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Developing Discipleship: C of E ‘needs new input’ on Christian living

16 January 2015


Developing Discipleship

Developing Discipleship

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 development.

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 world".

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 General Synod.

"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 detail

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 out.

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 discipleship.

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 discipleship.

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 today.

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 changing world".


Ten Marks of a Diocese Committed to Developing Disciples

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 affirmed.

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 parishes. 

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 is developed.

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 formation. 

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 Review).

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 ministry. 

9. Specific diocesan policies and plans promote discipleship development.

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 diocesan networks.

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