Observation #4: The Church is organized to make disciples.
When whole towns and villages are changed, when the social and economic patterns
begin to be altered, when the governing structures begin to be rethought, the gospel of
Jesus Christ has come in reformation. The gospel spreads like a wild fire, and it is
unstoppable for a season of God’s choosing. So it was in the 6th, 12th, and 16th
century in Europe. So it was during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. And
always ordinary believers learn to live so that the gospel spreads easily. They learn to
be disciple-making disciples.
In all such eras believing people meet regularly in small enough groups that the true
nature of the church is experienced day by day. This is the hidden reality whenever the
church of the Lord Jesus is experiencing spontaneous expansion. Large worship
gatherings reveal something of this true nature, but it is in the small villages and homes
of believers, that the truth is daily confirmed and lives transformed. Not because of
these small gatherings, but because the very nature of the kingdom of God is
relationally transmitted. Mothers disciple their daughters. Fathers disciple their sons.
Brother disciples brother. Friends disciple friends. The life of the church is not the work
of a clerical and professional few, but the work of the whole body.
For the church of Christ Jesus in the West to see this occur again, by the grace of God,
reformation must come. The church and its leaders must be willing to rethink how she is
organized. Do her current structures assist the effective spread of the kingdom of God
or do they inhibit it? What must be reformed?
Of all that must undergo rethinking and reforming, nothing is so evident as this: the
social architecture of the local church must be redesigned so that every believer learns
to be a disciple-making disciple. Church structures that do not assist this, in a
reasonably effective and timely way, must be rethought. The current patterns that have
evolved over centuries in the West must be radically revisited. What do they achieve?
Are they producing what the Lord of the church desires?
The Final Command of the Risen Christ Jesus to his church was to “make disciples of
all nations.” This was a command that was about the way his people lived for him. It
was something that would occur as they lived ordinary lives, transformed by his grace.
How was it to be possible? It was possible because it was natural and simple.
The historian Glenn Hinson, after surveying the rise of the church in the first centuries
concluded that “the church of Jesus Christ out organized the Roman Empire, one
household at a time.” Small familial units of disciple-making disciples were the hidden
reality behind the spread of Christianity, and where this truth re-emerges and becomes
a normal way of life for Christians, another season of reformation begins.
Used with permission by joncshuler.wordpress.com
Next Week: Foundational Principles (Internal).
Believing that the Word of God is true.
Astute readers will know why this second observation is directly related to the first. Since the period of history known as the Enlightenment, educated men have undermined faith in the Word of God as true. This began in the 18th century, with non believers, but by the late 19th century it had deeply penetrated most of the institutions that trained Christian leaders in the West. By the late 20th century, many in the older historic families of the church were being led by men who no longer believed the Word of God could be trusted. “Modern” thought had shown its (so they said) many errors. At least by 1950 in the West, if not sooner, men and women who did not believe in and follow the clear teaching of Jesus and his apostles, as revealed in Holy Scripture, were leading and training the next generation of church leaders. The Enemy of all that is good and true was having a field day. The church entered into precipitous decline.
It is in times like these that a few dear saints of God cry out to heaven for mercy. Please God renew in our day what our Fathers have told us you did in days gone by. Faithful witnesses call down the consuming fire of heaven to burn away what has become corrupt, and purify what is called to be holy. And in the fullness of time God acts.
When God begins to move in power, and Holy Spirit reformation of the church begins, it is always in the places where God’s clear Word is being trusted, and the preaching and teaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is coming back to the center. When the truth of the gospel “as it is in Jesus” is restored to the heart of the church’s life, the church begins to grow. And that growth is seen in the lives of humble folk who kneel before their Lord in repentant faith and are born again of the Spirit of God. Obeying the Word of God begins to be their desire, because they love him who is the Word of God incarnate. A new day of reformation dawns when leaders begin to be moved to that repentance, and submit afresh to Jesus as he is revealed in the Word of God.
