Seeding The Faith

Will you who are reading this make a regular contribution to the spread of the kingdom of God, right now, through NAMS? Right now, will you help us as we seek to seed the faith among the nations of the world?

NAMS needs to raise $75,000 by year end, in order to remain in the black and continue the good work it is doing among the nations. Our Companions are serving the gospel with passion and zeal for the Lord and his church on every continent, but we need more praying and giving supporters.

Can you make a generous one time gift? Could you become a regular giver?

DONATE NOW!

 

I have been trying to raise support for global mission for nearly forty years. I do not know why it is so hard for Christians in North America to understand this need, but at the heart of it is a failure to understand the depth of the love of God for the lost, or so it seems to me.

This morning in my time with the Lord I read II Corinthians 9. I was struck again by the Apostle’s absolute conviction that giving must be without compulsion, and must come from the free willingness of the giver. I also noticed for the first time two things: 1) not all were “stirred up” to give, only “most” (v. 2); and 2) Paul was clear that those who gave to the needs of the saints were giving a gift that was going to “overflow” to “others” (v.13).

Raising funds for concrete needs after disasters is never difficult. Good people are moved by the suffering of others, and they are often quite generous. They help rebuild a burned house, they send blankets and food, they help to house the homeless after an earthquake. All these are wonderful signs of compassion and care.

But what about the overflow?

When unbelievers are helped, God is pleased. But when those who were lost are found, God is glorified. Gifts that glorify God produce an overflow to others. The spread of the kingdom of God is not an afterthought for true believers. It is at the heart of their desire.

When financial gifts are channeled to those who are spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is an overflow of grace that lasts for eternity.

If those reading this blog would help NAMS with a small financial gift every month, the overflow will be to the nations. The prisoners in Thailand, the orphans in Nepal, the poor in Myanmar, the despised in the slums of Egypt, the persecuted in India, the poor in the Congo, the illiterate in Peru, the widows in Chile, the prisoners in Cuba, to mention only a few.

Will you click on the donate button now? Will you give $100/month for the mission of Jesus to all people? $50/month? $25/month? Some other amount? If you do, I am sure it will “glorify God” because it will be “flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ” (II Cor 9:13).

To those of you who respond, my heartfelt thanks goes to you and up to God.

DONATE NOW!

— Rev. Jon Shuler
NAMS Servant General

 

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Seeding The Faith

Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 1, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

All Companions of the missionary order we call NAMS are called to life at the seams.

As an ex-Army officer, one of the most important leadership lessons I learned was to “pay attention to the seams.” The line where two pieces of fabric come together is where the garment takes its form. But it’s also where the stitches are most likely to give way and tear apart.

Similarly, the spaces between life circumstances where plans and operations come together and either align or fall apart, have the potential to shape future reality but also are the most vulnerable to chaos. Leaders must pay attention to these places in both their personal and organizational life.

I am living in a seam at the moment. One month ago our family transitioned from South Africa to South Carolina after nearly six years as missionaries with an intentional Christian community we helped found.

In the weeks before we left I had a significant conversation with my Bishop, Rt Rev Joel Obetia of Uganda. I articulated to him in an uncertain, rambling fashion, my dream for building new communities of faith that would perhaps never really fit into the traditional Christian (Anglican) system.

As Bishop Joel listened patiently but with intense focus as only the way a man unencumbered by technology or the urgency of next things can, he told me seven things that I share with you in this two-part blog, that I hope may inspire and provide fuel for conversations among NAMS Companions and those who support and love us, as we seek to work together in years to come.

The numbered lines are from Bishop Joel. The italicized sentences are my commentary.

  1. Operate as if there are no boxes.

Boxes are not inherently bad. People relate ideas to concepts that they already know. In this way we all have “boxes” that we put ideas into. The first cars were known as motor wagons because they were seen as strange new versions of the horse-drawn, wooden wagons people knew well. But when those of us called to create new things operate only in reference to models and forms that already exist we limit our creative capacity to dream and give power to things in the “box” to control and shape the future.

Those of us made to dream of, create, and live out new models of Christian community must not be confined by the boxes that hold the settled local church in our contexts. We must be free to dream of new structures and ways to engage people in this lost and dying world. In other words, pioneers must be free and freed to pioneer.

  1. A movement will be limited if it becomes the church.

The institution of the church is necessarily an ordered society, slow to change and normally resistant to new ideas. New movements led by the Spirit to renew the church must operate outside of those church structures, otherwise their impact will be limited by the formal and informal constraints of institutional Christianity.

