I always get a buzz when missionaries visit my theological college in London. Not just because we’ll hear some sobering-yet-challenging-and-inspiring stories of God’s gospel going out in the world — which, inevitably and wonderfully, we will — but also because there’s an anticipation: what will they teach me and the local English church? What fresh insight? What surprising perspective?
We all have our habits, our ways-we’ve-always-done-things. Some might be well-thought-through, Biblically, but others are just assumptions with little or no scriptural backing. Often we don’t even realise what we’re doing, let alone challenge our assumptions. Here, missionaries can help, because often they’ve had to shake up these habits and even (steady now…) try new things!
Just recently, one such missionary-visitor was an American on furlough from his posting in Western China, where he’s been at a church ministering among Uighur Muslims. What tips did he have for churches in England with Muslims on their doorsteps?
“Try this,” he said. “Try reading the Bible one-to-one with a Muslim friend, starting with Mark 1. Read the chapter and ask what he/she thinks. You’ll hear hundreds of things you don’t agree with. You’ll be itching to refute everything and explain the Christian truths. Don’t. Just ignore them. Pass them by. Move on. You’ll probably find this incredibly hard — that’s because of our habit of butting in at the slightest whiff of heresy (or even, dare I say, our proud urge to prove ourselves right at even turn?). Instead, your friend will probably say one belief that, on its own, agrees with the Christian faith. Spend your time talking about this one belief. Focus on this. Nothing else. That’s all you do. Then ask to meet your friend again another time.
“Why? Well, if you refute everything, the Muslim is highly likely to go away thinking, ‘Wow, we disagree about so many things. There’s no way in a million years I could ever, ever be a Christian.’ When this happens, the barriers to Christianity are, humanly speaking, huge. (While not discounting God’s capacity to convert anyone anytime, should he please!)
“But if you focus on where you agree on, you’ve found some common ground and he/she will be more likely to want to keep reading with you. What’s more, when you read Mark 2 in the second week, we’ve found that there are two things we agree on, then three things in Mark 3, and so on. As time goes by, the Muslim is affirmed in aspects of his/her beliefs that correlate with Christianity, while helping them to become open, in time, to beliefs that are unique to the Christian faith — by which time the two of you have built up an excellent relationship, which hugely helps the conversations. Via this route of one-to-ones, many Muslims have ended up regularly attending our church in China and—praise God—many of those have become believers.”
No, this isn’t a silver bullet. But I’m looking forward to seeing how this advice can help us reach our Muslims friends and neighbours. And I’m looking forward to the next missionary visit at college.
Chris Hanning, student at Oak Hill College, London and a member of the LCGM organising committee