Leading Muslims to Jesus: Questions to Consider

Editors’ Note: Christians didn’t discover the need for missions in the Muslim world on September 11, 2001. The Middle East is the homeland of our faith, too, the site of many great acts of God’s miraculous redemption. Long before the Twin Towers fell in Manhattan that clear fall day, Christians debated why the church has struggled to gain a hearing for the gospel where the call once sounded freely. Yet in the last decade, the debate has intensified as we agonized over the depth of many Muslims’ hostility toward Christianity. Missionaries and academics have wondered aloud whether the problem extends beyond Western politics, military intervention, and spiritual bondage to the very way we present the gospel. Could our methods be to blame? Could more sophisticated contextualization unlock many more hearts for Christ?

These are the questions we asked experienced pastors and missionaries to answer this week. Whether you’re planning to take the gospel overseas yourself or supporting those who do, we hope these articles will help you make wise, informed decisions about this great missionary challenge of our generation.


My friend Bill works with another mission agency, in the same Asian city. Three months ago, Bill baptized Ibrahim, a 23-year-old single man who has since been disowned by his family, threatened, and fired from his job. Besides being discipled by Bill, Ibrahim has been attending a local church (whose members are from a different ethnic group than Ibrahim), and he is growing as a Christian. The church has hired him as a part-time janitor, which provides for his basic needs, as well as giving him a place to sleep. Bill emphasizes Romans 10:9: “Confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord.'”

My friend Jerry (also with another agency) takes a very different approach. He’s been studying the Bible with Ahmed, a 27-year-old single man who made a decision to follow Jesus two years ago. As they have studied together, Jerry has encouraged Ahmed to do everything he can to remain connected with his family and community, including maintaining his identity as a Muslim. He continues many of his former religious practices, such as attending the mosque, saying ritual prayers five times daily, and fasting during Ramadan. Ahmed has gathered a group of his friends who sometimes study the Bible together, yet they still maintain respect for Muhammad and the Qur’an. Ahmed identifies himself with Jesus but is careful not to say or do things that would imply he has become a Christian. Jerry emphasizes 1 Corinthians 7:17: “Each one should remain in the place in life that the Lord assigned to him.”

Uma is a national partner of mine who was talking with Khalil, a fruit seller at a local market, and asked him, “Have you ever had a dream you felt was from God?” Khalil looked stunned and told him he had recently dreamed of a man in white who told him, “You are on the path to destruction. I am the path to life. Ask my servant how to find the right path.” Uma volunteered as a servant of the man in white to show Khalil the path. He told Khalil to gather a group of his family and friends, and he would begin showing them the path. Seven friends of Khalil (mostly other sellers at the market) gathered with him for the first study of the “Holy Book,” at which Uma distributed a photocopied page containing Genesis 1:1-2:4. The group discussed how God had created all things, and what he might want them to do as an application of that fact.

After the third study, Uma stopped attending the group and met with Khalil outside the group, equipping him to lead the upcoming study week by week. At the end of 30 studies (covering the essential truths of salvation up through the New Testament), six of the eight original group members chose to be baptized and continue meeting as a house fellowship (the beginning of a house church). This group does not use the label “Christian” (which would imply that they had joined a different political and ethnic group despised by their people). Rather they call themselves “Followers of the Way of God” (see Acts 18:26; 24:14), and those around them realize they have chosen a new identity, a new way of life and faith. Uma’s favorite verse is 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

Questions to Consider

All three of these approaches are currently being applied by missionaries with various agencies. Some encourage converts to make an individual decision to be baptized and join a church as soon as possible, regardless of the effect on their family, friends, and others in their culture. Others encourage those who follow Jesus to remain members of their birth religion and try to be a witness in that context. Still others are intentionally aiming to reach small groups of people all together—whether extended families, interest groups, or just groups of friends.

What would you do if you were a missionary? Would you want to use any of these three approaches?

