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Lambeth 2022: Discipleship — from pew-warmer to Jesus-shaped life

05 August 2022

Richard Washbrooke/Lambeth Conference

The co-chairs of the discipleship plenary, the Rt Revd Ng Moon Hing and the Most Revd Michael Curry

The co-chairs of the discipleship plenary, the Rt Revd Ng Moon Hing and the Most Revd Michael Curry

ON FRIDAY, bishops at the Lambeth Conference caught up with the development of intentional discipleship, a renewal movement that has been working through the Anglican Communion since a commitment to it was made at the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in Lusaka in 2016.

The initiative, described as “like a train gathering speed” by a Canadian bishop at the next ACC meeting in Hong Kong (News, 1 May 2019), was continuing to gain momentum as individual dioceses and Provinces developed resources and programmes, the bishops heard.

The Rt Revd Ng Moon Hing, a former Archbishop of South East Asia, who co-chaired the plenary, described discipleship as “investment in heaven”. Speaking at a press briefing before the plenary, he remarked that discipleship was not a course: “People ask me what cost, what modules, how many sessions? I have to correct them: discipleship is a whole-life process.”

It was not something new: “In the whole gospel is mentioned ‘discipleship, discipleship discipleship’.” Without disciples there would have been no Early Church, he said. Similarly, if the present generation of Christians failed to encourage new disciples, like a fruit-bearing tree, it would become extinct. It was a matter of moving beyond being a “pew-warmer”.

The Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said: “Something profoundly different happens in a person’s life when their centre of gravity is no longer self but Christ.” He used himself as an example: “There’s nothing special about Michael Curry, but put Jesus in Michael Curry and you’re going to get something good.”

Being a member of a church was “nice”, he said, but that was just a beginning. “We don’t need to make more Churchians; we need to make more Christians.”

In the plenary, the Primate of West Indies, the Most Revd Dr Howard Gregory, quoted the author Sherry Weddell: “Most of our Christians are not yet disciples.” The Archbishop’s contention was that the “faithful exercise of intentional discipleship will lead others to Christ and to a living, growing, and vibrant Church.”

He spoke of the outcome of a programme of discipleship-training in his diocese of Jamaica: lay involvement in ministry and mission, especially during the pandemic; an unparalleled number of people registering for lay-leadership training; and greater interest in online Bible studies and teaching.

The Assistant Bishop of Wellington in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, soon to be the Suffragan Bishop of Hull, Dr Eleanor Sanderson (News, 1 July), speaking earlier, addressed the danger of clericalism. Her diocesan programmes prioritised young people, and those who were not ordained or stipendiary. It was a movement for the whole people of God, she said.

At the plenary, she suggested that, when God renews the Church, God often does that via a “radical edge” that reminds the rest of the Church what a life in Christ looks like. She described intentional missional communities and new monastic communities in her present diocese, including a stream of young Anglicans who lived in one of the bishops’ houses, sharing in the rhythm of prayer, and then moving out to reproduce their experience elsewhere.

She spoke of “a DNA” in people who had been discipled and were confident to disciple others, working sacrificially, and open to the directions of the Holy Spirit. And she wanted to assure the Conference: “it works” — people come to faith, grow in discipleship, and witness to others an abundant “Jesus-shaped life”. The challenge was, in particular, to nominal Christianity. But in many places the Church was ceasing to exist, “so we must pass on the treasures of our kingdom”.

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