Discipleship Call Aims to Awaken Nominal Anglicans

Bishop Eleanor Sanderson of Wellington, New Zealand, speaks during Lambeth session on discipleship. | Richard Washbrooke photo for the Lambeth Conference.

By Mark Michael

Intentional discipleship was the Lambeth Conference’s focus August 5, as bishops heard stories from the Caribbean and New Zealand about efforts to transform church culture, encouraging nominal members to hear Christ’s call afresh and commit to living out their baptismal promises. They discussed the Lambeth Call to Discipleship, which encourages all churches to gather small groups focused on discipleship alongside regular worship services, and asks seminaries to make discipleship a priority in their training programs.

“Something profound happens in a person’s life when their center of gravity, or center of life, is no longer the self but Jesus of Nazareth,” said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who served as one of the plenary session’s leaders.

“His way of love, his way of life becomes their way of life. Being a member of a church is nice, but that’s just the beginning. … It’s a Jesus-centered life that changes the world, not by our power, but by the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Several speakers noted that the 2016 Anglican Consultative Council meeting had initiated a “season of discipleship,” calling for a focus on developing resources for disciple-making across the Communion over a decade.

Archbishop Howard Gregory, who serves as Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and primate of the Province of the West Indies, said church leaders in his region discerned that “many members are essentially at a passive stage of spiritual development. Most of our people are not yet disciples.”

His diocese launched an intentional discipleship program that aimed to create opportunities for longtime church members to “hear the good news of the gospel, renew their own baptismal vows, and commit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Workshops for church leaders were held, special services were launched, and a Bible-study course was developed and widely used during Lent.

The results, Gregory said, have been remarkable. More than 200 people registered for training as lay readers and there has been a major rise in interest in Bible study and other educational activities.

The Rt. Rev. Eleanor Sanderson, an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Wellington in New Zealand, spoke about the 14 “missional edge communities” that have been established in the diocese in the last 20 years. Members of the communities live together, and commit to daily rhythms of prayer.

Wellington’s bishop, Justin Duckworth, founded one of the first communities, which gathered youth workers who ministered in parishes throughout the region. Other communities now focus on ministries like community development, prisoner reentry, refugee support, and church planting.

“When God renews the Church, God often does so by fire and passion from a radical edge, which then reminds the rest of the Church what a Jesus-shaped life looks like,” Sanderson said.  “In our secular and nominal context, what we are experiencing is a renewal of the Holy Spirit, who is initiating this act of broader renewal through these intentional, residential, missional communities.”

The communities, she said, model a commitment to “to a particular people and place in gospel purpose” that feels radical and fresh in an individualistic, consumer-oriented society, and critique and summon a church in which “nominalism has become normalized.”

“Nominal belief and nominal belonging [are] in many ways the gateway, not to the kingdom of heaven, but to other kingdoms that do not bow the knee to the name of Jesus. What is at stake when our church culture is not passionately committed to the whole of life disciple-making, we cannot continue to testify to our ‘deliverance from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s glorious light.’

“What is at stake is people that Jesus died for not getting to hear the good news and not having the opportunity to live the resurrected life as a co-heir with Jesus of his earthly and heavenly kingdom.”

Bishops discussed the Lambeth Call on Discipleship in the afternoon. Drawing on the “Arusha Call to Discipleship,” a text developed by the World Council of Churches in 2018, as well as the writings of Pope Francis and resolutions of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Call urges continued action in promoting and training church leaders to make disciples. It urges a greater focus on small groups and youth ministry as part of a wider culture change in Anglican church life, so that all might be “formed and transformed in our hearts, minds, and spirits for Christ’s liberating and whole-of-life discipleship.”

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