By Shane Bennett
Pastors, I honestly don’t know what it’s like to walk in your shoes. Back in college, I pastored a church of a dozen people. Elderly saints they were but with a remarkable propensity not to die. So I preached, and I dodged the rest of the pastoral duties. I never faced the stresses you do with budgets and staff and people who come to you with intractable problems, hoping you’ve got a silver bullet to spare.
Nor have I been in your place with goofballs saying, “Hey, your church should do more with Muslims!” Maybe that feels like a burden you’d rather let go. Maybe you have some personal anxiety about Islam or you can already feel the pushback that will come if you lead your flock toward engagement with Muslims.
Here’s why it might be worthwhile anyway:
- Islam is a big deal. Over 1.5 billion people are Muslims, with a huge number being added every day. And Islam is talked about like crazy in America and all over the place.
- Your people, at least some of them, are wondering how Christians should respond to this.
- God, mostly on the down low, is inviting Muslims into his kingdom these days like we have never seen before. This might be the sort of harvest you don’t want to miss out on.
If the Holy Spirit nudges you in this direction, I’d like to make it as easy as possible to obey, with ideas both for “knowing” and “doing” and with varying costs in time and money.
Not a pastor but know one? If you think it might bless them, please send this along. Tell them you’d like them to read it, and understand if they can’t get to it right away.
Ten Ways to Get Started
1. Add to a sense of Muslims’ lostness an understanding that God wants to find them in great numbers.
You probably don’t have to convince your people that Muslims are lost. Most evangelical Christians agree. They might not be thinking as much, though, that God has in mind to gather great numbers of them into his kingdom, that every blessing we enjoy is meant for them, and that the blood of Jesus shed on the cross works redemption for them with the same wonderful efficacy with which it does for us.
2. Share winsome stories of Muslim-Christian interactions.
While evil has certainly been done in the name of Islam and good Muslims have done very bad things, there’s more to the story than that. Negative news makes it hard to imagine that Christians can connect with them. Read this short, surprising story as a counterexample.
3. Highlight similarities between Muslims and Christians.
Sometimes, whether intentionally or subconsciously, we try to keep Muslims at arm’s length as being “other.” In doing so, we might fall prey to thinking, as a woman at my church once told me, “We are completely different in every way!” That’s just not true. Your people need to know this.
I probably go overboard in the other direction, happy that a typical Muslim and I both believe in just one God and both think Jesus was born miraculously of a virgin, is alive today, and could take Chuck Norris in a one-on-one match. Generally, we also believe that abortion is a bad thing, kids are a good thing, Jesus is coming back, and devotion to God should be above all else. Not bad starting points from which to invite Muslims back to the faith of their forbearers.
4. Read and encourage others to read material that prioritizes engagement over fear and defense.
I know, I know. Everyone wants to give the pastor a book. Or ten. Here are two that will help you think in good ways about engaging Muslims and give you tools to pass along to your crew: Muslims, Christians, and Jesus by Carl Medearis and Connecting with Muslims by Fouad Masri. Both are practical and accessible. If you’ve already blown your book budget for the year and can only give this a few minutes a week, I’d be honored to have you read my 300-word weekly email, Muslim Connect. It’s designed to help normal Christians think about Muslims the way God does and love them like Jesus does.
5. Host a seminar on Islam.
Crescent Project offers a quick look at Islam and how to befriend Muslims in a weekend seminar or DVD-based curriculum. Encountering the World of Islam is a twelve-week course based on understanding Muslims. I’ve seen them lead to lives better ready to serve God among Muslims near and far.
6. Encourage your people to connect with international students and refugees.
In any town with a sizable university, someone organizes care and connection for international students (Muslims and others). Find this person. Give them three minutes on the platform in early August to tell your people how they can befriend future leaders from other countries arriving next week. Decide together that they won’t return home without enjoying a dinner in an American home. Be the first to sign up.
Someone in your town also knows what’s up with refugees. Same story. If you don’t know how to find these people, shoot me an email and I’ll give you a hand.
7. Endorse a church-wide commitment to pray for Muslims during Ramadan.
Each year around a million Christians worldwide will use the same beautiful little book to pray for Muslims during Ramadan, their month of fasting. Order copies for your people. Ramadan next occurs May 15 to June 14.
8. Audit the “Muslim impact” of your missions budget.
Are you putting dollars toward work that cares for Muslims and invites them into the kingdom, either locally or far away? It’s none of my business how your budget is set up or what you support, but a budget suggesting that the church, corporately, doesn’t value reaching out to Muslims might limit what individuals will care about and do.
9. Partner with Muslims to address a social ill in your city.
A friend in San Jose, CA unites “Jews, Christians, and Muslims to serve the poor, suffering, and marginalized.” I think he’s onto something. Serving soup or cleaning up trash shoulder to shoulder with someone from another faith teaches things you’ll never get from a book or video.
10. Offer to take some of your people to visit a mosque.
There’s something about stepping into a mosque for the first time that is powerful, though difficult for many (Am I cheating on Jesus?). Your people will walk away with a sense that mosques are more the places where Muslims go to seek God in the best way they know and less the hothouses of religious sedition we’re sometimes told they are. A little bit of reality goes miles toward reshaping imagination. Two key points for this: Go as learners, not evangelists. A first visit is not the time for a showdown. And make sure you have pre-planned a good 45 minutes to debrief the experience.
Because these ideas are designed to be put into action, I’m happy to help you consider and implement any of them. I’d be honored to come alongside as you guide your people into obedience relative to one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our generation.