Discipleship: How is the church actively involved in discipleship around the world?

The Anglican church around the world shares a common aim to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and to teach, baptise and nurture new believers, which makes up part of the Communion’s five marks of mission. There are many ways that churches are helping people grow in their faith and show God’s love in practical ways to those around them…

Intergenerational discipleship in New Zealand

In New Zealand, in the Diocese of Wellington, assistant bishop, the Rt Revd Eleanor Sanderson, says creating places for people to live in community and share their lives together deeply is helping grow disciples.

“I live in an intentional residential community with students at our university,” she said. “And we live in a rhythm of life together; a life of sharing food and fellowship, a rhythm of daily prayer and weekly discipleship across our different community houses, and a clear pattern of mission together that we’re involved with through the chaplaincy at the university. For me discipleship and community are inextricably linked.”

According to Bishop Eleanor discipleship is all about sharing. “In our diocese we have been really clear that in whatever aspects of church life we’re in, whether we’re part of a parish, or whether we’re part of a new monastic community, or whether we’re part of an intentional residential place, discipleship forms everything. So, we say that discipleship is sharing the Word of God together, sharing food together, sharing our life and praying together, and with a clear mission or focus.”

“One of my really good friends uses the analogy of the iPhone, and said, ‘If you think of the iPhone, discipleship is the phone and church is the app. But we’ve tended to do it the wrong way around and think of the church as the phone and discipleship as the app. But actually, our call from Jesus is to disciple.’”

She said the church was sometimes scared of failure. “When you look at all the disciples, they all fumbled and fell in different ways, and that was part of being a disciple. Part of being a humble learner, is we learn by getting things wrong, and particularly into discipleship, it’s living life deeply with God,” she said.

The Diocese of Wellington has been making discipleship a key priority. Bishop Eleanor explained, “We’ve intentionally spoken about discipleship and invested in tools for discipleship, that can give us a shared language and shared framing of how to live that Jesus shaped life.” She said the programme had resulted in four or five generations of discipleship groups, where people felt confident to journey more deeply in Christ with each other. “We do feel like intentionally investing in specific discipleship tools and frameworks is a real success for being able to multiply.”

The diocesan Anglican youth movement was a really powerful discipleship element, according to Bishop Eleanor. “This is where young people choose to do voluntary youth work for our diocese, either in parishes or urban school settings. They live together, sharing that life of daily prayer, weekly discipleship and then weekly mission. We have now grown that from one house to 14 different houses around our diocese, with dozens of young people living in deep discipleship with each other and paying to do so.”

“One of the things we’re particularly aware of in our context of an ageing demographic and missing generations in our church, is that discipleship is always intergenerational. In Jesus’s close community, that ‘oikos’ of extended family was men, women and children… the generational call to discipleship, which was implicit in the people of God, has sometimes been forgotten.”

Parishes in the diocese have been putting discipleship into practice in various ways, across the generations.

The vicar of Peninsula Parish, the Revd Chris Dodds, said they wanted church members to be involved in giving in a practical way. She said, “Two of our goals this year related to the ‘out’ aspect of discipleship, are to more closely tie our giving to relationships and be involved in a hands-on way and also to integrate our children into our ministries of justice, mercy and creation care.”

Following an appeal for Tonga, following the volcano eruption in January, one of the church home groups initiated a pop-up market to help raise funds. Chris Dodds said, “The children’s initiatives included selling worm wine from a worm farm started during the season of creation, teacup prayer candles using teacups from the op-shop and left-over candle stubs from our worship services, play dough, upcycled golden book journals and nursery bunting, pot plants, easter gifts, and up-cycled jewellery.”

“For me it was a joy to see so many parishioners serving alongside one-another, from three-year-olds to octogenarians. We set up on the grass verge outside the church so we could enjoy connecting with our neighbours as they passed by.”

Bishop Eleanor said, “Sometimes we’ve forgotten how to live deeply intergenerationally and to share the good news to our children’s children, and so finding ways of intergenerational missional community and intergenerational discipleship tools is really important… We have to make sure that that the churches we resource are filled with intergenerational life.”

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