A SIGNIFICANT report on the development of discipleship in the
Church of England was published on Tuesday, the first of the
reports in the proposed programme of renewal and reform.
In the report, Developing Discipleship, the Bishop of
Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, calls for a revised catechism for the C
of E; a new theological conversation on discipleship and ministry;
and the exploration by dioceses, parishes, and Fresh Expressions of
"Ten marks of a diocese committed to developing disciples".
The Ten Marks, appended to the report, include supporting "a
lifelong journey of discipleship and growth in Christian maturity",
and the affirmation of discipleship in daily life.
The report says that innovation and experiment in mission,
ministry, and discipleship should be encouraged; and that dioceses
should have specific policies and plans to promote discipleship
It goes on to say that the C of E's current catechism is "an
important but neglected document". It was written "primarily as a
resource for children growing up into the faith in a predominantly
Christian society rather than as a resource for children and adults
aiming to live out their discipleship in a complex and changing
It calls for the development of a revision of the catechism over
the next five years, to "help the whole Church explore and live out
our common discipleship".
The Ministry Council has already begun work on "a new
theological conversation", by drawing together theologians,
bishops, and educators, to "prepare the ground for a larger
conversation" by the College of Bishops in September, leading to
fresh theological resources for the next quinquennium of the
"There is no well-developed source for the theology of
discipleship to which the contemporary Church of England can
readily look to inform its teaching," the secretary for ecumenical
relations and theology, Canon Jeremy Worthen, is quoted as saying
in the report.
"This does not mean, of course, that there has been no writing
on this subject by Anglicans and others," Dr Croft said. "There are
some excellent and recent studies, particularly at a popular level.
However, the thinking they represent has not been fully absorbed
into the lifeblood and culture of our Church and our understanding
of discipleship and ministry."
This "lack of a coherent and concisely stated common
understanding of discipleship", he said, had a "number of
consequences for the life of parishes, dioceses, and the Church of
England as a whole", including a "lopsided" theological
understanding of ministry. And, "most seriously, the witness and
mission of the whole Church is impoverished, as Christians are
neither encouraged nor sustained in the living out of their
Christian faith and daily life."
The report says that discipleship movements have sprung up at
key moments in the Church's history.
"As the Church of England in 2015, we face the challenge of
calling one another afresh to follow Christ in the face of a
global, secularised, materialistic culture, often experienced as a
desert for the soul," Dr Croft says.
"We need to draw on the deep wisdom of the past, but also to
apply ourselves afresh to an authentic and Anglican understanding
of discipleship for the 21st century."
The report will be discussed by the General Synod in February,
and in more detail at its meeting in July. A forum has been created
for responses: www.churchofengland.org/discipleshipreport.
Developing Discipleship: the report in
THE report Developing Discipleship has been written to
introduce group discussion and debate at next month's General
Synod, which will be the start of a "more intentional conversation"
across the Church over the next five years.
It begins by looking at the first disciples: called to
repentance and faith; and invited into a community marked by a
particular rhythm of life: the call to be with Jesus and be sent
To be a disciple, it says, is to be called to a life of learning
and formation in the likeness of Christ; and to be called to live a
distinctive life of witness and service - an apostolic life sent
into the world to follow God's call. The report emphasises in
several places the important part that "being sent out" plays in
But, while acknowledging that discipleship is costly, it says
that discipleship is an invitation to "the strongest hope, the
deepest joy, the greatest fulfilment, the most authentic pattern of
living, the highest adventure known to humanity . . . to have life
in all its fullness."
The report identifies "periods of significant reflection on the
central importance of discipleship" in the history of the Church,
including the monastic movement, the Reformation, the development
of catechesis in the 17th century by Richard Baxter, and the work
of John and Charles Wesley.
A review of the current provision of discipleship resources by
dioceses, by the Archbishops' Council in May 2013, found "some
excellent work being done, and some fine theological leadership",
but also "some significant obstacles to further growth and
development", particularly in the area of lay development and
In the 20th century, the Church of England produced three
national reports on this issue. The most relevant was the 1985
report All are Called: Towards a theology of the laity,
which called for "fresh and deeper theological reflection".
Despite this, there remains a "lack of a coherent and concisely
stated common understanding of discipleship" in the Church
The report suggests three ways forward: first, to commend ten
"provisional" marks of discipleship (see below) to
dioceses and parishes for further development and exploration as a
contribution to good practice.
Second, a new theological conversation on discipleship and
ministry, from which new theological resources will be developed
for the next quinquennium of the General Synod.
And, third, the development of a new catechism for "children and
adults aiming to live out their discipleship in a complex and
Ten Marks of a Diocese Committed to Developing
In a diocese committed to developing disciples:
1. A lifelong journey of discipleship and growth in
Christian maturity is supported and modelled by all.
The diocese offers opportunities for nurturing faith,
prayer, and discipleship across all generations; so that all
Christians continually grow as followers of Jesus in their
understanding and their actions.
2. The importance of discipleship in daily life is
Events, publications, and statements, at all levels of
diocesan activity, highlight and support the role of Christians
living out their faith as they seek to build the Kingdom of God in
the wider community, workplace and home.
3. Gatherings for worship celebrate the discipleship of
all the baptised.
The discipleship of the whole people of God is celebrated in
the liturgy by word and symbol in the worship of congregations, and
on diocesan occasions such as the induction of ministers into
4. Disciples are equipped to help others to become
followers of Jesus.
The diocese offers deliberate planning and resourcing to
enable congregations and individuals in their witness to Christ,
and develops support networks with those involved in ministries
such as lay evangelists or lay pioneers.
5. Diocesan work on vocations is based on the principle
that all the baptised are called into God's service.
Vocations advisers strategically promote opportunities to
work with all Christians to discern and develop their calling and
ministry in both the world and the Church.
6. Good practice in facilitating learning and formation
Laity, clergy, and parishes are regularly resourced and
equipped with high levels of expertise in using facilitation
skills, learning methodologies, and approaches to catechesis and
7. Gifts of leadership are recognised and developed
among all the baptised.
A share in spiritual leadership, governance and witness in
the wider community is affirmed by lay and ordained alike, and such
affirmation is embedded in diocesan processes (e.g. Articles of
Enquiry, Mission Action Plans, and Ministry Development
8. Innovation and experiment are encouraged in mission,
ministry, and discipleship.
The diocese promotes and affirms new developments in forms
of church life, in which disciples - lay and ordained alike - grow
as they are released into new areas of active service and
9. Specific diocesan policies and plans promote
As an integral part of diocesan strategy there are current
theologically rooted plans, projects, and programmes in place to
encourage and resource discipleship development.
10. Diocesan resources are committed to the development
of the whole people of God.
Resources of staff and money and time are allocated, and
their effectiveness in enabling discipleship development of all
regularly reviewed and assessed.
Taken from the Archbishops' Council's Developing
Discipleship report. These ten marks were produced on 19
December 2014 by the Education Division, Ministry Division, and
Mission and Public Affairs Council, after wider consultation with