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ACC-17: ‘intentional discipleship is about a Jesus-shaped life’

01 May 2019


THE notion of intentional discipleship, summed up at ACC-17 this week most succinctly by Mark Senada, a youth member from Egypt, as “Christians who say what they do and do what they say”, was rebranded on Tuesday as the promotion of a “Jesus-shaped Life”.

The initiative, begun at the last ACC meeting in Lusaka in 2016, has been “like a train gathering speed”, the Canadian Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Jane Alexander, said. Many Provinces and dioceses around the Anglican Communion have been developing and promoting the initiative.

Introducing the new branding, the Bishop of Northern Argentina, the Rt Revd Nick Drayson, said that the small steering group behind the initiative, led by the Archbishop of South East Asia, the Most Revd Ng Moon Hing, had felt that the phrase “intentional discipleship” needed unpacking. “Jesus-shaped Life . . makes more sense. . .

“We’re not saying this is how you’ve got to do it. That’s for each area to decide. But it is an encouragement to make Jesus-shaped life central. . . It’s not just about church activities: it’s about parenting, it’s about work, it’s about culture, it’s about learning and being family in all of life.”

Rosalie Ballentine (United States) said that it reminded her of the 1960s slogan “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD). The Rt Revd Nathan Tone (Melanesia) spoke about it as an answer to “the commitment problem”.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, talked about “the great lack of biblical literacy” in England. “Somehow, we’ve allowed generations of good, faithful Christian people simply not to know about their Christian faith.”

Speaking about the logo, he said that was seeing it in a new light: “Not so much Jesus shaping my heart, but Jesus giving me a new heart,” along the lines of Ezekiel 36.

He continued: “What sort of heart would you ask for? I think that, superficially, knowing that there’s hurt and uncertainty and confusion in the world, we might say: ‘Lord, give me a superbionic, never-to-be-broken-again heart. . .

“But the promise of the Bible is that God will give you a heart of flesh — a heart that is better able to feel the sorrow, the hurt, the pain, and the confusion of the world. God is going to give you a heart like Jesus. . .

“To receive the heart of Jesus isn't just about knowing about your faith: it is also about living it, and sharing it with others.”

The steering group has prepared a set of leaflets and short booklets, but the idea is that every region prepares materials best suited to its own context. Much of the work is related to the Five Marks of Mission, slowly catching on 35 years after they were first mooted at ACC-6: to proclaim the good news; to teach and baptise; to serve; to transform unjust structures; and to safeguard creation. Each has been given a colour that appears in the heart-shaped logo.

The Rt Revd Eraste Bigirimana (Burundi) reminded members of an earlier label: catechesis. Bishop Cottrell later unveiled a document that contained all the labels, under the Jesus-shaped Life logo: its title is “A Framework for Catechesis and Intentional Discipleship in the Anglican Communion”.

He was keen to state: “We’ve got to get away from the idea that being a disciple is like doing a degree in God.” And Bishop Alexander was one of several speakers who made the point that much that was being described was being done by Christians already, many of whom denied that they were being effective in any way, and who felt shame and guilt for not doing enough. The new focus on discipleship was enabling people to connect what they were doing on social care and environmental issues with their faith, besides starting new ventures such as “Get-to-know-you Sundays” and Enneagram days.

Harriet Baka Nathan (South Sudan) emphasised the practical nature of mission, particularly in parts of the world where people’s main concern was to put food on the table.

Canon John Kafwanka, director for mission at the Anglican Communion Office, agreed. “One of the challenges for churches is that we have talked a lot about Jesus, but, sadly, people have never seen Jesus in us. . . The visibility of Jesus is often absent.”

Bishop Cottrell said: “The easy mistake would be [to believe] that we can solve the problem of intentional discipleship just by having a programme that teaches people the facts about the Christian faith. We do need that. But we need much more than that. We need to nurture this whole-life understanding of a different way of living this life, a different way of seeing the world.”

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