IT DOES not pay to let your attention wander. The Church of England seems to have been looking the other way three years ago, when the Anglican Consultative Council announced a season of intentional discipleship. Defending his Church’s tardiness, the Archbishop of Canterbury last weekend pointed to the 2017 report Setting God’s People Free — although that document is primarily about encouraging lay leadership, and doesn’t use the phrase “intentional discipleship”, nor draw on the experience of the rest of the Anglican Communion. Those who find “intentional discipleship” to be an inaccessible term may like to download “SGPF resources”. Now, before the old name has taken root — although it hasn’t hindered strong growth elsewhere in the Communion — there is an alternative name. People can choose between the bureaucratic or the 1960s-hippy “Jesus-shaped Life”. (Note: no phrase is too cool to include a hyphen.)
To do them justice, several speakers at ACC-17 acknowledged that this was a rebranding of things that many Christians are already doing. Rebranding indicates a new owner, but it’s the same beast. Experience and historical perspective allow old beasts to sift new initiatives through their teeth to discern what is of lasting value and what is a passing fad. The ever-present dangers, however, are defensiveness and complacency, leading to the rejection of all novelty simply because it is unfamiliar. Intentional discipleship — by whatever name it comes to be known — stands or falls on whether those who feel the press of the branding iron dismiss it as just another of the smarts that the Church inflicts from time to time, or treat it as a reminder of who their owner is.
The people who will take notice of this initiative — indeed, most of those reading about it here — will already have a deep commitment to following Christ (although everyone, ACC members not excepted, can benefit from encouragement and equipping). The key targets, however, are people — not new Christians, necessarily — whose faith is manifested on Sundays, but, precious but immature, has received little help to deepen, or to spread through the other parts of their lives. The key to whether they receive this help depends not on any disparaging label such as “nominal”, but on the willingness of the more established Christians around them to step up and give them the nurture that they need. Those who are so minded would do well to look at the discipleship resources that will be published in the coming weeks.
And those who wish to discern whether this initiative is of God may want to pay attention to their Anglican partners around the world. Jamaica, Mount Kilimanjaro, Santiago, North Philippines, Accra, Costa Rica — these are a few of the dioceses that have started projects and report an enthusiastic response. Their bishops will be in the UK for the Lambeth Conference in a little more than a year’s time. That’s not long to save face.