBs. Part of my research was surveying missionaries and BMB pastors concerning their experience of how Muslims are coming to faith.
According to my research, the most influential factor that led Muslims to Jesus was exposure to the Bible via reading or listening. The second most influential factors that led Muslims to Jesus were dreams and visions. What is interesting was the least influential factor leading Muslims to Jesus was street evangelism/preaching (this maybe because it is rarely being done in the Muslim world). The second least influential factor that led Muslims to Jesus was visiting a physical church building.
What this tells me is that we need to get God’s word into the hands of Muslims, challenge them to read it, and read it with them. If they cannot read, find audio versions for them to listen to. We should also continue to pray that God would reveal himself in dreams and visions. I personally have seen many Muslims have their first encounter with Christ in this way too. However, it is not the vision or dream of Christ that saves them. The Muslim thereafter finds a church/missionary/Bible, and then upon hearing and believing the gospel is saved, for the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:17).
When it comes to the least influential factor that has led Muslims to Christ, maybe we need more winsome and equipped street preachers and bold evangelists in the Muslim world. However, it is clear that there needs to be an emphasis on getting God’s word into the hands of Muslims. As missionaries give out Bibles/SD cards with the Bible on it, they must teach the Bible’s trustworthiness along with how to read it.
Bible Left on a Park Bench
Mahmut, a deacon of our church in Istanbul, came to faith by discovering a New Testament on a park bench near his home. Mahmut began to read the Bible and thought to himself that its message was not bad, and the teachings of the book were loving and peaceful. This was surprising to him, because he was reared with Muslim indoctrination, which taught that anything Christian was bad. The more he read, the more he learned that what he had been taught was not true. Eventually, he met some Christians and later professed faith in Christ.
Around fifteen years after finding the New Testament on the bench, Mahmut, through a ministry outreach that our church helped organize, met the woman who accidentally left the Bible there. During the outreach, Mahmut recounted how he came to faith, beginning with finding a New Testament on a park bench. This woman immediately came to him and asked, “where did you find this Bible, what year was this, and what time of year?” After their conversation, she had remembered accidentally leaving the New Testament there at that park on that bench on that date. She did not know about Mahmut’s story or the fruit of her forgetfulness until that day!
“Go to the Church and ask for a Bible.”
The first time I ever translated in my life was the testimony of a Turkish pastor. We met at a Bible school in Ephesus, and I was translating so that my mother could understand. This pastor recounted that he grew up in a Muslim family and had never met a Christian or read a Bible. However, it all changed the night Jesus visited him in a dream. In the dream, Jesus said to him, “you have read the Qur’an (pointing to a Qur’an in his room), but you have not yet read my book. Go to ….. city, and you will find a church. Go into the church and ask for a Bible.” The Turkish pastor said he listened to Jesus, went to the city that was told him, and found the church. He was nervous about going in and asking for a Bible. It just so happened that the pastor of the church felt a prompting to put in an extra Bible into his bag that very morning. When this young Turkish Muslim man asked him for a Bible and explained the dream, the pastor then understood. It was at this church and through this pastor that this young Muslim man first heard the gospel and received his first Bible. Jesus did reveal himself to this man, but it was through the ordinary proclamation of the gospel and intentional discipleship that this Muslim came to Christ.
Who is to say that we are not living in the last days as prophesied by Joel? “. . . [A]nd your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. . .” (Joel 2:28). What is clear is that the Muslim world needs Christians that will make themselves available for this great new harvest.
 David Garrison, A Wind in the House of Islam, (Monument CO: WIGTake Resources, 2014),
 Ibid., 226.
 Duane Alexander Miller, and Patrick Johnstone, “Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 11:10 (2015).
 Samuel Smith, “Over 450,000 Join Iranian House Church Movement, 'Great Number of Muslims Turning to Christ',” The Christian Post, March 3, 2016, Accessed January 2, 2017, http://www.christianpost.com/news/over-450000-join-iranian-house-church-movement-great-number-of-muslims-turning-to-christ-158883/
 Garrison, 5.
Forrest McPhail, BJU Alumnus
Let’s talk about some more misunderstandings that affect our view of poverty.
Who is our paradigm for cross-cultural missions—Jesus or Paul?
Some see Jesus as the ultimate example of how to fulfill the Great Commission. Others argue that Paul is the primary example. Does it matter?
While the Son of God made flesh is our perfect example of righteousness, His ministry lifestyle is not the paradigm for cross-cultural missionaries in the Church Age. Jesus never left Israel and focused on the Jews. His teaching ministry was attended continually with signs and miracles. Before His death and resurrection, He chose and trained men whom He would later commission with the task of making disciples among all nations.
The Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2. After this, and on through the rest of the NT, we see the first sixty years of the Great Commission. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is our God-given example of a cross-cultural servant of the Gospel. The nature of Jesus’s earthly ministry and the unfolding of biblical revelation naturally lead us to consider Paul and his co-laborers for a model of how to “do missions.”
There is no conflict between the ministries of Jesus and Paul. Jesus and Paul ministered under different circumstances for different purposes.
A Closer Look at Poverty: What is it? What is the church to do about it?
A casual look at most missions literature today would reveal that many professed Christians believe that relieving world poverty and helping people achieve a higher standard of living is central to the task of the Church. The vast number of aid organizations, many with Christian roots, exist to promote upward mobility, economic development, and justice in foreign governments. The lion’s share of resources used towards “mission” are used for these purposes.
