We’ve learned a lot and are still on a sharp learning curve, but here are some principles that guide us thus far.
God can and will use anyone: Just like David was anointed king while only a shepherd and Peter was called by Jesus while only a fisherman, we don’t need to “be somebody” before God can use us. There are simple methods of outreach that can open doors I previously thought were only accessible to experts.
We’ve found repeatedly that very ordinary people with little training can be used in extraordinary ways. In fact, some of the most effective people first appear to be the most ordinary. Perhaps all that sets them apart is their love for their Muslim friend and are willing to share the good news. God can and still does use shepherds and fisherman. Don’t ever doubt that God can use you in a powerful way!
Value love over boldness: Boldness is obviously of great value, but only if it is anchored in love. For some reason there are many Christians who think we only need to be bold and, therefore, just go and preach at people. I used to think this way as well. At one point I believed I failed if I didn’t share the gospel with each person. Such guilt driven motivations had me forcing conversations on people that they didn’t want to have, and I usually went home patting myself on the back and telling myself I was bold for the Lord and the listeners just have hard hearts.
Not long ago I went to meet a friend at his mosque to have a Ramadan meal with him. As I walked up to the door I saw that it was a large group of people and everyone looked like Osama Bin Laden. It took boldness to walk in, but love needed to do the rest. In spite of our natural instincts, it is not more spiritual to simply be bold. In fact, it can be far less spiritual. Boldness is not a fruit of the Spirit, but rather they are attributes like love, patience and gentleness. For some, I fear boldness is an excuse for a lack of willingness to get involved with people on a personal level, which may be rooted in a simple lack of love.
We do need to seek boldness. 1 John 4:18 says, “there is no fear in love” so if we focus on love we will always find all the boldness we need and will thus be able to speak the truth in love. At times, yes, we need to just be bold and speak, but the love of God in our hearts will guide us to the best possible time to do this. There is no reward for being a bull in a china shop!
Emphasis on the Kingdom of God rather than Christianity: Jesus referred to the Kingdom close to 100 times, so we refer to it and use other ‘Kingdom’ language as often as we can. By doing this we can actually speak in a more Biblical way. In contrast, many Muslims see Christianity as just another term for western culture, which not only includes rampant drunkenness and sexuality, but also political support for the some countries as well. We need to separate these things from the core message of Jesus. When making a new Muslim friend I introduce myself as a Christian but then define this as “I’m not like other Christians you may know of, but I’m someone who is very serious to living the way Jesus tells me to live.” If my friend is open, I then tell him about the Kingdom of God and how Jesus called all people to enter in. If they are hungry we can walk with them, hand in hand, into that Kingdom, and, thus, evangelism can look more like discipleship.
Start at the beginning and not with the hardest part of our theology: Just like a good story is best appreciated by telling the whole thing and not just jumping to the end, we often need to start at the beginning and tell the whole story of God before even getting to Jesus. This is especially true when dealing with complex theological issues about Jesus. If we begin our story with “Jesus is God” or “God is a trinity” it is like we just said, “Once upon a time there was a man, and they lived happily ever after.” It simply makes no sense. We need to begin by giving our friends a spiritual foundation that can hold the weight of heavy issues that will come later. If our friend is interested in the Kingdom we can begin to explain how everyone can enter by first telling the story of Adam and then continuing through to Jesus. By doing so we are also answering some of the questions Muslims usually ask before we get to them like “Why did Jesus have to die?”
Willingness to use God’s truth wherever we find it: In Acts 17, Paul used several spiritual concepts from Greek idol worship as a starting point and went on to present a clear gospel message. By doing so he gave them a starting point they could understand without distorting his message or endorsing an entire system of belief. In John 4 Jesus quotes what seems to be two local sayings and said, “it’s true” in verse 37. This doesn’t mean he endorsed all the local expressions, but simply used two of them to teach the disciples about reaping a harvest of souls. In speaking to Muslims, it can be helpful to quote the Qur’an as it contains many stories from the Bible that can be used to start a conversation. For example, one highly educated Muslim friend told me he started reading the Bible simply because “the Qur’an tells me to.” If you quote the Qur’an, prefacing it with “I don’t know much about the Qur’an, but I like how it says . . .” helps our friends to understand the point without thinking we agree with the entire contents. A good start can lead to a good finish. Just as the wise men in Matthew 2 were lead to a Jesus by a star, their ending point wasn’t deeper astrology, but, rather, to worship Jesus as Lord of all.
Simply presenting the truth over attacking wrong belief: Jesus and Paul could have easily blasted their audiences for wrong belief, but instead, with the exception of the religious leaders, they just pointed to the truth. As it’s been said, “Have you ever started a conversation with your spouse with, ‘Here is where you are wrong and I am right’ and had that conversation go well?” It is an interesting phenomenon when Christians attack the wrong belief of non-believers as if they actually expect them to live and believe like believers. Even if we argue our point better than them it will seldom draw them closer to the Lord. When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4 she tried to argue with him about several things, but instead of taking the conversation down a road to nowhere he refocused her attention to what really matters.
Don’t assume what is happening under the surface: Time and time again I’ve seen a conversation or relationship that seems like it’s going nowhere only to end up producing surprising fruit. On one mosque visit a friend and I were talking with one of the leaders about a range of topics. The leader seemed to be open at first but then the conversation went nowhere. I was ready to get up and go when he suddenly said, “I would like to learn more about Christianity and Judaism. Perhaps us Muslims have missed something.” We met for coffee a week later and, again, the conversation seemed to go nowhere. However, after two hours I was getting up to go and my friend said “I would like to read the Bible for myself.” He accepted the copy I promptly provided for him. Through both of these conversations I imagined I was wasting my time, but far more was happening than I thought. As a rule, don’t judge a situation too soon. Perhaps you’ll be in for a big surprise!
Don’t be discouraged: Even with the strongest faith and the best methods, there are times where we don’t see the response we would like. One of the greatest temptations of us is to immediately think we are simply not skilled enough to reach Muslims, or worse, that God is deciding not to use us. However, many of the great men of scripture faced discouragement of all kinds. A common thread through many of these great stories is a willingness to push through discouragement. In Matthew 16:11 Jesus asks his disciples “How is it you don’t understand?” as he appears to be discouraged with them, yet he continued to press on with his Fathers will. As we do outreach we are engaging in a spiritual battle, so we shouldn’t be surprised if opposition comes even if we have done everything as we should have. Bringing discouragement directly to the Lord and asking for his truth in the matter is a great way to win this battle!
The new believers can decide for themselves what their identity is: As tempting as it may be, we need to resist the urge to tell new believers what their spiritual identity is. When ministering to another culture we can forget that the terms we use in a positive light can actually be quite negative in another culture. Our priority should be to get new believers in the word and in prayer and let the Holy Spirit guide them on such matters. In our experience, we have seen some call themselves Muslim or Christian, but most new believers simply call themselves “followers of Jesus”. One even calls herself “a new creation” which we find to be quite beautiful.