This is not to say that people involved in the movement shouldn’t also be part of the institutional church – they should. Individual presbyters and lay leaders in missional movements should be connected in healthy relationships to others in the more settled body, but their vocational activity cannot be completely controlled by the systems and authority of the settled church, lest the new apostolic work that God has ordained be confined to what already is.

The tension between fluid movement and established structure is difficult to navigate but is necessary if either movement and church are to fulfill their God given purpose.

Part 2 next week will complete the list of 7 things my bishop spoke to me.

— Revd. Gabriel Smith
NAMS Global Operations

Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 1, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

‘Come and See’, ‘Follow me’ and ‘Go and Make’

‘By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’ (John 15:8)

At the recently concluded NAMS India Training meetings in Golpapur-on-sea, Orissa, India, the Scripture above, as well as other relevant passages were brought alive to us, as we discovered afresh the primary calling of all disciples to both abide consistently in the word of Jesus, to love the community of disciples and to bear abundant fruit in discipling others, as a result.

30 pastors, church-planters and leaders, both men and women, attended the NAMS meetings led by Pranab Kumar, NAMS South Asia Regional Team leader. He was supported by Manik Corea, NAMS GE and Joel Regmi, a pastor from Nepal associated with our work there.

Throughout the 3 days together from October 17-19, 2017, there was a renewed sense of call and equipping to continue in the mission of Jesus, to be and become disciple-making leaders seeking to plant and multiply new communities to bring transformation to their communities.

ComeSeeFollow1-oct31.17

We were blessed to have met at an economically-priced St. Vincent Roman Catholic Retreat centre in Golpapur-on-sea, which was a short 10 minute stroll to the Bay of Bengal. The facilities were simple but clean and adequate, with ample food and beverages, complete with requisite spice and curries, feeding us well for the 3 days.

Each of the three mornings began with a time of worship and a devotional sharing. We worshipped and prayed in Oriya, an Indo-aryan spoken by the majority people in the State. The talks were mostly translated from English.

The focus of our time together was squarely on how Jesus wants us to fulfill His final command that disciples be made of all nations, in the context of their work in state of Orissa. Sessions focused on the process of making disciples, planting churches and raising disciple-making leaders and how this applied to various aspects of personal, family and communal life.

For example Manik led a session on the pathway of true discipleship that can be divided into three distinct phases, each characterized by different phrases – 1) ‘come and see’ (John 1:39) is the invitational welcoming phase of sharing and communicating the Gospel to not-yet-believers, 2) ‘follow me’ (John 1:43) denotes the call to intentional discipleship, nurture and growth after Jesus as the focus and goal of all our life and 3) ‘go and make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19) – the multiplying effect of our lives on others where we help them to find and follow Jesus as new disciples.

Joel’s session on 8 principles that distinguished a biblically faithful church from a disobedient, unfruitful one was particularly well received. Citing his experience in Nepal, he showed that healthy faithful churches had a consistent emphasis on disciple-making, moved from classroom training to life training, were outward-focused and were characterized by God-dependency rather that self-sufficiency. He said, ‘we are not the manufacturers of God’s blessings but are called to be distributors of His favor to our communities.’

Each evening ended with opportunity for reflection, feedback and prayer over what God has been speaking to them during the teaching sessions.

There was also opportunity in the course of the meetings to address the growing concern about rising persecution by Hindu extremists in the land. We encouraged them to have faith and hope in the midst of the challenge of staying faithful to the witness and life of Christ in us.

From the feedback of participants, this was a wonderfully blessed and fruitful time of encouragement and equipping. Participants expressed thankfulness to NAMS Companions, friends and supporters who gave and prayed so we could be together.

May His Kingdom come in Orissa and all over the South Asia continent.

 

 

‘Come and See’, ‘Follow me’ and ‘Go and Make’

Family Discipleship — part 2 (by Sam Horowitz)

Last week we were reminded of the biblical mandate of carrying out the discipleship process within our households. But many who would agree on the necessity of doing so do not feel empowered or equipped to do it. I thought it might help to give some practical suggestions.

First, we must be continually repenting and believing the Good News of Jesus Christ, taking up his cross daily and following him. Obviously, we cannot help another strive toward Jesus if we are not doing it ourselves. But with such daily repentance we must also reconsider the kind of person we want the child or children in our lives to grow up into. What will they be like if we have been successful? Are we thinking first about their education or career? Or do we envision them becoming strong and faithful men and women of God? Having the right picture in hearts is an important first step.

