This summer I read The Messenger, The Message and the Community: Three Critical Issues for the Cross-cultural Church Planter by Roland Muller. It was a read that was long overdue. You see, the author is a friend of mine, and I have followed his ministry closely for about 25 years. About 14 years ago, as the first edition of some parts of this book was being written, Roland Muller asked me to read it and give some feedback. To my regret, and with some degree of embarrassment now, I admit that I did not finish reading the manuscript, although I did give some thoughts on the part of the book that I did read. As a result, the author used some of my graduate study research to support one of his arguments and somewhat undeservedly, included my name in the acknowledgments.
About seven years later, Roland combined three books he had written into this current book. The three sections of The Messenger, the Message and the Community are taken from these three prior works: Tools for Muslim Evangelism (published in 2000), Honor and Shame, Unlocking the Door (2000) and Creating Christian Community (2005). A couple of years ago, Roland Muller published a second edition, seeking to broaden the audience to include those who do not serve primarily among Muslim peoples.
This past June, the author and I visited a missionary pre-field training program of one of the largest mission organizations in North America. To my surprise, I found out that The Messenger, the Message and the Community was the only book assigned to be read during the three months of training. I knew the author personally, my name was mentioned in the book, another much larger mission organization considered it to be their prime textbook for training missionaries, and I had not yet read it!
Well, I have now rectified that act of negligence! And it has been a great read! The material engaged me so thoroughly that I completed the task of proof-reading the entire book, a task I had begun 14 years earlier. I have now sent my editorial comments (the majority address spelling, punctuation, and typos) to the author, and they will probably end up in a future third edition.
Roland Muller’s basic premise in the first section (The Messenger) is that effective evangelists among Muslim peoples are those who present themselves as religious teachers, spiritual men and women who know the Holy Book. He advocates using a teacher-based evangelism strategy, rather than exclusively relying on a friendship evangelism strategy.
In the second section, Muller outlines the three consequences of the Fall – guilt, shame, and fear, all seen in the account in Genesis 3. These three have been emphasized in varying degrees among the cultures of the world, resulting in three major types of worldviews: the guilt-based worldviews, the shame-based worldviews, and the fear-based worldviews. Then he shows how the Gospel addresses each of these worldviews. The evangelist’s task is to identify which of these consequences are felt most acutely by the host culture in which he lives, and then to tailor his message to address that felt need.
The third section offers a strong argument for the importance of the community of faith in the process of evangelism and discipleship. Particularly for people from collective cultures, a person investigating the Christian faith will look closely at the Christian community of the messenger before deciding finally whether he will accept that faith. He wants to know whether the community of the messenger will be a valid replacement for the close-knit community of which he is currently a member. He may accept the messenger and the message as valid, but still reject the Christian faith because of what he sees or does not see in the community. Roland Muller explains the process that a seeker goes through to test the new community. Then he gives some helpful principles and ideas for the church planter wanting to establish a community of faith that will be both biblical and meet the needs of the seeker.
Through reading this book, I have learned much about the challenges of doing evangelism and planting churches among Muslim people. These challenges are particularly acute for those missionaries coming from guilt-based and individualistic home cultures. But the book is not only for those working in a Muslim context. The principles are applicable for any who are targeting people groups with a shame-based worldview and a strong sense of community.
I do not know of another book that is as helpful for the individual missionary who is seeking to get started in planting a church among an unreached people group. None of the books that we in SEND have assigned or recommended to this point for pre-field reading are as thorough (or as challenging and revolutionary) as this book is in explaining the questions related to the task of evangelism and discipleship on the individual missionary level. Many of the other missions books take a macro-level approach, explaining the overall strategy of the team, and spend more time than this book does on the church organization and leadership development level. But this book takes an in-depth look at the first stages of the church plant, namely helping contacts become disciples of Christ and members of the church community, and that is where a new missionary is obviously going to start (after language school).