Of course such men are usually accused of breaking the rules, or not being faithful to the traditions of their denomination, or of being enemies of God. But they know something has happened in their hearts that has called them back to their first love. Or they have at last become truly converted men. In either case, they are brought under the sovereignty of the Word of God written, and they begin to be used for the spread of the kingdom of God. That kingdom and his righteousness becomes what they seek first. They are no longer in thrall to the traditions of men.
The darkness begins to be penetrated, when those days come, and the light of Christ Jesus begins to shine in heart after heart, congregation after congregation, and community after community. The gospel of Christ Jesus begins to change the culture of those places where it is preached and lived. A reformation from God has begun. Times of refreshing have come.
Used with permission from joncshuler.wordpress.com
Next Week: Observation #3 – Believing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people.
Observation #1 – Leaders Are Rarely Seminary Trained.
When true reformation comes to the church of Jesus Christ, it always disrupts the ordinary way things have recently been done. It is part of the very nature of reformation that it only comes because many things have gone wrong. God is intervening because many of his people, and their leaders, have grown cold in the face of these errors. God intervenes to put things right. But in times like these God always has to raise up leaders who will turn their face toward him, and obey what he asks of them – whatever the consequences. This pattern has been seen in all of Church History.
Understanding this reality, goes a long way to helping us to understand the first observation from last week’s post. Reformation almost always begins through the leadership of men not sharing the currently accepted and “normal” way of being trained to lead. They are often outsiders, not thinking the way the majority think. They do not see the current situation the way those in authority see it.
This phenomena may manifest itself in one of two ways. The first of these, and most common, is God raises up leaders trained on a different path than those currently leading. An example from ancient history is the bishop of Rome known as Gregory the Great. Gregory was a Benedictine Monk, and a part of an order founded by St Benedict of Nursia, who died in AD 547. Benedict had established (we would say planted) thirteen small monasteries before he died, all of which were outside of the Catholic authority and leadership structures of their day. Yet in AD 590 one of his followers, Gregory, was made bishop of Rome, and inaugurated a season of lasting reform whose influence is still felt in 2019. He was trained outside the ordinary structures.
The second way this phenomena manifests itself is through a leader trained in the way common in his day, but who has experienced what he believes to be a direct intervention of God in his life. God has shown him a different way for the church to be guided and shaped. When truly God inspired, this leads him, and those who follow him, back to revealed truth already given to the church but neglected or obscured in his own lifetime. He leads in a way outside the “accepted norms,” but consistent with the Word of God. He is a reformer. Thomas Cranmer was such a man. So was John Wesley.
For at least the last 200 years, if not longer, the Western Seminary system has taught men to be men of the mind. To be scholars. It has neglected the formation of the whole man: heart, mind, soul, and strength, putting the Lord Jesus second after knowledge. This has separated many leaders from their people, and has communicated (often unintentionally) to the flock of God that they “do not know enough” to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. They must read more. They must study more. They must have more classes, more programs, more guidance. They must have “expert” instruction to be good Christians. It does not put obeying the Lord Jesus first. It screens out reformation.
Used with permission by joncshuler.wordpress.com
Next Week: Observation #2 – Believing that the Word of God is True.
I have always loved that part in Carol’s Alice in Wonderland, when Alice asks the Cheshire Cat for directions on which way to go. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ replied the cat. When Alice responds that she doesn’t much care where, the Cheshire Cat retorts wisely: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
Destination determines direction.
What is your mission in life? What is the ultimate direction your life is heading towards?
That is a life-defining question that we Christians seldom (or never) ponder. But as disciples of Jesus, it is beholden on us to know what on earth God has put us here for – i.e. our specific vocation and calling, and to be obedient and fulfilled in it for His glory.
But the word ‘mission’ itself can be a scary one for many Christians. For many, it conjures up images of being sent, often against our will, to far off lands to share to unresponsive or even hostile natives the good news of Jesus, perhaps ending up as someone’s supper!