Next, consider what may be some patterns (or rhythms or rituals) that may be able to help. For example, one purpose the Church has in gathering once a week for worship is to empower her members to be worshiping and living as disciples throughout the week. In the same way, it may be helpful to establish a set regular time for a family to gather and hear from the Lord and apply what they have heard to their life together. This time can be the bedrock for carrying discipleship through to the “in-between times” of life — walks to school, shopping trips, preparing meals, or even working on schoolwork. Daily prayer before school can help a child to remember Paul’s instruction to “pray always.” A weekly memory verse can help to teach a child the importance of taking the words of our Lord into our hearts. Find the patterns that work for your family.

Finally, here are some approaches that can help when you develop these practices.

  • Story: My own son is in a “tell me a story” phrase. He asks probably a dozen times a day for me to tell him a story, and most children do indeed love stories. May we not allow the entertainment companies to be the only ones taking advantage! This is an invitation to be teaching God’s overarching “Great Story” of redeeming the world as well as Jesus’ parables and other biblical stories. Take care not to turn these stories into fairy tales. When telling an Old Testament story especially, try to set that story within the context of the Gospel (we must help our children understand how David & Goliath is a Christian story, not simply a fable with an empowering the-weak-defeat-the-strong message). Parents will have to wrestle with the tensions of being honest about these stories while keeping them age-appropriate! Still, story is powerful.
  • Concreteness: Children much more readily latch onto things that can be directly sensed. Our family went through a season where at one dinner a week we would talk about a bible story and how our own family had experienced that same story. We would begin our meal by lighting a candle as I read from John 1 about the light coming into the world. That candle-lighting reinforced the identity of Jesus, and it marked out this meal and what we were doing as something special. Our young son much more easily grasps the biblical images that describe eternal life as feasts and celebrations than he does some vague abstraction of “going to heaven.” He has been to a family feast!
  • Jesus commands our faith be child-like (Matt 18:3). Do not patronize your children, but honestly consider what they contribute to these conversations. Allow their faith to inspire your own!

Many more words could be written, and there are many good resources available to parents who want to take the charge of Deuteronomy 6 more seriously. But remember that for thousands of years, parents have passed on the faith without off-the-shelf products!

Family Discipleship — part 2 (by Sam Horowitz)

Family Discipleship — part 1 (by Sam Horowitz)

We love our specialists and experts. When we have a problem, or something needs to be done, we turn to the experts. Over the last several decades, unfortunately, most American churches have taken this to an extreme when it comes to making disciples.

Several years ago, I asked a team of leaders what they would do if their neighbor knocked on their door one morning and shared that they had just become a Christian. After an uncomfortably long period of silence, one tentatively offered up that they would bring this new convert to church — so that they could begin to hear my preaching. Of course attending worship is an important part of being a disciple, but it was clear to me that the men and women in the room — all of whom had been following Jesus for twenty years or more — believed that disciple-making was best left to the experts.

This trend is even clearer when it comes to making disciples of young people. A recent survey of Christian parents revealed that the majority did not feel comfortable or capable of instructing their own children in the faith. That finding was often true, by the way, even among “core” church members and Children’s Sunday School teachers!

When the people of Israel were preparing to enter into the Promised Land, and God was instructing them on the fundamental ways of living that would enable them to keep the covenant they had entered into with him, he told them:

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

If faithful parents want to raise faithful children, we must have the same attitude. There are no shortcuts. First, the hearts and minds of moms and dads must be on Jesus and his teaching. We must be spending time with him and his words daily, and not only on Sundays. We must learn to look at, process, and interact with the world through the lens of the Bible’s story.

And then, we must be continually teaching our children the Gospel and living the Good News out by faith. The pairs “when you sit/when you walk” and “when you lie down/when you rise” are not particular opportunities to be teaching, but are Hebraisms meant to include everything in between two opposites. For most of the church history, this was the way new generations of disciples were raised. Parents shared their lives of faith with their children. The idea that we could outsource this to experts, though pervasive today, is in the grand scheme of things a novelty.

This is not to say that youth and children’s ministry “specialists” have no place in the church, or are unimportant. I write to you today as one with many years of “professional” experience in children’s and youth ministry. But these ministries must be added to daily family patterns of discipleship, in the same way that most people live healthy lives by adding occasional visits to medical professionals to daily healthy practices.

Are you sharing your life with your children (or grandchildren, or the young people of your faith community) in a way that demonstrates the effect of the Gospel in daily living? Are you taking advantage of the opportunities life presents in “all you do” to be “diligently” teaching the ways of Jesus to the young people entrusted to you?

Next week: Practical suggestions for family discipleship

Family Discipleship — part 1 (by Sam Horowitz)

WHAT DO YOU MEASURE?