Here are some of the issues and questions involved:

  • How much has our Western worldview shaped us to read the Bible through an individualistic filter (missing the fact that the vast majority of church growth described in Acts was reaching groups rather than isolated individuals)?
  • How much should we be content to reach individuals who are open and then encourage them to reach other individuals (versus intentionally aiming to reach families or groups)?
  • If a “fringe person” is the first to follow Jesus and subsequently forsakes his or her own culture to join the “church culture” of a different ethnic group, what effect does that have on the rest of their people?
  • How much should cultural outsiders tell seekers and new believers “the right answers” for belief and how much should we expect the Spirit of God to guide them to the best answers through direct group interaction with the Scriptures?
  • What parts of a person’s beliefs and practices must change when they begin to follow Jesus and as they mature in him?
  • What approaches are most likely to catalyze church planting movements rather than just reaching a few scattered individuals?
  • How can we plant churches that are truly indigenous: led, supported, growing, and multiplying with local resources, rather than dependent on outsiders?
  • How can we proclaim and live out the gospel’s implications in ways that believers’ identities are found in Jesus, not in our cultural, religious, and/or political affiliations?
  • How many of these issues are actually similar or the same in our Western context, but less obvious because of the lingering veneer of Christianity in our country?

Answers to questions like these influence outreach strategies. In Pioneers, our goal is church planting movements among unreached peoples. For that reason, we don’t want to “extract” isolated individuals from their social context, as happened with Bill and Ibrahim in our first case. We also don’t want our fruit to be only individuals or informal groups who are positive toward Jesus but still identify themselves as part of a non-Christian religion (e.g. Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist, or Secular), as happened in Jerry and Ahmed’s case.

Our approaches to church planting span a creative variety of methods that are consistent with Scripture. Uma and Khalil’s case represents just one of the ways that networks of house fellowships are spreading as the beginnings of church planting movements. Please join us in asking God to give wisdom to our field workers and leaders as we seek to catalyze church planting movements among the remaining unreached groups of the world.

  • Anon

    May 13, 2012

    Having done the same kind of work for more than 2 decades, having an X-C degree from a miss-minded seminary, having studied much on “church growth” and contextualization, having studied the Word of God a lot, having observed many miss-aries try a lot of things, here are some of my observations, posed as questions:

    1.Does the work – from the very beginning – help M’s with racial prejudices to become one in Christ with people of other ethnic groups? (cf. John 17:5-24, Ephesians 2:14)

    2. Does the work lead to a plurality of elders (all instances in Scripture where church leadership is mentioned highlight more than 1 elder)?

    3. Does the miss…logical strategy allow for the mutual interdependency which Christ has designed for his Body, including – but not limited to – X-C interdependency, financial interdependency (1 Cor 16:1-4), ministry as a team (1 Cor 12) and teaching in the fledgling church by those most qualified even if that person is a foreigner, from another country/culture(Titus 1:5; Acts 11:25)?

    4. Does the miss’logical strategy lend credence to our claims to present truth which is for all ethnic groups/nations, or, do we pick and choose based on, for example, fear of what the response might be? That is, if local people feel deceived through a missionary’s C-5/C-6 approach once they find out that he is a Christian, does he try to justify himself, or, does he repent?

    5. Does the attempt at church-planting ignore the Church which Christ already has in a city/town?

    6. Does the CP strategy measure discipleship in terms of numbers and lack of suffering, or, does it from the beginning help the new Christian to understand the universal reality of 2 Timothy 2:12?

  • http://aborrowedlight.wordpress.com MarkO

    Looks like your friend Jerry has used I Cor 7:17 way out of its context. Paul is talking about marriage in that passage, not syncretism.

    Big mistake to merge two religions into one. Christianity becomes something entirely different if try to avoid the sacrifice it requires to follow Christ. Jesus never asked His disciples to cop out on the call He gave them. In fact, He warned them there would be a price for following Him.

    They took up their cross and the Gospel spread across the world. I thank the Lord these original disciples went the distance to make Christ known – yes, known.

