Missional Discipleship and Justice

08 March 2023

By Abi  Jarvis, Discipleship and Faith Formation Officer

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Churches Together in England (CTE) annual "Missional Discipleship" conference. It was wonderful to spend time with diverse representatives of churches and Christian organisations from across the country.

The conference opened with a keynote from Eunice Attwood, Church at the Margins Officer at the Methodist Church in Britain. She spoke passionately about her heart for people at the economic margins, sharing statistics and stories, and convicting us all to think about being churches that work with people, not for people; churches that listen to, and share power with, people on the economic margins of society.

Andy Flanagan from Christians in Politics shared how churches in many areas are starting to engage holistically with the so-called ‘secular sphere’. Church leaders are encouraging Christians from different churches who work in the same sector (education, business, fashion, health, etc.) to meet together ecumenically, and think about what it means to be followers of Jesus in those areas. How can we transform our communities through our day-to-day work?

One of the main themes at the conference was the link between racial injustice and climate injustice. Israel Olofinjana from the Evangelical Alliance and Centre for Mission from the Majority World talked of the "Olive Agenda" - a complementary mix of the "Green Agenda" (predominately a white middle-class agenda focused on protecting green spaces and animals) and the "Brown Agenda" (predominantly a majority world agenda focused on the effects of climate change on racial injustice and poverty). The Olive Agenda is concerned with the ecosystem, biodiversity and redemption of the whole cosmos: human, animal and environment. I have reflected since on how this connects to A Methodist Way of Life, with its commitments to challenge injustice, and seek the flourishing of all creation. How do we explore the links between these commitments?

Other speakers provoked debate about issues like recycling, energy usage, and using peat-free garden composting. We heard that these are important practices for personal integrity, and to stop the exploitation of creation from getting worse. But what is truly necessary are big, institutional changes in the way multinationals and governments behave. This can be a disheartening message – are we all powerless to create change? But it’s also an empowering one, challenging us to consider new ways to move forwards. It raises questions about how we utilise the power we have as stock- and shareholders; as activists; as letter writers and craftivists; as employees, voters, and volunteers. Are we doing the bare minimum that makes us feel good, or are we committing to doing all that we can?

Another clear theme at the conference was that none of these issues are just justice campaigns – they are at the heart of our discipleship. We care because God cares; we act because God acts. We must engage from the head, heart and hands. A beautiful message was shared about how we can support each other in community as we respond to this call to care for the people and world God created. We do not all have to respond to justice issues in the same way, because God gives each of us different skills and passions. And as we journey in relationship with one another, we will also change and grow, and be cared for.

The conference organisers encouraged all member organisations to invite a young leader to attend the conference. Krystal Kwan, a pioneer worker in the Newcastle District, shared her experiences of the conference:

“The 2 days conference was quite intensive yet insightful to me. The speakers gave speeches on big topics like racial justice and environmental awareness, which are goals seemed to be unreachable or need so much effort and the whole world to change, but it's been reminded that we can have little daily practices to make a difference, to influence and encourage people around us.

“We've also been challenged whether our churches or projects are really engaging with individuals, allowing them to seek Jesus and explore their faith, or simply doing like other charities or social groups. It's also important to include everyone equally but also get to know their specific individual situations and stories, relationships with them matters more than the services for them.”

This year my colleague Andy Fishburne and I are working with partners from across the Connexional team and local churches to create a ‘discipleship toolkit’ full of resources, ideas and activities for how individuals and communities can see and respond to God at work in the world. We’d love to learn from you, so drop us an email if you’d like to chat about how our discipleship fuels our mission. And don’t forget to check out the work of JPIT, Global Relations and All We Can as well.

  • How can we act with people at the economic margins, or experiencing racial and climate injustices, rather than for them?
  • If you meet with other church leaders in your village, town or city, could you work together to encourage Christians in different spheres to support each other?
  • Is your church / community more concerned with the Green, Brown, or Olive Agenda? Or none of them?
  • Do we respond to racial and climate injustices as part of our discipleship, or just as a missional / justice concern? Or not at all?

Interested in exploring these themes further? Trey Hall, director of the Evangelism and Growth team, will be chairing a CTE webinar on The Church as an Evangelising Community on 18 April. Or join Israel Olofinyana and other speakers at Identity, Mission and Citizenship: Intergenerational diaspora conversations on 14 April in London.