A new conversation

Developing Discipleship aims to renew and deepen a conversation about discipleship across the Church of England.

The conversation will begin in General Synod when we meet in February.  I hope it will happen in local churches and in dioceses in the coming months.

At the February General Synod, the paper will provided a context for the important conversation and debate about the reports from the four Task Groups to be published later this week.

Living as disciples

Jesus calls us all into a rhythm of life which is about loving God and loving our neighbours as ourselves.

That rhythm begins with our baptism whether as children or adults.  It’s deepened and sustained as we gather for the Eucharist and sent out into God’s world.

Discipleship is not simply about learning but about service, about dedicating our whole lives to God’s glory.  The whole Church is called to be and to become a community of missionary disciples

For that reason, we need set our reflection on discipleship at the heart of all we do.

The call to grow the Church is a call to make disciples, who will live out their faith in the whole of their lives.

The call to serve the common good is a call to every Christian disciple to make a difference in their home, in their workplace, in their wider community.

The call to re-imagine ministry needs to begin with the call to every Christian to live out their baptism, their lifelong commitment to Christ.

What next?

I hope the paper will provoke debate.  It’s certainly stirred up some interesting and passionate conversations while its been in development.  The paper has been through several versions following discussions in the House of Bishops and and the Archbishops Council.  I had to tear it up and start again more than once.

The final result is far from the last word.  However, I hope it will be useful to parishes and dioceses as well as to the General Synod.

There are three main recommendations.  The first is to commend Ten Marks for Developing Disciples to parishes and to Dioceses.  These have been developed by the Education Division, the Ministry Division and Mission and Public Affairs as a follow up to research in dioceses.  The second is to deepen the conversation.  The third, to the House of Bishops, is to commission new work on revising the catechism, a much neglected summary of discipleship and what Christians believe.

But the main focus of the paper is the need for the Church of England to take more seriously the call to all of us, lay and ordained, to be and to become a community of missionary disciples called to love God, to love one another and to love God’s world.

+Steven Sheffield

The Developing Discipleship paper can be read here.

A transcription of the video is available here.

The discussion forum on the Developing Discipleship can be found on the Church of England website here.

Six of the fraternal delegates had the opportunity to speak this afternoon.  I was in good company with Metropolitan Hilarion from Moscow, Father Massis Zobouian from the Armenian Church, Bishop Sarah Davis of the World Methodist Council, the Revd. Dr. Timothy George of the Baptist World Alliance and Bishop Siluan from the Romanian Orthodox Church.  His Holiness, Pope Benedict was present in the Synod which was an honour for all the delegates who spoke.

The text of my own intervention is below.  It’s very much based on what I heard and what I thought could usefully be reflected back to the Synod rather than being a full and balanced approach to the subject.  There is a fuller version which will eventually appear in the documents of the Synod, with footnotes!

