By L.D. Waterman
The Bridging the Divide Network (BtD) arose to address a challenge; actually the culmination of three challenges:
- How can we effectively and biblically bring the good news of salvation in Christ to the more than 1.8 billion Muslims in the world?
- What can be done about the tensions between widely differing and conflicting approaches being taught and applied in seeking to make disciples among Muslims? In some cases the use of different approaches in the same or nearby locations was causing tension between ministries and even damaging or destroying some ministries.
- How can the tone of public debate about these differing approaches be improved to better reflect the love, truth, and unity Christ commanded and for which he prayed (John 15:17; 17:17, 20–23)? Some published presentations were felt by others to lead away from faithfulness to Scripture. Other presentations were felt by some to endanger or harm workers or ministries. Some published material was also accused of exceeding the bounds of biblical ethics or Christian love.
In 2010 a handful of leaders of ministries among Muslims began informally discussing these challenges. A plan took shape to bring together in one place key leaders with a stake in these issues. We wanted leaders to not only discuss the issues, but also to eat together, pray together, worship together and get to know one another as brothers and sisters in Christ with a common passion for reaching Muslims with the gospel. In June 2011, the first BtD consultation was held for five days, involving scores of participants from around the globe. As the consultation came to a close, we sought to follow the Lord’s guidance for any follow-up action steps. Four steps pointed the way forward.
- We agreed on a summary report that could be shared freely with anyone who wanted to know what had been discussed and accomplished at the consultation. This was especially vital, since (for reasons of security and safety) all participants had agreed to hold in confidentiality everything they heard during the course of the consultation.
- We agreed that the discussion was fruitful and began making plans to hold another consultation the following year, to discuss some salient remaining issues.
- We agreed to develop a “Code of Ethics” for our ongoing interaction and for all our ministry involving discussion of these issues. This document was finalized a few months later and has been very helpful within the network. We recommend its guidelines to any Christians involved in discussion of disputable issues.
- We established an email forum for ongoing discussion of relevant issues. This became the BtD Network, which continues up to the present as a lively forum for confidential discussion of issues related to ministry to Muslims.
We now describe the BtD Network as a diverse network of followers of Jesus, committed to bringing the gospel to the Muslim world and engaging in useful interaction with others of similar desire and commitment, to increase biblical and effective proclamation of and obedience to the gospel.
Since 2011 we have held five more consultations, continuing to grapple with vital issues in reaching and making disciples of Muslims. Some of the issues we have tackled include: clarifying terminology, contextual issues in Bible translation, biblical authority and usage, the nature of Islam and its sources of authority, identity issues for Muslims who follow Jesus, the Qur’an in relationship to the gospel, a specific Islamic practice: the shahada, the “long view” (church, disciple-making and the next generation), ekklesia (church, kingdom and ummah; what does it mean to belong?), issues of integrity, and spiritual freedom in Christ for those from a Muslim background.
Over the past seven years, the Lord has given us improved habits of gracious communication, especially on points of disagreement. We have also developed an evangelical model of how to address well disagreements on important issues. We have made available a public summary report at the end of every consultation, with points of agreement and disagreement. Our online email forum has over one hundred forty members and has seen over four thousand posts. We have also moderated conflict between mission organizations and published several collaborative articles.
Scripture tells us that: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). One of the primary benefits the BtD network provides to members is the “iron sharpening iron” that comes from honest interaction with sincere fellow-believers who hold widely differing opinions. We can see where we have misunderstood someone or have been misunderstood. We can learn from new perspectives and craft better ways to do ministry and express our own ideas and paradigms.
The BtD Network also provides numerous opportunities for better understanding of those with whom we disagree. We are learning (and applying) the value of personal relationship in discussing ideas and ministry constructs. In the process we have realized that what originally appeared to be two poles of perspective (Insider Movements vs. Traditional/Historical Church Planting) in fact reflects a broad spectrum of views and approaches, with a great deal of nuance and perspectives not neatly fitting into either end of the spectrum. We have uncovered and addressed a great number of false assumptions, straw man arguments and misunderstandings.
A rising awareness of Church Planting Movements (CPM) (also known as Disciple Making Movements [DMM]) has also greatly enhanced the quality and fruitfulness of our discussions. We have learned from case studies of rapidly reproducing indigenous movements in which the believers tend to no longer call themselves “Muslim” but often call themselves “followers of Isa.” Despite this they retain close relational ties with their extended family and ethnic group. These close ties often result in relationally connected groups coming to faith and establishing new house churches with indigenous leaders—factors which open doors for exponential growth.
These CPMs/DMMs are distinct from Insider Movements in that the believers typically do not maintain an Islamic socio-religious identity. They are also distinct from Traditional/Historical Church Planting in that they aim to reach groups rather than individuals, and groups do not depend on lengthy theological training for their leaders. Nor do they expect that worship must occur in a specially designated religious building. The indigenous nature and simple ecclesiology of these movements enables rapid reproduction, far beyond the norm in traditional church planting. Some of us (myself included) have felt that the CPM/DMM paradigm escapes elements most problematic about both the Insider Movements paradigm and the Traditional/Historical paradigm while putting into practice the things most helpful and needed in each of those paradigms.
The BtD Network has also benefitted many of us who write on missiological topics. The network provides a pre-publication opportunity to bounce ideas off thoughtful readers with a wide range of perspectives and get feedback prior to publication. While this is entirely optional, it facilitates the kind of broad-ranged sensitivity encouraged by our Code of Ethics. In the section entitled “When I am Writing for Publication,” these guidelines (among others) are included:
- I will aim to have the content of my material be accurate, and its argumentation free of logical, verbal, and material fallacies.