    • AStev

      I had the same thought. It sounds like your friend Jerry is operating from a pragmatic mindset that will produce crypto-Christians rather than true disciples.

      “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”
      – Matt 5:15

    • zoozoc

      Just some food for thought. All of the early followers of Jesus were Jews. All of the early followers of Jesus met in the temple, followed the dietary laws of the OT, etc. Basically they were Jews who followed Jesus. They were completely transformed, but that transformation did not change many of the rituals or cultural trappings that they had.

      Of course I am comparing Jews to Muslims, and many would argue that they are too different to be compared like I am. But I would encourage you to think of Muslim as both a cultural and religious identity rather than a purely religious identity, just as Jew is both a cultural and religious identity.

      • AStev

        Indeed, and one of the earliest controversies the church had to address was regarding those who said Christians should continue to adhere to Jewish practices and customs. The church (correctly) rejected that argument.

        • zoozoc

          Exactly. Jews who followed Jesus could still follow the religious and cultural norms, and Gentiles who followed Jesus did not have to conform. In the same way, Muslims can follow Jesus and still remain in their culture and still identify themselves as Muslim.

  • Des Wagner

    What a wonderfully timely topic! Today at uni I spoke with a Muslim woman for some time about Jesus. We exchanged numbers and will continue the discussion. The issue that sprang to mind was 1. How do I teach her the truth, without disparaging her experiences till now?

    I recognise that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. I also recognise that anyone that denies the fact that Jesus is God is of the anti-Christ. Yet there is still need to respect the experiences of people who have been subjected to improper teaching in order to nurture them, and hopefully watch them grow according to God’s plan. At this stage we posed our dialogue in terms of an equal desire to learn, she to learn about Christ, I to learn about Islam.

    There are two sets of things I expect to learn about/from Islam. 1) Falsehood, of this I must be wary. 2) Obedience and submission. It is true that many Muslims are devout and religiously keep the laws that Mohammad dreamt up for them. Most Christians tend to ignore the Laws that God made for us. Rightly so, some may say, since we are justified by faith in Christ and have no need to keep any laws or regulations. Yet what is the best prescription for a holy way of life other than scripture? (“Be holy because I am holy” Lev 11:44)

    Perhaps if Christians showed these weaker people (ie Muslims and Jews) that we can be disciplined and demonstrate our love of God through obedient submission to Him, then we could convict many of the truth. “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Cor 8:9 Yet this is exactly what is happening as Christians exercise their right to be free from the law. Those lost, weak, people do not see the power of Christ in our lives. They see us succumbing to every whim and eddy of modern nihilistic culture. We actually need Leviticus as a bulwark against greater sins, the sins of the heart. It will be Christ that motivates us and empowers us. The old law may well be born again itself, as a tool, for Christians to strengthen their faith with. Lived faith will provide the evidence that I myself, and many more besides me, crave. In our lives we will see the evidence of God at work. In our beards and in our cowls. Read it and weep. Why not?

  • L.D. Waterman

    For some amazing testimonies of how the third approach (Uma’s) is bearing fruit in the Muslim world today, see Jerry Trousdale’s excellent new book, “Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims are Falling in Love with Jesus.”

    • http://www.husseinwario.com Hussein Wario

      Appreciate your presentation of this important topic on reaching Muslims with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am a Christian of Muslim background and have seen some of these practices in the mission field.
      I just have a concern regarding your endorsement of “Miraculous Movements.” Are you endorsing the veracity of the stories in the book or the methodology? Please, explain. Thank you.
      I have tried in vain to have Jerry Trousdale answer my questions. I have the tribe (entire mosque became Christian) and names of the three individuals “who greatly contributed to the assembling and shaping of this book, but whose names unfortunately cannot be made public.” (p.11)

      • L.D. Waterman

        My intent was to endorse the methodology. As far as the veracity, I have not visited the locations described nor personally talked with the more than 130 leaders interviewed, so my intent was not specifically to vouch for the veracity of the details of the book. However, I know Jerry to be a godly person and believe him to be a man of integrity. I know some about his agency and I’ve been VERY favorably impressed with the care and thoroughness of the research they have done on movements with which they are connected. So I fully expect that due diligence has been done to verify the information being presented. But to answer your precise question, my focus was on the methodology more than the veracity.

