Changing the culture of the church towards discipleship

The Bishop of Northern Argentina says he’d like to see the culture of the Anglican Church changed so that discipleship is part of its DNA.

The Rt Revd Nick Drayson is the Bishop of Northern Argentina and the Primate of the Anglican province of South America, which includes Argentina, Boliva, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. He has exercised most of his ministry in South America, having been ordained there as a deacon more than 40 years ago.

Bishop Nick talked to the Lambeth Conference team about how he believes discipleship is key to church growth.

“One of the things we have often said in the Anglican Communion Intentional Discipleship working group, is that we want to change the culture of the Anglican Church. Above all else, we would like people to look at the Anglican Church and think, discipleship.”

“I think we’re a long way from that, although there have been some massive advances and some massive strides in the way many churches across the communion have taken discipleship more seriously, and more centrally, but I think changing the culture is something that we all aspire to.”

In terms of the future, he said, “We need to take seriously the challenge of multiplication, where Jesus called 12 disciples, discipled them for three years and then sent them out and they all made disciples; which is why we’ve got a worldwide church today. But this challenge is still there, to multiply to make disciples, who will make disciples.”

“There’s a quote we often use which I find very challenging that says, ‘If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.’ Put the other way around, you can make churches without necessarily getting disciples. But if you really make disciples, you will definitely get churches. So, let’s set our discipleship to Jesus’ standards of holiness, love, learning and commitment.”

How would you define discipleship?
“I think the most helpful way I find to define discipleship is the phrase ‘Jesus shaped life’, which shows the two sort of aspects of what discipleship means. It’s being shaped by Jesus’ teaching, his example, his person, his ways, and that shaping us by the way we think and the way we act, but also being shaped by Jesus through the Holy Spirit working in us to produce changes and growth.
Discipleship most simply defined means learning. When Jesus called men and women to be around him, he called them to be with him and to walk with him, and to learn from everything he did. And so that is effectively what disciples are still called to do. And we are asked to make disciples. So being a disciple is about living, sharing, a Jesus shaped life, in its simplest expression.”

According to Bishop Nick, building discipleship in the context of South America involves working with people across many different contexts.
“Our diocese is quite varied in terms of culture, we have four or five different languages ranging from European city-based ministry, right through to very rural, tribal hunter-gatherer people who live in much more of a face to face community. One of the things that church does is bring people together, perhaps who wouldn’t normally be together. So, we have that at a macro level, in the diocese, with people from a European background and people from a tribal background, having to try and mix and understand each other. And if we think about discipleship in those terms, we’re thinking about what it means to be a Jesus shaped leader, or a Jesus shaped father or mother, or student or worker, or hunter even. And so, the whole point of discipleship in a community setting is that it’s not just what happens in church, when we’re talking about spiritual things. It’s about our whole life, in the community where God has placed us, and the church as a sort of community within that which models a Jesus shaped way of doing things, and gives space for the kingdom of God to grow and manifest itself in community.”

What do you see as the barriers to discipleship?
“Some of the barriers to people becoming disciples or coming to faith, have to do with individualism and autonomy, wanting to exercise one’s own rights and be independent, which in many parts of the world is a very important value, perhaps less so in some other cultures. Another area is insincerity and hypocrisy where people see the church doing something different to what it says it believes. When Jesus calls us to be disciples, he’s asking us to do what he said and did, and that involves obedience. I think one of the big barriers to growth into faith in our context is a sort of superficiality and nominalism, which means that people aren’t actually living out their faith.”

How does discipleship relate to church growth?
“I think discipleship causes people to go out in mission. The disciples were called to make disciples. And that’s the basis of mission, but also the way God calls us to move outwards, rather than just being a holy huddle. I think that is a clear challenge to our selfishness and individuality, to actually move out of our comfort zones into new places, relate to new people, and be vulnerable and share the good news. So, I think it’s fundamentally related. I can think of a number of people who, because they became disciples, sort of got up off their backsides and went off and helped help other people or shared good news with other people, that was uncomfortable.”

How does discipleship have an impact on the current issues in our world?
“The concept of being a whole life disciple takes us away from the idea that discipleship is just something you do in a church context to do with spiritual issues. It’s to do with everything. So, if we as Christians approach big challenges like climate, injustice, poverty, racism, gender violence, we do it as disciples. And we need to ask ourselves what a Jesus shaped response to these things is, and if we do that as a community, then we model a Jesus shaped response to living in that context. We’re not being disciples in a vacuum, we’re in a very clear context where Kingdom values need to be modelled and taught and applied to those challenges.”


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