Jerry Trousdale is Director of International Ministries for CityTeam International, an organization he joined in 2005. He co-founded Final Command Ministries, an organization dedicated to establishing church planting movements among Muslim people groups. Over the years, Jerry has served as a church planter among Muslims in West Africa, in Christian publishing, and as a pastor in California and Tennessee.
Rev. Chuck Huckaby is the Minister of Congregational Life at First Protestant Church in New Braunfels, TX. You can find his blog at http://soulfriend.org/
“Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims are Falling in Love with Jesus” is a stimulating book. It is a non-technical and engaging retelling of the story of “Church Planting Movements” in the Muslim world over several years. Its focus is largely on Sub-Saharan Africa seemingly, but details are obscured in many instances for security reasons. Along the way, it is designed not only to raise awareness of these conversions but also to stir English-speaking readers to consider whether this style of “Church Planting Movement, (CPM)” could be reproduced in the West.
To that end, the book is also an overview of the “Discovery Bible Study” approach to evangelism and discipleship originally tested in Bihar, India but now used in many contexts worldwide. “Miraculous Movements” illustrates how those concepts work themselves out in the progress of evangelism and the development of small house churches. Basically they attribute their progress in spreading the kingdom to the simple practice of “inductive Bible study” as an evangelism and discipleship tool and to the gracious intervention of God.
What the book doesn’t mention so much is that City Team —from what this reviewer can discern—is not simply promoting this approach because of its potential fund raising value (though such “results” are always good for fundraising appeals!). For those unaware, CityTeam began originally in the late 50’s as a charitable ministry helping refugee communities on the West Coast. Throughout their history, they have also been heavily involved in serving the poor, helping addicts recover, and other works typically associated with Urban Mission. Over several decades, they have been refining their understanding of how their work can make disciples and plant churches. They are open about their initial failures and need to “restart” several projects.
Their reflection on what has been learned from the ministries described in “Miraculous Movements” is “leavening” their entire approach to their established ministries. For example, the “12 Step Programs” have “morphed” from being 12 Step Programs with a smattering of random scriptures to recovery programs not only using the 12 Steps but also engaging people in the same kind of inductive Bible study referenced in Trousdale’s book as they study those “steps.” That experiment should be very helpful for rescue missions and other non profits nationwide who truly want to become “holistic” in the sense that they minister in Word and Deed.
For a Western Society whose concepts of Islam are shaped by the reports by the mainstream media depicting Islam at one extreme or another, this book provides a hopeful and helpful missiological view of how “Muslim Background Believers” can be a gift to the Western Church inspiring it to greater devotion. It reminds one of God’s power to save “to the uttermost” and convert persecutors. It demonstrates the Holy Spirit actively at work for an apathetic West forgetful of God’s mission!
While many will justifiably be encouraged to Christian service and prayer by “Miraculous Movements,” the book and the Church Planting Movements it represents are often criticized for, among other things, a lack of accountability in reporting, pragmatism, and for generating “shallow” believers. Indeed, it is unfair to impute without proof all the wrongs (real or imagined) of any and all “Church Planting Movements” on the author, this work, this book, or his mission! In reality, there is not much publicly available literature on the fairly recent phenomenon of “Church Planting Movements” as either a missionary strategy or a field of study largely because they have been observed in areas where security precautions are in order to one degree or another.
Regarding reporting, this is a problem at least potentially in most missionary organizations whether they are engaged in “Church Planting Movements” or not. One U.S. missionary serving in India said that when one compiles all the reports given regarding “conversions” there after showing the “Jesus Film,” India has been totally converted three to five times! Another “traditional” (non-CPM) missionary had a genuine experience of walking into a village and seeing 40 Muslim people profess faith in Christ within hours of his arrival. It has happened for him once in a long career, but the story keeps getting embellished much to his embarrassment and retold as “40 whole villages converted” or as if whole villages were converting in this manner each and every day!
“Over counting” can happen in an “innocent” fashion even without the “embellishment” described above. For example, an indigenous worker may have a ministry that has planted fifty house churches. If this worker is assisted by more than one agency from the U.S., each one may take credit for the 50 churches! When an aggregate number of results are tabulated for the region, each worker’s “results” can literally “explode”! The resulting picture is incorrect but not necessarily dishonest. There are, of course, unscrupulous people who seek money by touting results that are not their own.
