‘Disciple’ is the word most commonly used for a follower and believer in the risen Jesus in the book of Acts. Jesus instructed us in his final command of Matthew 28:18-20 to ‘make disciples’ as the overarching focus and mission of his post-resurrection church, as told to his appointed pioneers of that universal church. And we know from Acts and the rapid spread of the Gospel in the Roman world in the first few centuries that this was certainly their practice.
Yet, being a disciple today may mean something entirely different. How often it is in churches around the world as I’ve traveled, that I have found discipleship to be reduced and redacted to something less than it should be. It is often seen only as a short-term follow-up course or program for new believers or a description for adult Sunday school classed or bible studies for serious believers. At worse, it is seen as synonymous with other popular words like mentoring and coaching. John Ortberg, Christian pastor and teacher comments thus:
“Words pick up baggage, so disciple, a great New Testament word, has come to mean a time-limited process that you can finish. Growing up, I’d hear people say, “I’m discipling him.” They meant, we’ll meet for a while and then we’ll finish and he’ll be discipled. That usually involved getting together at Denny’s at 6:30 in the morning and working through some kind of curriculum. The New Testament never uses disciple in that way. To be a disciple of Jesus was something all followers did in community, and did their whole lives long.”
He is of course right – Discipleship that is not life-long and reproducing is neither biblical nor Jesus-pleasing. God has taught us at NAMS that we must call the Church of Jesus Christ back to an understanding of discipleship as Jesus and his apostles taught and lived it.
The good news is that we are living in days when the word ‘disciple’ and the work of ‘disciple-making’ is being recovered and reclaimed through the sovereign work of God’s Spirit around the world by missionaries, pastors and leaders as never before.
There is a greater realization today that being and making disciples is a fundamental call and work for all obedient followers of Jesus. We live in days when disciple-making movements around the world are paving the way for new church-planting and Gospel transformation in previously unreached people groups.
In the same vein, NAMS as a missionary society was founded in 1994 to model, train and call the church and all Christians to obedience to Jesus’ final command to make disciples of all peoples. We do this by making disciples who make disciples, raising disciple-making leaders and seeking to plant disciple-making churches.
In this new year, it is our prayer and hope that together, we can be growing and reproducing disciples of Jesus, so that his Kingdom may come on earth and His Gospel reach the ends of the earth.
 See for example Acts 6:1-2, Acts 6:1-2,6:7; Acts 9:1, Acts 9:1,9:10, Acts 9:10,9:19, Acts 9:19, 9:26, Acts 9:26, 9:38; Acts 11:26, Acts 11:26. Butler, Trent C. Editor. From entry for ‘Disciples’. Holman Bible Dictionary. Accessed at http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/d/disciples.html. 1991.
 John Ortberg in ‘Holy Tension’ – interview with Leadership Magazine. Accessed at http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2004/winter/1.22.html
If you would like to learn how to be a disciple-making disciple, you can find the following resources on our website that can help you be obedient to Jesus’ final command:
www.namsnetwork.com/assets/dmdsteps.pdf An e-book clearly outlining a 7-step process to become a disciple who makes disciples by Canon Revd Dr Jon Shuler, NAMS Servant General.
Praxis is a 4-week small group training course on how to be a disciple-making disciple. The workbook for this course can be found at:
with a facilitators/leaders guide at:
You can also watch our 7-part YouTube video series on being and making disciples: go to www.youtube.com and type ‘NAMS Disciple Making Discipleship Course’ in the search bar.
This resource is an offering to the Church universal to begin to apprentice, learn and practice the ‘family business’ that is the vocation and inheritance of all true Christians.
Advent is a season of celebration and preparation. It calls us to look back with gratitude for the incarnation of our Lord, and to godly repentance and active readiness for his second coming. It is the yearly reminder to the people of God of the ultimate destiny we are called into, a kingdom we must all seek, work for and proclaim, as we await its consummation in the return of Christ.
Against the three-fold enemy of God’s people – sin, the world and the devil, it calls us against despair and doubt, to renewed hope and faith in His plans, purposes and power to bring about His transformative purposes in our world.
