Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Developing Discipleship in the CofE: more words you never thought you'd read

"...We need set our reflection on discipleship at the heart of all we do.
The call to grow the Church is a call to make disciples, who will live out their faith in the whole of their lives.
The call to serve the common good is a call to every Christian disciple to make a difference in their home, in their workplace, in their wider community.
The call to re-imagine ministry needs to begin with the call to every Christian to live out their baptism, their lifelong commitment to Christ.
from Steven Crofts introduction to the new Developing Discipleship report, released as part of a batch of materials trailed yesterday by the 2 Archbishops, in their drive to renew the CofE as a community of missionary disciples. In what I think is a first, there's even an official comments thread on the report, it'll be interesting to see how that develops. 
The report is part of a process begun a couple of years back to look at the key priorities of the Church of England, and to explore how the CofE can make them a reality. It's designed as an introductory paper to a General Synod debate on discipleship, and a longer process of discussion and development over the coming years. The report is only 11 pages long, and quite a bit of it would make good material for small group study in the average church.
DD puts discipleship at the heart of the CofE Together as the Church we are the Body of Christ, a community of missionary disciples. This missionary discipleship is the foundation of every Christian’s vocation to work and service. Nurturing this sense of discipleship across the Church is therefore vital as the Church of England seeks to serve the common good through the life and service of every member. Nurturing discipleship is the very essence of promoting spiritual and numerical growthNurturing discipleship lies at the heart of re-imagining both lay and ordained ministry
the three bits in bold (my doing) are the three named priorities of the national CofE.
As with yesterday, it's worth taking a moment to think about how revolutionary this all is. A few years ago I asked around my Diocese, and various CofE bodies, to see if there were local churches like mine which had designed their teaching and adult learning around the agenda of 'making disciples'. It seemed a bit of a no-brainer, after all, Jesus devotes a large chunk of his time to it, and it's at the heart of his parting instructions to the infant church. I think I found one church that was wrestling with this. Whole-life discipleship goes way beyond imbibing the odd teaching series, it covers character, calling, gifts, skills, attitudes and experiences, and it's shaped by teaching, life, prayer, spiritual disciplines, training, learning and practicing new skills (e.g. how to listen well, how to pray for someone, how to share your faith), life in community, formal and informal learning experiences and the chance to reflect on them, mentoring, and being thrown in at the deep end. Traditionally the CofE has relied mainly on repeated liturgy/worship, and monologue sermons following a repeated rolling cycle of readings to do the job. It takes only a brief glance at the gospels to work out that this isn't a strategy based on the example of Jesus.
The report notes that we lack a 'coherent and concisely stated common understanding of discipleship'. (David Cooke could have told you that) Lacking this, we have reduced Christian ministry to the life of the church, and have lost the vision of discipleship as a 24/7/365 lifestyle as much to do with work as with worship.  there has been some reflection on licensed lay ministry but very little on the service offered by the majority of Christians for the majority of time through their discipleship. If we are not careful, the language of discipleship contracts to cover only those who have a recognised ministry.
The paper helpfully suggests some practical ways forward:
  • 'Ten Marks' which Dioceses are encouraged to adopt and promote, which can be applied at congregational as well as Diocesan level (see below)
  • new theological work on discipleship: long overdue, apart from LICC and Graham Cray, I can't think of many people writing in depth about this at the moment for the UK context. (But it has to be practical too: theology is great, but we also need to engage with how people's lives, characters, attitudes and habits are shaped, and how that can best be done within local Christian community)
  • a new catechism - a resource for developing adult disciples across the church. 
Here are the '10 marks' in brief, a fuller version is towards the back of the Developing Discipleship paper:

1. …A lifelong journey of discipleship and growth in Christian maturity is supported and
modelled by all.
2. …The importance of discipleship in daily life is affirmed.
3. …Gatherings for worship celebrate the discipleship of all the baptised.
4. …Disciples are equipped to help others to become followers of Jesus.
5. ..…Diocesan work on vocations is based on the principle that all the baptised are called
into God’s service.
6. …Good practice in facilitating learning and formation is developed.
7. ..…Gifts of leadership are recognised and developed among all the baptised. 
8. …Innovation and experiment are encouraged in mission, ministry and discipleship.
9. …Specific diocesan policies and plans promote discipleship development
10. …Diocesan resources are committed to the development of the whole people of God.

On the face of it, there's nothing controversial here, but just imagine what it would look like if this was the common everyday practice of your local church. 

These are exactly the right questions for the Church of England to be wrestling with. You wait 500 years for something exciting to happen in the Church of England, then it all comes along at once.... 

update Thinking Anglicans is keeping a rolling blog of the discussion papers as they are released. 


  1. what with the green report, this discipleship paper and the in each generation "paper" issued as part of the cofe tumblr post yesterday (summary http://bit.ly/1CfbYat ) its all a rather wonderful explosion of thinking, ideas and proposals isn't it?

  2. Keep scribbling, that way you'll ensure it never happens.

  3. Altogether hope-inspiring. Andy Griffiths, Essex.

    1. No mention in Bishop Croft's "Ten Marks" of such as prayer, obedience, faithfulness, repentance, thankfulness, sacrifice, patience, doctrine or the primacy of Scripture and the Sacraments. Just a familiar list of broad-brush, semi-detached 'classroom' assertions which many of us have heard trotted out before. The question concerning all ten of his "Marks" is "how"?

  4. We are following Fruitfulness on the Frontline as part of our house groups course at my church and it is really helping with understanding how we can make a difference helping God in our communities to reach the people He loves. Sort of on a related note :)