        • http://www.husseinwario.com Hussein Wario

          Thanks for your response.

          • L.D. Waterman

            You’re welcome.

  • http://highplainsparson.wordpress.com Riley

    There is a great opportunity now to reach Muslims in the United States and Europe, which we must not let pass by.

  • Michael Swart

    I have often wondered if the sharing of the Gospel with Muslims should not be done by first laying the groundwork – by introducing them to the Old Testament.

    Muslims know virtually nothing of the content of the OT prophets – not even the names of most. Take the book of Isaiah. It begins with a scathing condemnation of Jerusalem and Judah where God compares them to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. A Muslim would surely be highly offended if compared to a homosexual, but here it is God speaking to the Jews. Why does God do this? The answer lies both in the character of God and in the rebellion/unfaithfulness of Judah. In the passages that follow much is revealed of the character of God as well as how messed up the lives of the people of Judah are. All the doom and gloom for the Jews should come as a shock to a thoughtful Muslim.

    How did this happen? Where will it end? Going back to the creation story and the fall shows where it all began. The continuing OT story paints a picture of failure upon failure. The people fail, are condemned and punished, turning back briefly to God and then rebel again. The pattern keeps being repeated. The Jews fail to resolve this.

    The prophet Isaiah is given a glimmer of hope in the earliest chapters. God is going to change the situation. Later it becomes clearer – He will do this through his suffering Servant. How this all works out only becomes clear in the life and ministry of Jesus.

    I do not know how we can share the Gospel without introducing this story to Muslims. Our understanding of the Gospel is so impoverished by our neglect of the Old Testament. The Holy God who so terrified Isaiah is not only a righteous God, but also a compassionate, merciful and forgiving God. Perhaps we need to re-examine the message we are sharing with Muslims and our haste to see results rather than to let the seed grow and germinate in God’s good time.

    • http://highplainsparson.wordpress.com Riley

      Michael, I agree. In fact, I would add that evangelism should normally start with creation in our culture, considering that most people we talk to are “outsiders” when it comes to who God is and how he has revealed himself in Scripture.

  • John

    Good discussion. There is danger if new believers are directed, or more possibly tacitly enouraged to deny Christ for the sake of cultural or family sensibilities. Easy for me to say in safe America. Also isn’t there potential for syncretism or confusion when people are encouraged to limit change? The Great Commision includes teaching observance of all Christ’s commands not a pick and choose.

    Which leads me to another thing, lack of knowledge about Islam and Arab culture. I am pretty ignorant. I just listened to the Quran and I’m having trouble figuring how it’s teachings match up with my perception of life there. Western Christians would benefit by teachings on the Islamic worldview and the relationship of religion and culture in the Middle East. (If there is any distinction at all). Especially since the march of Allah is progressing to our doorstep in America, and into the living room of Europe.

    • http://highplainsparson.wordpress.com Riley

      Historic missionaries like John G. Paton have found that it was useful for new converts to make obvious changes to their lives like clothing, etc. as an evangelistic tool, to show that there has been a change of lifestyle. Does this concept of putting ones new life on display apply in the Arab world?

  • Anar

    I think maybe a combination between 1 and 3. (Bill’s and Uma’s approach)

    What’s missing from Uma’s is the important connection to the greater church.

    • L.D. Waterman

      Good point, Anar. “The important connection to the greater church” is actually part of Uma’s approach as well, but at a later stage of the development. The absence of its mention is a function of the required brevity of the vignettes, not its absence from that model.
      The point of the vignettes is to underline the distinction between #1 & #3 – of quick connection of an individual to the existing church vs. bringing a group to faith, which then becomes a church that then connects with the greater church of Christ in appropriate ways.