The following words from poet Roger Spiller is a prayer for us to seek to partner and participate with God in His mission and advent hope for our world today. May it be your prayer and mine today….
Lord, you call us to be story-tellers:
planting your explosive news into our defended lives;
locating us in the script of your human history.
You call us to be trailblazers:
living in your future that we receive only as gift;
subverting the fixed, fated world of low horizons.
You call us to be weavers: tracing, stretching, connecting the knotted threads;
gathering up unravelling, disconnected lives.
You call us to be fools – for Christ’s sake:
bearing life’s absurdities and incongruities;
puncturing our seriousness and grandiosity.
You call us to be hosts:
welcomers of the sacred, intimate, transfiguring;
lavish celebrants of our communities and homecomings.
You call us to be poets: artists and illuminators of inner space; naming, invoking, heralding your ineffable presence.
You call us to be gardeners: sowers, cultivators, nurturers of fragile lives;
benefactors of your gratuitous harvest.
You call us to be conductors celebrating polyphony, coaxing symphony; orchestrating the praise of your inhabited creation;
Lord, you lavish gifts on all whom you call. Strengthen and sustain us and all ministers of your church, that in the range and diversity of our vocation, we may be catalysts of your kingdom in the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
This is such a simple question, but so difficult for many to answer.
Churchmen will immediately answer: Someone who is baptized. But the fathers of the reformation would disagree. They preached (quoting the Apostle) that that person is a Christian who “professes with his lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believes with his heart that God raised him from the dead.” That man is a born again man. That man can enter the kingdom of God. That man should be baptized, but that does not make him a Christian. The Holy Spirit makes him a Christian, or he is not one. This was the doctrine for which men and women died in the Sixteenth Century. This was the doctrine that turned the whole of Western Europe upside down, just as it had turned the First Century upside down.
The fathers of the Reformation, when they had the God-given opportunity, rewrote the documents of the church of their day. They brought the teaching of the apostles to the fore. Especially the teaching of the apostle Paul. They rewrote hymns, prayers, liturgies, covenants, wills, and bibles to make a few things absolutely clear. They unseated kings and rulers. They removed teachers of theology and schoolmasters. They were absolutely persuaded that the good news of Jesus Christ had been obscured and must be brought again into the light. And as they did this work, many in the organized church of their day attacked them. The Reformers found that their fiercest enemies were men who called themselves Christians.
Students of the New Testament will point out to me, perhaps, that the name “Christian” was not given by Jesus. He called his followers his “disciples.” It was observers who called them “those people who follow Chrestus,” Christians, and it stuck for a hundred generations.
But what does it mean today? What does the average person think it means when someone says they are a Christian? At least in the West?
There is one way to find out. Ask some people you know or meet. See what answers you get.
If they are church people you will get a set of answers that almost always will be about religious behavior. If they are unbelievers, they will soon tell you that Christians are of all people the least attractive they know.
If you doubt this talk to the people who serve in restaurants at mid-day on Sunday.
Originally published October 23rd, 2018, on www.jonshuler.com
The power of an idea is strong in some of God’s servants. When an idea that appeals to their predispositions and personality comes into their mind, they are likely to want to embrace it for the kingdom of God. To take the idea captive, as the Apostle says. They will want to implement it immediately. But are all their ideas from the Lord?
Years ago, a former Archbishop of Canterbury told me a story. His dear wife said to him once: “You have a hundred good ideas every day, but only God knows if any of them came from him.” She clearly implied that her husband thought all of them were from God, and she did not. It was a humbling moment for a man entrusted with great national and global responsibility in submission to the Lord of the Church.
How do we know when an idea has come from the Lord? Several things will always be true, in my experience and conviction.
First, the idea will never conflict with the clear Word of God written, as that is supported by many evidences of Scripture. An idea from God will build on the truth revealed in his Son. Nothing the Holy Spirit wants done will lead in a way that is contrary to Jesus’ clear teaching.
Second, the idea will not conflict with the clear teaching of the apostles of Jesus, as that is revealed to us in the New Testament. The authority that the Risen Lord gave to them is now available for us in the writings of the New Testament. The Gospels and Epistles are, for a believer, the Word of God through his chosen servants. They convey Divine Authority.
