THE genocide in Rwanda is a “chilling reminder” of what happens when people are welcomed into the Christian faith but not discipled, a new guide produced by a group of Anglican leaders and theologians says.The report, Intentional Discipleship and Disciple-Making — An Anglican Guide for Christian Life and Formation is unsparing in its critique of the current spiritual health of the Anglican Communion, and calls upon it to look beyond attendance numbers to whether faith is transforming people’s characters.
“In Africa the single word ‘Rwanda’ offers a chilling reminder of what happens when people are welcomed but not discipled; in a Western European context steady Church decline bears witness to an eroded and over-intellectualised understanding of discipleship.”
The authors conclude that, in recent decades, the Communion has seen “very little intentional emphasis on equipping, mentoring, forming, teaching, or maturing and recognising the gifts of those who believe in Jesus (all the baptised) to be lifelong disciples whose faith is to have impact in or influence every sphere of their daily experience”.
The guide defines a focus on discipleship as “steering a course for a Communion in which every member has a daily intention to follow Christ in every aspect of their lives, come what may.” Disciple-making is, it argues, the inevitable consequence of discipleship, “the natural process through which infectious Christ-like living attracts and brings forth new life, new discipleship in others”.
Church growth, witnessed particularly in the Global South, is not necessarily the measure of a healthy church, it warns. Several Church leaders are quoted lamenting how an increase in numbers “has not made significant change in people’s commitment to church life and community transformation”.
Among them is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who admits that, “The absence of any real emphasis upon discipleship in England in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s had a profound impact on the decline we are experiencing today.”
The authors warn that, even in parts of the world where Christianity remains popular, numerically, “the effectiveness of its members is often minimal, and can also be described as nominal and minority”. In other areas, there is “a growing danger that faith becomes a private matter, a personal moral exercise, rather than a whole-life-shaping discipleship in devotion and obedience to Christ, lived in the context of everyday life”.
Evidence that Christian faith is not transforming believers’ characters is set against the claim that the faith has “huge potential . . . to transform local and global communities”.
The prescription, set out in the guide, is a “Season of Intentional Discipleship and Disciple-Making”. The goal is not, it stresses, to address poor church attendance or low commitment — although these would be by-products — but to “honour and glorify God”.
In a foreword to the booklet, the Primate of the Church of the Province of South East Asia, the Most Revd Ng Moon Hing, writes: “Our evangelism has nothing to do with numbers and power, but everything to do with love, generosity, inclusion, and the all-encompassing life and love of God.”
The guide begins with a survey of history and theology, followed by an overview of the diversity of ministries within the Communion and a list of resources that have proved effective.
Africa is held up as a potential model.
“Africa does not suffer from the individualism or the pseudo-scientific scepticism which is so rife in the West; the pressures are brought by poverty, political instability, tribal ties, religious conflict, and a shortage of trained-leaders and resources,” the authors write. “With the right strategies and support, Africa is, however, proving to be fertile ground for discipleship, and in many ways sets an example to the rest of the world as to what can happen when God moves among his people.”
The guide has been produced as a resource for next week’s meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Zambia, where the theme is “Intentional Discipleship in a World of Differences”. Its editors are Canon John Kafwanka, the director for mission at the Anglican Communion Office, and Canon Mark Oxbrow, international co-ordinator of Faith2Share, an inter-denominational global network of mission agencies