A wake-up call for discipleship that challenges the rich and powerful

ConferencesIntegral mission and theology

‘Death-dealing forces […] are shaking the world order and inflicting suffering on many.’ This alarming warning was highlighted in the Arusha Call to Discipleship, issued by the more than 1,000 participants of the World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held in Tanzania in March.

Photo of financial newspaper by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Connected to Christ and community

According to the Arusha Call, these forces are especially related to ‘the shocking accumulation of wealth due to one global financial system, which enriches few and impoverishes many’. In this context, Christians are called to ‘be active collaborators with God for the transforming of the world’. This journey of discipleship leads Christians ‘to share and live out God’s love in Jesus Christ by seeking justice and peace in ways that are different from the world (John 14:27)’. 

Discipleship is expressed in the Call as ‘a Christ-connected way of life’ through which we can proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed, take care of God’s creation, break down walls and seek justice, and demonstrate the way of Christ. These are key characteristics of discipleship. 

Discipleship is not only individual but also communal. It is about belonging ‘together in just and inclusive communities’ – challenging and encouraging one another and being accountable to each other. The Call concludes that Christians ‘are called to follow the way of the cross, which challenges elitism, privilege, personal and structural power’. Such a way of life offers ‘hope-filled possibilities for transformation’.

There is a danger that we want to transform the world without being transformed first ourselves.

Dr Sas Conradie with a fellow attendee at the the World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held in Tanzania in March.
Dr Sas Conradie with a fellow attendee at the the World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held in Tanzania in March.

Examining the way we live

I agree with the essence of the Arusha Call. But as I interacted with people at the conference, I wondered whether there is a danger that we can project a call to discipleship on others instead of living it out ourselves – that we expect others to live justly and in a Christ-connected way while we ourselves are hesitant in living that way. 

How many of us – yes, even those in the Christian relief and development community – have good incomes and wealth, even though we say we serve the poorest in the world? Could it be that we benefit from the global financial system ourselves – the exact system that we see as idolatry? Could we be part of a culture of domination that marginalises people? That means we need to confess that we are not living this Christ-connected way of life as described in the Call. Unfortunately, such a confession was not included in the Call.

In Luke 14:25–35, Jesus explains the cost of being his disciple. It includes hating your own life (verse 26), as well as giving up everything you own (verse 33). He taught and demonstrated this way of life that cost his own life in the end, which he laid down for the sake of others.

Transformation priorities

My concern, as I read through the Arusha Call to Discipleship again, is that there is a danger that we want to transform the world without first being transformed ourselves. This also has implications for the staff of organisations like Tearfund. As we follow Jesus where the need is greatest and transform the lives of people living in poverty, how willing are we to be transformed to become more like Christ and connected to him? 

How willing are we to live a Christ-like lifestyle of integral mission in word and deed, take care of God’s creation, break down walls and seek justice, and demonstrate through our character that we are followers of Jesus Christ through our being, doing and saying? 

As I reflect on the Arusha Call to Discipleship, I realise the value of the Live Justly global edition book to help Christians live the kind of lifestyle that is outlined in the Call. It is a series of ten in-depth scriptural and practical group studies on the biblical response to poverty, injustice and environmental destruction. This is a wonderful resource that I hope more Christians will use to live the kind of life Jesus wants us to live. 

Sas Conradie
Rev Dr Sas Conradie is Tearfund’s Theology and Networking Manager for Africa: sas.conradie@tearfund.org