Holy Father, dear sisters and brothers,
thank you for the opportunity to take part in the Synod and reflect with you on
the vital theme of the new evangelization.
Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke last week
on contemplation as the root of evangelization. I address the fruits of
evangelization in the life of the Church as the Church reflects the character
of Christ, in mature disciples, in new ecclesial communities and in new
First when the Church is renewed in
contemplation of Christ and the word of God, we are transformed into his
likeness and become bearers of the character of Christ, becoming more clearly
the Church of the Beatitudes.
Second, the new evangelization calls for a clear
vision of what it means to be a discipleThe new evangelization is a call to whole
life discipleship: an invitation to follow Christ for the whole length of our
lives, with every part of our lives, and into wholeness and abundance of that
life. In catechesis it is vital to have a clear
goal before us: the formation of mature disciples able to live in the rhythm of
worship, community and mission.  We are
called to be with Jesus together and to be sent out.
Third, I would encourage the Synod to reflect
further on the formation of new ecclesial communities for the transmission of
the faith to those who are no longer part of any church. For the last ten years, the Church of
England has actively encouraged a new movement of mission aimed at beginning new
ecclesiola in ecclesia, fresh
expressions of the church, as a natural part of the ministry of parishes or
groups of parishes or dioceses.  These ecclesiola aim to connect with the
sections of society the parishes are no longer reaching. They are formed by a process of careful
double listening to the culture of a particular group and to the Holy
Spirit.  Contemplation is at the heart of
the methodology. The listening is followed by discerning paths of loving
service.  The fruit of the service is
often a new community of young people or families or the elderly. Within the
new community the seed of the gospel is sown and evangelism takes place.  Only then can the new group of Christians
begin to offer prayers and worship and continue their journey to the full
sacramental life of the Church. Finally, who will be the new
evangelisers?  I commend further
reflection on diakonia and the
ministry of deacons.
This process of going and listening and serving
and forming new communities requires particular gifts.  In the Church of England we have named this
cluster of gifts “pioneer ministry”. We have recognized pioneer ministry as a
focus of both lay and ordained ministry in our Church.
Pioneer ministry is rooted theologically in
diakonia and the ministry of deacons:
listening, loving service, and being sent on behalf of the Church.  Recent New Testament scholarship has
emphasized the role of the deacons in the New Testament, women as well as men,
as those who carried the message of the gospel to those who were beyond the
churches.  In the Church of England
ordinal deacons are described as heralds of Christ’s kingdom and as agents of
God’s purposes of love. The diaconate and diakonia are closely connected with
God’s mission and the service of the kingdom.
May Almighty God continue to bless and
guide this Synod as we reflect together on the ways in which our understanding
of Christ shapes our understanding of God’s mission and the ways in which our
understanding of God’s mission continues to reshape Christ’s Church.

Note: ecclesiola means “little churches” and diakonia means service in mission.

Buon giorno e Roma!

People say there is less of the Bishop of Sheffield than there used to be.  It’s about a stone less to be precise (and still going down as of last Saturday).  This is partly due to Ann becoming very fierce on the matter of diets and partly to the Hairy Bikers’ recent television series.

A hazardous time then to be in Rome.  So far I’ve managed to resist the bread, the pasta and the pizza (well, almost).  However I have discovered gelati – Italian ice cream.  It’s very warm here at the moment (sorry about that!).  I have to walk through Rome four times a day in a cassock (more on that another day).  There are gelateria on every corner including one under the window of the room where I am staying.  Coconut is my favourite flavour so far but there are many still to try…..

The Synod had its first session in groups this morning.  The groups are divided according to language and I am in one of the English speaking groups but with a real spread of nationalities.  There is more of a dialogue and for deeper sharing than is possible in the plenary.

The last twenty-four hours have been a chance for me to think about the dogs which are not barking yet: the words or concepts which would feature on a discussion of this subject in the Church of England and which haven’t yet been a part of the conversation here.

There are several, as you might imagine.  Some of them I don’t miss.  But the most striking absentee so far is the idea of discipleship and of making disciples.  The concept doesn’t feature, as far as I have discovered, in the Instrumentum Laboris, the preliminary document for the Synod.  The focus is largely there on apologetics, the initial proclamation of the gospel and on catechesis (all associated with the inital passing on of faith).

But my reflection back to the Synod through the group this morning was that the conversation about Evangelisation must be joined to a conversation about discipleship: the fruits of a mature faith which is able to endure and to flourish in the midst of a secular society and culture.  The Church also needs to give careful thought to a vision of Christian discipleship and flourishing – to define the ends as another member of the group ventured so that we can then develop the means.  There have been a number of very positive references so far to small Christian communities from different places in the world which are of course immensely important as places for the forming and sustaining of disciples.

The thought connected for me with the presentation Ann Morisey gave to our Diocesan Development Day on Saturday which focussed on Methodism as a discipleship movement working for “transformation on an industrial scale”.

One of the fruits of coming away from your own situation is that you see some things more clearly.  One of the insights I will be taking back to Sheffield is that any conversation about sharing the faith needs to connected to a vision for growing disciples: Christians who will not melt in the heat of the day but endure and be sustained an grow stronger in their witness.