The Muslim world has seen its share of missionaries throughout history. Many faithful men and women have left hearth and home and given their lives to see the Middle East evangelized. We praise God for these brothers and sisters.
And while that’s true, there remains immense gospel need in this part of the world. I believe there is something lacking in our efforts to reach the Muslim world—and that thing is often faithful, gospel-preaching churches. At one level, this is understandable given the historical realities of the region. But this part of the world is changing such that this need no longer be the case.
I’ve yet to meet a missionary here who doesn’t share my desire to see churches planted among the unreached—specifically Muslims. But for most, this seems to be a distant dream—a prize yet to be obtained, maybe only just visible on the horizon of the future.
In most cases today, churches are being planted only after years, if not decades, of evangelism and discipleship. In the current state of affairs, the church tends to follow as a consequence of the gospel instead of an attractive and compelling argument for it.
We have a God ordained missional instrument to make the gospel of Christ known in the Muslim world. Her name is the bride of Christ.
I’m not suggesting that we abandon the traditional missions strategies: doing the hard work of learning language, connecting with local people, and sharing the gospel in the context of relationship. We must continue doing this (often slow) work in difficult places. But I am suggesting that we add something to that strategy.
We have a God-ordained missional instrument to make the gospel of Christ known in the Muslim world. Her name is the bride of Christ. I’m not speaking simply from theological conviction, though I’m convinced the concept is biblical. I’ve also witnessed such things.
A few years ago, a church-planting team was sent out from an existing church here on the Arabian Peninsula. I had the privilege of leading this team. We were sent by an English-speaking church in this region to plant another English-speaking church here. Most of us didn’t learn Arabic, nor any trendy new evangelism strategies. We simply went with the ambition to be the church.
To this day, we gather together weekly around the Word of God—we preach, sing, and pray it. We strive to love another by the Spirit’s power. We bear one another’s burdens, mourn one another’s losses, and rejoice in one another’s victories. We don’t divide ourselves by ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic differences, but unite around our great commonality: Jesus Christ.
This is nothing radical or new. But guess what? People notice.
I’ve sat with many seekers and not-yet-believers during my time in Arabia, a number of them Muslims. The consistent thing that drew them into gospel conversation has been the church—a community comprising dozens of nationalities from every economic level loving one another and pursuing Jesus together. It’s simple, yet beautiful. This is exactly what the gospel does. It creates unity in diversity.
But I fear it’s a missional instrument we too often neglect.
Global World, Global Church
Many assume that Muslim nations are closed to an overt Christian witness. And yes, there are predominately Muslim countries largely closed to Christians. I’m not ignoring that problem. But there are also many nations where Christians are largely free to gather and worship Christ. This is true in places like Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
In an increasingly global and urban world, the local church—meeting primarily in a trade language like English—offers real benefits to our mission strategy among Muslims. A strategy we hope will ultimately lead to the planting of healthy, sustainable Arabic-speaking churches.
Here are a few things the local church does.
1. Models the inclusivity of the gospel.
I’ve heard people liken the cities of the Arabian Peninsula to a (poorly) tossed salad. Unlike a mixing pot, people stay in their clumps. Tomatoes stay with tomatoes, carrots with carrots, cucumbers with cucumbers, and so on. This is generally true.
Although this oil-rich peninsula has gathered people from every corner of the earth, most have remained neatly divided along ethnic and economic lines. Racism, classism, and inequality are largely accepted as part of life here—diversity and integration don’t just “happen.” But in the local church, the gospel’s power shines as these divides are abolished in Christ.
One of the first Muslim-background men we saw turn to Christ had come to the peninsula assuming he’d find solidarity with his Muslim brothers. The opposite proved true. He wasn’t from the “right” country or class, and this deficiency was clearly communicated to him, even in the mosque. He was devalued and excluded.
But then he met the church. He saw a community where men and women, black and white, rich and poor, were all treated with dignity. All were equally loved—not on the basis of their identity or heritage, but on the basis of Christ’s finished work on their behalf. It wasn’t that our brother was just told that all were welcome; he saw and experienced that welcome, and it changed his life.
2. Demonstrates Sprit-filled community.
Whether in corporate worship or personal relationships, Christian community depends on the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit—which results in our singing to one another, our giving thanks to God, and our mutual submission (Eph. 5:18–21). How will we display these things to the nations unless we are gathered together in the church?
An Arab friend looked at me after we read Acts 4 together and said, ‘Next time we get together, tell me about your church.’
An Arab friend looked at me after we read Acts 4 together and said, “Next time we get together, tell me about your church.” A little confused, I asked what he meant. He answered, “You Christians have something different. I go to the mosque. We have a community. But when I visited your church, I saw something altogether different. The way you relate to and love one another is unique. I sense you have something we don’t, and I want you to tell me about it.” Friend, his name is the Holy Spirit.
3. Mobilizes Christians for mission.
I love missionaries. I love that many men and women have left the comforts of their homeland and crossed cultures to share the gospel with the least reached. Their stories encourage our souls. But there are still so few. In reality, those willing to go are limited, as are the financial resources to send them. What if we could equip the Christians already living among the least-reached to do the work of mission through the local church?
One African brother came to the peninsula to find work. He was a young Christian when we met him, with little concern for God’s mission. But God began to grow him. Over time, he came to see the connection between his faith and his vocation: He was working in a place where very few people knew Jesus. Shortly thereafter, this brother began bringing a Muslim co-worker to church. Hardly a week goes by without both of them sitting there as the gospel is preached.
Now, this brother didn’t have to go through formal training or raise funds. He doesn’t have a list of partner churches. But he is active in the work of missions among the unreached. Even better, there are thousands like him who, if they were connected to a healthy church and discipled well, could be mobilized for the spread of the gospel on the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.
Let’s not wait to introduce the world—and yes, the Muslim world—to the church. Let’s plant churches that plant churches to this end.