Third, the idea will commend itself to the deepest wisdom that the Lord has given to his church. The tradition of men must never be allowed to overturn or to crush the clear Word of God written, that is true, but the holy people of God have been through many of the trials and temptations we are still prone to. Their guidance can usually be trusted to alert us to any grievous error or distortion of God’s revealed truth. We must not be ignorant of the church’s history.
Fourth, God has put all of his people in relationship with those who are over them in the Lord, that they may be rightly led in the ways of grace and truth. It is a rare when a thing is to be done without their support. It will happen in seasons of extraordinary reform, perhaps, but generally the concurrence of the local leadership of the church is to be expected if a thing is from the Lord. It is fundamental to the pastoral office that those so called help those committed to their charge rightly to discern the will of God.
Finally, I believe from a lifetime of walking with the Lord Jesus, that God has given husbands to wives, and wives to their husbands, so that they may walk together in unity of heart and spirit. If a thing is from God, the one closest to you in the Lord will know it too. Maybe not immediately, but certainly.
When Maple and I got married, we picked as our wedding verse 1 John 4:19, ‘We love because he first loved us.’
This pithy but sublime verse captures the overwhelming sense we had that our love story was subsumed within a much larger one, from which we were gifted and extended succor and mettle for all our life together. ‘His love will be the glue in this marriage,’ I said in my wedding speech. Indeed, we owe Him all our lives.
Our God is a God who loves, since He is love (1 John 4:8). It forms the very ‘fabric’ of His character and work. It underlines and crowns His every purpose and plan. Scripture reveals then that we are the primary objects and receptors of His love in creation and redemption. And so we are enjoined: ‘Give thanks to the Lord; His steadfast love endures forever.’ (Psalm 107:1).
Love is also raison d’être He has commanded us to live by (see Matthew 22:37-40). It is the reason that we are sent into the world to represent Him and proclaim His kingdom come, in Christ.
During the recent NAMS Global Leaders gathering, I shared with the leaders and Companions present a portion of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:24-19 when he prays specifically that the Ephesians might comprehend with all saints the ‘breadth and length and height and depth’ of the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.
As I reflected on these four definitive nouns that attempted to make concrete the overwhelming and frankly, eternally immeasurable (thus ‘surpassing’) nature of God’s love for us, I began to see that these same measures could also be overlaid over the final command that Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:18-20 – that compelling job-description for His faithful church. It helped me see that even here, God’s love was paramount.
Firstly, the breadth of God’s love is wide enough to include all peoples. Matthew 28:19 calls us to make disciples of ‘all peoples’. His Gospel work comprehensively includes all nations everywhere and so His mission call to us is to go both next door and to the ends of the earth with that good news. Did not Jesus say that because God loved the world, He sent His son to save it? The breadth of God’s love is for everyone.
Secondly, as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 18:20, the length of God’s love towards a sinful world is extended for all time and history – as long as it is possible for lost people to be reached and to come home to Him (see 2 Peter 3:8-9). This same love will endure in His people forever so that we will never get to the end of it.
Thirdly, the height of God’s love extends as high as the heavens where God sits enthroned, to the earth where we are. Simply put, Jesus is Lord (Matthew 28:18). No other name is greater, no other authority is higher, no other love will suffice. Therefore, we can make disciples in all the places He sends us.
Finally, the depth of God’s love is seen and demonstrated in the incarnation and passion of Jesus, when He came down to earth, and was driven deep into dark and hell with the weight of our sins on Him (see Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
But Matthew 28:19 further calls us as disciples of that same Risen Christ to make other disciples.
When Jesus tells the story of two builders in Luke 6:47-49 to contrast obedient and disobedient hearers of His words, he describes the wise and obedient one as one who ‘dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.’
True genuine love that results in life-long discipleship will is a call to dig-down deep into Christ, our rock. ‘The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.’ (Richard Foster).
Discipleship is itself a call to go deep into our love for God and people so that we can go far and wide with and for Him.
Oh, the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love that saves us and sends us out on mission with Him! May you and I not only know and revel in this love but purposefully make it known to others.