  • Patrick

    “How much has our Western worldview shaped us to read the Bible through an individualistic filter (missing the fact that the vast majority of church growth described in Acts was reaching groups rather than isolated individuals)?”

    This is the second time I have heard someone approach conversion in the context of the group. We read in Acts about households converting and being baptized. Surely, such an act requires a personal component, no? My teaching pastor spoke about how we individualize faith in the West, but that it is different elsewhere, but what can that possibly mean? Personally, I think that it doesn’t make sense.

    • http://highplainsparson.wordpress.com Riley

      I think what they’re getting at is that many cultures make decisions as a group, which include all of the individuals, vs. making individual decisions and individuals without conferring with the group. Many cultures do the former, and we Americans ought not to discount the validity and efficacy of such group decisions.

  • http://www.uccdubai.com Anand Samuel

    I am a pastor serving a local church in the Middle East. Previously I have worked with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and others in a medical mission context in India. I am very curious to see passages in Acts that are descriptive being applied as prescriptive methodology.I would urge those who are working with Muslims to consider the redemptive-historical nature of such passages and to think through the doctrine of regeneration carefully while thinking about ‘group decisions’

    • http://highplainsparson.wordpress.com Riley

      Greetings, Anand. Do you hold to the doctrine of a regenerate church membership? I do not believe it is possible to know for sure who is regenerate. The most we can do is baptize adults based on a credible profession of faith, and their children (based on God’s covenant promises to the children of believers.) Is there any reason why a profession of faith following a “group” decision could not meet the standard of a credible profession of faith? You are right to point us back to the Scriptures. If the “household baptisms” are not prescriptive, what directions do we have for evangelism?

      • http://www.uccdubai.com Anand Samuel


        Yes, I do hold to the doctrine of regenerate church membership. But that does not presuppose that I know 100% for sure who are regenerate. The fact that the Lord has graciously given us church discipline especially excommunication shows us that in due time there will be some by way of their unrepentant lives prove themselves to be unbelievers. And yes, we baptize adults based on a credible profession of faith. The key word being ‘credible’. One who professes Christ must bear evidence of change or fruit. I guess we would have a difference of opinion about the household baptisms since I am a credobaptist. But my point in this is that just because certain cultures make decisions as a group that is no sure sign that the group is regenerate.That is not to deny that it is impossible that the Lord may be please to regenerate the hearts of a large group. But to come up with a strategy for evangelism based on what an unregenerate culture does seems to advocate a very anthropocentric way of doing things.

        Grateful for your fellowship in Christ,

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  • http://highplainsparson.wordpress.com Riley

    The reason why I don’t hold to regenerate church membership is for the reason you gave, that we can’t know for sure who is regenerate. I do believe in church discipline, as you do. I’m just saying that in a case where you had a group conversion, that in itself would not take away from the credibility of the profession of faith of a given individual in the group. If a 20 year old son professes faith in Christ, are we supposed to be suspect because his father played a role in his coming to faith? If we were to base an evangelism strategy purely from cultural traits, that would be anthropocentric and wrong. However, I think those who are advocating group evangelism are seeing it as a biblical principle, which just happens to fit in with many cultures today in ways that seem odd to the American mind because our culture is farther removed from the biblical norm.

    • http://www.uccdubai.com Anand Samuel


      I think something is getting lost in translation here. You said,

      “I’m just saying that in a case where you had a group conversion, that in itself would not take away from the credibility of the profession of faith of a given individual in the group. If a 20 year old son professes faith in Christ, are we supposed to be suspect because his father played a role in his coming to faith?”

      I totally agree!! Perhaps if you explain what you mean by ‘group evangelism’, we could converse further.


      • http://highplainsparson.wordpress.com Riley


        In my thinking the only difference between individual evangelism and group evangelism would be that the members of a family, extended family, or even tribe or nation (Think Nineveh, Ethiopia) would hear the gospel together (more or less), and confer together before making a decision to come to be baptized in the name of the Triune God. I certainly wouldn’t try to replace the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. But I do believe that God blesses families.