I was taught many years ago that we measure what we value. What do you measure?

Shortly after I was made Rector (Senior Pastor) of a large American congregation years ago, the senior lay leader came by my office on a Tuesday morning. He asked me what the attendance was on Sunday and I did not know. He was shocked, and asked what I did measure from the weekend. I had measured nothing, but was basking in the memory of what seemed to me a wonderful morning of worship and teaching. He was not pleased, and told me that if he was the senior leader he would want the staff to place on his desk on Monday morning three numbers: How many people attended; How much money was placed in the offering; and how many visitors were present? From that week, we measured all three.

The congregation grew during all the years I was the leader, and I came in time to believe part of the reason for our growth was that we measured what was happening. When attendance fell we asked why? And made adjustments if we could discern a reason. Similarly when giving was down we asked the same questions. So also with those who were coming to visit for the first time, so we could follow up quickly and invite them to return.

What do you measure?

After being a senior leader in that congregation for some years, I decided on a new set of measurements to add to the first three. I began to ask how many people were participating in a small intentional discipling group? I began to also track those learning to lead such groups, and especially tried to find a way to measure those who were actively discipling other people to be followers of Jesus. And we began to also measure the number of congregants that were actively bringing others into the life of the church. These measurements helped us to pay close attention to what our Lord Jesus clearly expects of the community of faith. Who is coming to faith? Who is being discipled? Who is stepping up to the leadership tasks that ensure that “names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20)? How many are learning to “catch men” (Luke 5:10)?

What do you measure?

Near the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry he told his closest disciples that he expected them to bear much fruit (John 15:8). He was not talking about their interior character, but about those men and women who were being added to the kingdom of God because they were cooperating with the Shepherd who yearns for his lost ones to come home. A good shepherd keeps track of his sheep. A leader in the church of the Lord should measure what matters to the Lord of the church.

What do you measure?

 

— Rev. Jon Shuler
NAMS Servant General

 

WHAT DO YOU MEASURE?

‘Follow Me’ (By Manik Corea)

It was my first time in Paris. Emerging from a railway station, I struggled to find my bearings with a map. A Frenchman offered to help me get where I needed to go. Unfortunately, I spoke no French—nor he any English. So, we communicated by sign and he gestured in grunts and hand signs where I needed to go. I tried to follow his instructions, but got lost a couple of times further along the way.

This contrasted with my first time in Chicago, where a stranger offered not only to help me find my way to a particular Metro station, but to accompany me on the journey. His ‘follow me’ was much preferable to simply being pointed in the right direction.

Discipleship is first and foremost an invitation to journey with and after Jesus.

Where you get to and what you become in life depends fundamentally on who you’re following and which road you take. Jesus once described life starkly in terms of two roads, one broad that leads many to destruction, and one narrow – on which only a few find life.

We must trust Jesus through His Holy Spirit to be our surest guide on the narrow way to God the Father, because in Jesus, God has come to us. He knows the way because He is the way. It is no accident that the earliest followers of the Christian faith were known as followers of ‘the Way’ (Acts 9:2; 11:26; 22:4).

It is no surprise then that the first and most common phrase Jesus used on prospective disciples was simply ‘Follow me.’[i] It is not clear in the original Greek whether this is a command or a request – perhaps both. But the implications in many of the contexts where Jesus used the phrase is clear – he was calling with some intended force and expectation that those he called would give him their unqualified attention and an obedient response.

It was a call first and foremost to himself.

On the other hand, the Jewish rabbis and the Greek philosophers of His day expected disciples to commit themselves to a specific philosophy or a definite cause – i.e. to their teaching rather than the teacher. The call of Jesus was wholly personal – his disciples were to follow him, to be with him, and to commit themselves wholeheartedly to him.

Likewise, we as disciples are called to make Him the singular focus of our lives; to a way of life that is entirely in keeping with His character, saving work, and kingly reign. We are called to an all-consuming love for Him. In that sense, Christian discipleship is predicated on the claim of total devotion by Christ.

‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’ (Matthew 10:38; cf Luke 14:27, Matthew 16:24-28; John 10:27; 12:25-26).

In fact, he can brook neither rivals nor competition, nor accept even reasonable requests for deference or delay (Matthew 19:21-22, Luke 9:57-62).

Discipleship is the all-life response we are called to make to God’s gracious free gift of salvation in Christ Jesus. This demand, as John Stott said, is as total as the offer is free.

We either follow Him with our all, or we are not following him at all.

Are you truly following Him today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] See for example Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 19:21; John 1:43; 1:44; 21:19; 21:22.

‘Follow Me’ (By Manik Corea)