Some mission organizations (not necessarily “Church Planting Movements” proper) in the past have claimed huge success only to see the claimed “churches planted” seemingly go missing just a few years later. This is scandalous but several factors may yet be at play. How do we define a “church planted”? When a steeple is erected? When a church overseas has the same structure as a U.S. “church”, i.e. full time pastor and “church council”? Or does a handful of people meeting in a hut count as a church - or is it a Bible Study? If the latter is considered a “church,” they can multiply and disappear rapidly. But due to reasons of potential scandal, missionaries in well-established and better funded agencies, who report huge waves of new disciples, have their reports subjected to data validation by independent assessment teams. The data validation report for one Asian CPM, for example, can be viewed online at the site “T4TOnline.org.”
Another category of complaint against these movements is “pragmatism” and/or the assertion they create only shallow disciples. One wonders if how anyone in the American church can accuse others of pragmatism or shallowness, but an honest review demands discussing these claims with a straight face!
It’s important to recognize that “Church Planting Movements” do not all use the same methods or even operate with the same assumptions. Some are accused of “shallowness” because they are (wrongly) thought to teach only six simple lessons to new disciples with the assumption that nothing else is ever taught. Other “CPM’s” though start with an expectation that new converts all have studied a fairly thorough “Creation to Christ” course of inductive study with the expectation that one cannot “study” the word without distilling personal, specific, and measurable actions of grateful obedience that can be implemented within 24-48 hours. Though the latter participants’ knowledge may not be as broad as some American Christians, there may be a significantly higher number of professed Christians who actually implement what is studied under such circumstances.
The charge of pragmatism is primarily alleged because the Church Planting Movements ruthlessly focus on “what works”, but also because they do not seemingly have a well-developed ecclesiology. Their cardinal sin here seems to be the CPM Practitioners’ lack of concern with mass producing “Christians” who look and act just like churches in the United States. Because many CPM’s are propelled forward by miraculous or at least fortuitous events, have all night prayer meetings, exorcisms and expect great answers to prayer, these groups may seem much too “charismatic” for the taste of American supporters. Some - perhaps most - of these phenomena are genuine. Others are obviously fake or a form of mass hysteria such as one missionary’s recent encounter with allegedly “demon possessed” people in Africa whose “possession” could never be verified in any way discernable from the Gospel accounts. The faked stories are the bush equivalent of people falling down “slain in the spirit” at some televangelists’ cue.
The charges about ecclesiology and other doctrinal have certain validity. Westerners in historic churches (or even Southern Baptist sending churches who sponsor these church planters) do see a disconnect between their church life and those house groups called “churches” in the reports being sent back. If we value the Creed, a high doctrine of the sacraments, or other elements it’s a shame to see these ignored in new church plants simply because the church planters have never been schooled in ecclesiology themselves and do not know how to teach such doctrine “inductively”. Of course that assumes that “traditional” churches are able to communicate their ecclesiology effectively and scripturally - most do poorly in that regard.
But the problem isn’t only being felt by Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Anglicans. The Baptists sponsoring these movements sense there’s a problem as well! For instance, if a Mississippi Baptist Church bylaws - in response to their understanding of Scripture - require a functioning board of deacons and regular public worship to be constituted as “church,” does an underground group meeting secretly with no “board of deacons” constitute a “church”? If not, whose definition is correct? Should every house church in a village be counted as only one “church”? If so, why do we not count churches that way? Obviously, there are many issues that will not be solved - only raised - in this review.
The “Obedience Orientation” of Church Planting Movements likewise raises some hackles. Some fear that the emphasis on “doing the word” is so great that the distortion of “Salvation by works” will strangle the truth of “justification by grace through faith.” That is a legitimate concern, yet those involved in such movements counter by citing our Western antinomianism as a similar distortion. Perhaps it is best to pray for them and ourselves that we will all be lead to understand God’s Word properly and recognize that we in the West may be able to help our overseas counterparts at certain points, and that they may be able to help us at others.
Other issues surround “Church Planting Movements” that can’t be raised here, let alone solved.
While the reader of this book should be aware that the topic of the movements described here are not without controversy, this reviewer encourages as many as possible to read this little book. It will prove encouraging on many levels and inspire readers to greater prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism... things all sorely needed in the Western Church. If the reader’s appropriation of these techniques doesn’t result in any “Miraculous Movement” immediately or ever, realize that God’s timing is not our own. If readers find this method attractive, practical, and - above all - Biblical, they should endure using it as faithful workers until God’s timing is right!
Thomas Nelson Publisher, 2012 (Paperback, 224 pages)
Go to the Colson Book Store here. “Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus”
 A draft of the Discovery Bible Study tool can be downloaded at this URL:
 Read more at CityTeam.org
 This is the link for a large Asian CPM Case Study Summary.
More on data validation can be read here.