We think it is a job for few special people or a committee of the church. Mission is for the super-committed Christian who is ready to give up the comforts of his everyday life for the privations of some higher calling.
Such a dichotomy is plainly unbiblical. To be a genuine Christian is to be a disciple of Christ (Luke 9:23). And to be a disciple involves becoming a participant in God’s great mission to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospels and to make disciples of all nations (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19). We are all called to cross the street where we live as disciples on mission. A few of us are called to also cross the seas. The question is whether we will obey or not.
In Scripture, ‘mission’ is a comprehensive descriptor of God’s desire and purpose to redeem a people for Himself, for whom He will be their sovereign God and they will be His devoted people. (Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Jeremiah 31:33, 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27; 2 Corinthians 6:16 and principally Revelation 21:3).
At the same time, it also demarcates the whole scope of activities that God initiates engages in the world for His great end i.e. the spread of His kingdom rule to the ends of the earth through the victory and salvation wrought on the cross of the resurrected Christ.
As Christian Wright so eloquently in his book, ‘The Mission of God’s People’, ‘mission’ must by definition encompass not only the ‘sent-ness’ of Christ as God’s Messiah into the world, and His people with Him, but includes everything we are, do and say in relation to that purpose and mission of God’s renewal and rescue of a lost and dying world to himself. It must therefore involve all of our lives.
Against an increasingly intrusive global culture that breeds distraction, doubt, despair and narcissism and leads us in all the wrong directions, the Gospel is the only right way to go.
That God may be known by us and through us to others – for His great glory, that is the end. This is true mission, worth living and dying for.
 Christopher J. Wright, The Mission of God’s People (Michigan: Zondervan, 2010).
‘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.
3 people traveled to Cuba recently from our NAMS Latin America base in Chile, including our NAMS Latin America Team Leader Andrés and companion Juan Tamayo.
They arrived in Havana accompanied by 4 bags full of donations from the NAMS community in Chile, which included medicines, food, clothing and items for the Retreat.
They spent one night at the home of R and M, who are our NAMS local leaders at Havana. The next day, we took an expensive 3-hour taxi to Cienfuegos.
On their arrival, they were greeted by Pastor R and his wife I, who are leaders of our NAMS partnership in Cienfuegos. From there, they ‘traveled’ to the retreat place on a special taxi (- see picture below).
It was a joy for them to meet with each of the families of church planters that our NAMS Base Community in Chile is supporting. They also met with many other people – the elderly, women, children, youth and adults who were involved in various ministries. A total of 60 people were part of the NAMS retreat. All are involved in discipleship and church planting, whether through sports ministries, children’s ministries, family ministries or direct church-planting, etc.
Our NAMS leaders were able to give training over 3 days on topics like Biblical Discipleship, the Great Commission and the Planting of Churches based on Acts 2:42. The training was for both those we have been supporting financially as well as others that we aren’t able to currently.
The last day was a special time because leaders of two communities of faith that we support presented to the Lord 7 new believers whom were baptized by the NAMS team along with pastor R, in the waters of the Caribbean Sea. They were like first-fruits of our partnership and work. The joy and emotion on the part of all the believers was manifest, and they gave glory to God with prayers, praises and songs with tears. After that, they said goodbye to each participant of the retreat.
They also managed to visit some of the church communities that had been planted, praying for the leaders and sharing with each of them their dreams and longings to serve the Lord on the Island. They opened their hearts to our NAMS team about their willingness to continue serving in the midst of difficulties. They also discovered that the 7 church planters received support from us were in fact sharing that support with others who were not yet officially receiving support from us. We believe that if our support is increased, there will be a wider and greater impact – we pray this will happen in time. Overall, our NAMS team witnessed the wonders that the Lord is doing on the island using these humble brothers in the faith.
We thank God with great joy for the opportunity to visit and partner with these precious brothers and sisters in Cuba for the Gospel.
* Names not given for security reasons