A simple question that is often left unasked is, what is poverty? When the Bible speaks of poverty, it is not describing people on government support, people with less, those in less developed contexts, or those unable to achieve middle class economic status. Those who are poor in Scripture are those that who do not have clothing, food, or shelter. They are people that cannot survive without emergency aid given to them by others. Search the Scriptures, and you will see that this is so.
What places and circumstances require such aid in today’s world? Those in refugee camps, in war zones, and suffering from recent devastating natural disasters are the kinds of people that need our attention. There are also individuals in our lives that we may meet in real need and genuine poverty.
The love of God commands us to reach out and help those around us. Righteousness means mercy and compassion. Yes, as individuals, we must be generous.
Missionaries today are not bound by Scripture to double as social justice agents or charity organization professionals. These means may be necessary at times, and may even meet a timely need, but these are the exception, not the rule.
Factor #7 A consistent spiritual focus of ministry can be difficult to maintain.
Keeping the Gospel clear among the poor
We can obscure the focus of ministry when we sweeten the call for repentance and faith with any material benefit for those that answer. Many among the world’s relatively poor profess Christianity in order to get a better deal in this life. Some of that is just human nature—being sinners, none of us desire the truth of the Gospel apart from saving grace. However, when aid work and charity programs are combined with evangelism, often the result around the world is large numbers of public professions with little enduring fruit.
If we are to use compassion ministries in conjunction with cross-cultural ministry, it must be done in a way that guards the Gospel and discourages false faith. Too often our love for visible success and desire for eternal fruit through our short-term efforts clouds our minds from reality. Those cross-cultural laborers who know the language and culture are best equipped to understand how best to use aid in ways that encourage true faith. Methods that confuse the hearers or encourage them to false faith are unworthy means for giving the Gospel message.
The Local Church: guarding spiritual relationships amid relative poverty
We can blur the focus of our ministry when we are confused about our role. Church planters/disciple-makers in the New Testament were not aid organization managers who wielded power and influence through their funding from overseas. Nor were they employers of those that they led to Christ. They were servants of the Gospel whose primary identity was that of being teachers of the Word of God. They were either financially independent of those with whom they served, as Paul, or dependent upon those they served, as Peter. There are no examples in the NT of church planters or spiritual leaders acting as financial patrons of the people that they served.
The norm for pastors in Scripture is that local congregations help provide for their pastors materially as he provides for them spiritually. This is true for cross-cultural laborers and traveling evangelists in the NT as well. But what has happened in modern times among cross-cultural missionaries is that they are not merely independently supported as Paul was (by his own hands and by love offerings), but they also become financial patrons to those whom they serve.
What happens when spiritual leaders become financial patrons, and believers they lead become their clients? People follow their leader because of the authority, status and power that he/she wields because of financial influence. The people do not give generously and fulfill their ministries apart from their patron’s immediate support. The people do not learn to support their own pastors as commanded by God. Servant leadership is almost impossible.
The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
This one thing can sharpen the focus of our ministry: the only thing required of God’s people in any given place to fulfill the Great Commission is to proclaim the Gospel through the enabling power of the Spirit. If we teach or exemplify through our ministry methodology that anything else is necessary to accomplish the task of making disciples, we render most Christians in this world incapable of obeying Christ!
Many cross-cultural missionaries lack faith in the power of God’s Spirit. They trust instead in a plethora of programs, buildings, and social aid. The national believers assume that if they too want to serve Christ and plant churches, they will need massive capital in order to do the same! The more complicated and expensive our methods on the field, the more we handicap the faith of the people we are striving to teach to obey Christ. The more simple our methods, the more reproducible they are, which encourages the faith of the people. Methods matter profoundly because of what they communicate about our faith in the power of God’s Spirit.
Factor #8 Changing times can obscure unchanging needs.
Avoid getting sidetracked from a primary need
Compassion ministries have their place and are current expressions of God’s love and mercy. People in this generation are far more interested in these types of ministries than past generations were, and that is just fine. But who fulfills these ministries, how they do so, when, and how these affect local bodies of believers on the field need to be grappled with. Compassion ministries must not be allowed to distract God’s people from the primary need of making disciples.
The 1 Corinthians 9 principle
Cross-cultural missionaries who are willing to labor for the Lord Jesus on pioneer fields must embrace the 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 principle: “I must be all things to all men with all discipline of body and spirit that I might win some.” This spirit is contrary to the spirit of our day.
Men and women are needed who are committed to labor for the Gospel who possess the spirit of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. These will lay down their personal rights and embrace a life of discipline for Jesus’ sake. They will not insist on privileges or comforts. They will sacrifice and do hard things like conquer languages and understand and adapt to other cultures in order to preach Christ.
Missionaries may have to be creative and tolerate extra pressures in order to live where Christ is not named. They might have to be bi-vocational. They might have to endure the continual strain of imminent expulsion or imprisonment. But they will do this out of love for Jesus Christ. They will discipline their bodies and spirits by God’s grace and pursue His glory among the nations.
A return to biblical priorities and simplicity in cross-cultural missions would clarify the Gospel, empower believers for ministry, free up resources, promote reproducible methods of evangelism and training, and, above all, bring more glory to Jesus Christ whose name we proclaim.
Meet the challenges and share in the blessings!
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.