The Director of Mission in the Anglican Communion Office, the Revd Canon John Kafwanka, outlines progress across the Communion on the Season of Intentional discipleship.
It is almost two years since the Anglican Consultative Council in Zambia (ACC-16) asked the Communion to initiate a Season of Intentional Discipleship. It called “for every province, diocese and parish to adopt a clear focus on intentional discipleship and to produce resources to equip and enable the whole church to be effective in making new disciples of Jesus Christ”.
The need for emphasis on Intentional Discipleship and Disciple Making arose in response to experiences and concerns of churches in the light of unprecedented global challenges. These make a long list: conflict between nations and people, gender-based violence, child abuse, inequality, economic deprivation, climate change, corruption in nations and institutions . . . to name but some.
In the face of all these challenges the question is posed: “What does our faith in Jesus Christ mean in the contexts we live and how can we be distinctive in the face of all these challenges as Christians and Anglicans?”
Anglicans / Episcopalians are already doing a lot in witnessing to Christ’s reconciling love as a mark of their discipleship. But many leaders, lay and ordained, point out that much more could be done if we became intentional in our discipleship, nurturing and equipping, both new and existing members, to deepen their life-long discipleship and bear fruits of Christian witness in every sphere of daily life.
At his installation service in 2016, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit outlined his vision for the Anglican Church of Kenya, asking:
“If Christians form 80 per cent of Kenya’s population, why are our elections often violence-prone? Why is our society riddled with corruption, nepotism and a great level of social stratification? Why are environmental degradation, poverty and disease still ever-present realities?”
And the former Primate of the Anglican Church in Melanesia, Archbishop David Vunagi, said to me “We have no problem filling our churches with people, but they need to know what it means to be Christians. That is where we need help.”
Such comments from leaders across the Communion have become more common. They have underscored the need to develop and share resources and best practices to help churches to engage more intentionally with the question of what it means to be followers of Jesus.
And this issue has arisen in other Christian denominations too. The World Council of Churches mission conference in Arusha, Tanzania, this month on the theme, Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship further emphasises the point.
But, it can take a while for churches in the Communion to consider and adopt resolutions. The experience from the Decade of Evangelism showed that some churches were only waking up to the reality of the campaign as it was coming to an end!
I am pleased to say much is happening around the Communion on intentional discipleship. Here are some of the developments:
Soon after the ACC-16 the Anglican Church of Southern Africa launched a Decade of Intentional Discipleship at its Synod. It asked its Growing the Church department to work with all the dioceses in developing resources for ongoing equipping and formation that promotes intentional discipleship of all the baptised members.
Since then many provinces and dioceses have begun similar moves.
In 2017, the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands decided to conduct workshops for all the clergy and many lay members. It saw the Anglican Church was having little impact on society and church attendance was falling, especially among younger people. Canon Mark Oxbrow and I ran workshops in Kingston and Montego Bay. A total of 153 attended, plus the three bishops.
This was a very exciting experience. The Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Howard Gregory, said afterwards that the positive feedback from participants was reassuring.
“It’s not often that the clergy seem to get excited about anything of this nature,” he told me.
Now the diocese has produced a study for Lent on intentional discipleship which has been widely shared on Facebook.
The Diocese of Mbeere in Kenya has held similar workshops for clergy. Its synod then adopted Intentional Discipleship as a theme for the next two years. Meanwhile, the Anglican Church in Ceylon held envisioning workshops for clergy and laity together, and the Church of North India and the Church of South India for organised workshops for bishops, facilitated by Faith2Share.
Similar envisioning workshops have taken place in many other places: Malawi, Byumba Diocese in Rwanda and the Diocese of Costa Rica in Central America. And the ecclesiastic Province of Rupert’s Land in Canada will have it as a theme for their Synod in May this year.
It is greatly encouraging to witness the moving of the Spirit in the Communion and the wider Christian tradition calling us all to go back to our Christian basics. It is encouraging to see the Church recognise the difference Christian faith can make in communities and nations if we became intentional in our daily discipleship.
If you want to know more, the Season of Intentional Discipleship coordinating group and I are ready and very happy to help provide information, help and support on developing the vision and inspiring and equipping clergy and lay people.