- I will aim to disclose all information I consider significant to the argument, whether it is supportive or adversative. I will not withhold, dismiss or distort mitigating data known to me, to make my argument appear stronger than it is.
- I will keep my publications free of confidential information that could jeopardize other people.
Commitments such as these can be greatly enhanced by gleaning feedback from substantial thinkers who hold a variety of experiences and viewpoints—especially when some of those differ widely from one’s own. I personally have profited greatly from the collective wisdom of the diverse perspectives in the BtD Network.
Another benefit of involvement in the BtD Network is the opportunity to gain insight into “what’s really happening” in fruitful movements and creative ministry efforts in the Muslim world. BtD functions as a safe forum where ministry information can be honestly shared without fear of exposure or unwanted publicity. Perhaps even more valuable is the opportunity to not only hear actual case study information about the Lord’s work in reaching Muslims, but also to ask probing questions and explore concerns or fresh insights relative to those case studies. The goal of the interaction is not to criticize or attack, but first to learn. Deeper understanding of someone else’s ministry does not always lead to agreement with the approach being used, but even something we disagree with can increase our understanding of what’s happening around the world. Each network member can observe and learn what seems useful without any requirement to defend or frame interaction in terms of organizational policies.
Throughout our history, BtD has made a serious effort to hear the perspectives and concerns of minority voices who have a major stake in these issues. This includes followers of Christ who come from a Muslim background and leaders from the Majority (non-Western) World. About one-third of network members are from a Muslim background, and while our network interactions take place almost entirely in English (as the primary “common” language), we try to hear well the important contributions of those who first language is not English. We also prioritize involvement of reflective practitioners of ministry to Muslims rather than leaders of organizations. We consider members’ contributions and involvement not in terms of titles or degrees but rather in terms of substance of insight and experience.
One of BtD’s members, a Muslim-background leader of ministry in Africa’s Sahel, describes his BtD experience this way:
It has always been a privilege to attend BtD and learn from God through brethren how to be an effective witness to our ‘cousins’ and particularly to our people group.
BtD has enhanced our gospel communication and our relationship to the Muslim clerics, our traditional authorities, our country’s political officials, the poor and vulnerable. We have applied several things learned from BtD; these have become central at adding value to ministry in the local communities—drawing imams, traditional chiefs, political officials, and also the poor and vulnerable to church. They all give up front genuine praise to what our ministry is doing in the community and in the country. Of course we see people come to know Christ and be baptised in the process. This gives us as lambs among wolves ability to seek wisdom from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, so that we may act as the sons of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32. I [am sending you a] video of what happened in our village last Saturday when imams, traditional chiefs, police and political officials were all at church witnessing the practical Good News.”
I aim each time to creatively use my learning from BtD in application to our Muslim people group and guess what? It works! Praise God. Thank you and all your team again for giving me the opportunity to attend BtD and learn a great deal of wisdom.
In our seven years of existence, the BtD network has faced head-on the challenges of reaching Muslims through a variety of differing approaches. By God’s grace we have navigated—not perfectly but substantially—the relational challenges of discussing our differences. We have provided and continue to provide a forum for sharpening one another toward greater effectiveness in our shared passion. We all long to see greater numbers of Muslims become disciples of Christ and grow as members of God’s family.
L. D. Waterman (pseudonym) serves with Beyond. He has been a part of Bridging the Divide’s Facilitation Team since its launch in 2011.
 In addition to David Garrison’s 2004 Church Planting Movements, which predated BtD, two very significant books including abundant case study material of CPMs among Muslims have been published since BtD began. These have informed our discussions in a significant way: Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale (2012) and A Wind in the House of Islam by David Garrison (2014).
BtD Network Member Survey
Two years ago we did a survey of BtD network members. One of the items asked for response to the statement: “My involvement with BtD has been helpful for my perspective and ministry.” Of those who responded, 68% chose “strongly agree”; 24% “mildly agree”; 4% “neutral”; and 4% “strongly disagree”. Comments included:
- “I have been forced to keep checking on my views.”
- “The need for understanding the perspective of the other and the possibilities of enriching with it.”
- “Understanding more of factors contributing to why people differ. A commitment to listen and understand first.”
- “I have moved more toward the center of the spectrum of opinions and reframed some of the positions I hold.”
- “I have learned to like, trust and appreciate Insiders although I still do not think it is a valid paradigm.”
- “A broader perspective on the issues of contextualization.”
- “To know more about Each Other has helped me a lot to understand their point of view.”
- “I learned how complex the issues are, and that pretty much every point made needs a PhD dissertation to back it up, and even then some people would not be convinced. I also learned to listen, and there was some good modeling from others about how to respectfully disagree. In general, the interactions were of great personal benefit to me and I enjoyed the format and the exchange of ideas.”
- “A better understanding of other perspectives.”
- “I understand the nuances and subtle variations of Insider Movement approaches better and that there is a wide spectrum on various issues and aspects within that scale.”
- “Complexity of identity questions; depth of missiological thinking enhanced through BtD.”
- “Thinking through some of these issues theologically and biblically.”
- “I have learned why those I disagree with hold the views they do.”
- “My understanding of Insider Movements and the reasons for their convictions is far deeper than it was initially.”
- “I have a greater understanding of the concerns of the critics of Insider Movements. In some cases, I’ve moved to a more moderate position on some issues.”
- “How godly the people are with whom I disagree.”
- “Reinforced the necessity of nuance vs. thinking in terms of poles.”
- “I have learned especially how my presentation of my views can be misunderstood.”
These comments represent helpful snapshots of what God has done through BtD—in and among us.