Church of England gets wrong about discipleship

Ascension Trust
Discipleship is worked out in ministries such as Street Pastors, but the Church of England lacks a clear discipleship theology.

The Church of England’s understanding of ministry is “lopsided”, its mission is too narrowly focused on the Church and it is failing to equip Christians to live out their faith in daily life, says a new report to be presented to the General Synod next month.

Introduced by the Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Rev Steven Croft, the Developing Discipleship report says that there are “significant obstacles” to the growth of individuals in the Church, among them a concentration on the development of ministers at the expense of lay people. In an Archbishop’s Council survey, “It was widely perceived that the biggest obstacle in lay development is the clericalised culture of church and ministry.”

While lay discipleship is worked out through initiatives such as foodbanks, Street Pastors and other forms of ministry, the report says that the “lack of a coherent and concisely stated common understanding of discipleship” means that “Our vision for the Church and for discipleship is not as clear as it could be,” that “Our understanding of service becomes restricted to the life of the Church” and that “Our theological understanding of ministry becomes lopsided” as lay people are marginalised.

It says: “Finally, and most seriously, the witness and mission of the whole Church is impoverished as Christians are neither encouraged nor sustained in the living out of their Christian faith in daily life.”

The report proposes adopting 10 “marks of a diocese committed to developing disciples”, including recognising gifts of leadership among lay people and encouraging innovation and experimentation.

Introducing the report, Bishop Croft said: “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.”

An online comment forum has been created to allow Anglicans to engage with the issues that Developing Disciples indentifies.

The report comes after the Archbishops of Canterbury and York warned that decline in the Church of England had to be reversed if it were to continue its nation-wide ministry. Average attendance at Sunday services has dropped by nearly half during the last 40 years and currently stands at around 800,000.

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