        • http://www.uccdubai.com Anand Samuel


          Thanks for the clarification. I am glad we’re on the same page with respect to the regenerating work of the Spirit and its necessity in salvation. And yes I believe that God blesses families ( probably not in the same way you do!). What I disagree with is the ‘conferring together before making a decision’. But I’ll leave it at that.

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  • Stephen

    Great article, and great discussion, as well! I have been trying to learn about this topic lately, building relationships with Muslims, reading the Quran, and looking at Scripture with fresh eyes. Here are a few things that I have noticed:
    – Those of us who come from a western Church background have forgotten just how radically the Gospel was contextualized for a Pagan Greek and Roman culture by the original Jewish followers of Christ.
    – We in the West tend to view religion and culture as distinct and separate, whereas many Muslims do not.
    – This is often a question of identity. What does it mean to call oneself a Christian, a Muslim, a follower of Jesus, etc. What I intend when I say I am a Christian can be interpreted completely differently by someone I’m talking to, and the meaning is lost.
    – There are thought-provoking examples of contextualized belief in the Scriptures (Naaman in 2 Kings 5, the Samaritans in John 4 (Samaritan beliefs have remarkable parallels with Muslims’), and Paul’s preaching in the Areopagus in Acts 17, among others.
    – The level of contextualization appropriate among Muslims (or any other religion/culture) varies among places, cultures, and individuals. There is no “magic bullet” approach.
    – From what I understand, the contextualized Gospel message among Muslims does not give them an “out” to deny Christ, but instead allows them to maintain a platform in their culture to proclaim Christ. Becoming “Christian” would take away that opportunity. It also does not take away persecution, as many of them are still persecuted.

  • Anon

    Considering the Church, it seems to me that it is portrayed as counter-cultural in the Scriptures; in the world, but not of it. A new creation in Christ.

    1 Corinthians 1:20-28
    Romans 12:2
    1 Corinthians 4:13 !!!
    Galatians 2:20
    Galatians 6:14
    Ephesians 3:21
    Ephesians 2:12
    Philippians 2:15
    1 John 3:1
    1 John 3:13 !!!
    James 2:5

    Put another way, if we encourage a new Christian to be removed from the Church, might we not have imported extreme individualism in some form, saying that he does not need Christ’s Church to grow spiritually?

    Thanks for reading this.

    May our Lord give us love and wisdom…

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    my question is …where do you start from to begin to share the Gospel message to a Muslim…..what scripture verses do i need to keep handy to show from scriptures.

    thanks and be blessed

    • Anon

      There is no real verse which applies to every Muslim at the same time. One convert – who is now a pastor – especially likes John 14:6. That has been effective.

      The Jesus Film has been very good.

      Trevor McIlwaine’s plan is good, but way too long. The gist is that it takes people from Genesis 1 -through the end of Revelation. Again, very good, but, again, way too long for many situations.

      Matthew 11:28-30 is VERY good for those who suffer, and, so many Muslims – beneath the veneer of family and culture – suffer deeply, are frustrated, are fearful, are alienated – and Jesus is the Answer!

      Matthew 5:16 – with the command to good works and the implied proclamation so that God will be glorified – really motivates me.

      I am sure that others will have some excellent input, perhaps far surpassing what I have just written. But, be being filled by the Spirit, stay in the Word, and He will show you.

      I will pray for you.

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  • Musa Lee

    I have different experience for MBBs. Those who accepted gospel in C4 typed contextualized way were gradually following more to typical Christian way as time passed by. But I guide them not to become more like traditional christian in order to keep on contacting their muslim friends and relatives. In Islamic context, not like minor or immigrant muslim society, almost muslims get to know positively who Jesus is and what he has done for us through contextualized way and otherwise they would not have opened their heart to hear gospel. They never think that we would become muslims. If you stick to wrong example and cases, you can insist to traditional church which divides the body of Christ into different denominations. I can not and do not want to recommend any denomination to new MBBs.

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