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Moving in the Spirit


Called to Transforming Discipleship

By Philip Woods | Mission Crossroads Magazine

Plenary session on “Mission from the Margins,” part of the 2018 CWME conference, hosted by the World Council of Churches. The ecumenical conference was attended by representatives from Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal and African-instituted churches. Photo by Albin Hillert/WCC

More than 1,000 people representing churches around the world recently met in Arusha, Tanzania, for the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) Conference, which is held roughly every decade.

The attendees included a strong contingent from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), most of whom experienced this inspiring event for the first time. They joined with the other participants to explore the conference theme, “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship.”

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At a pre-conference event in India, the Rev. Dr. Jooseop Keum, director of the CWME, discussed the conference theme:

“The first part of the theme, with its reference to Galatians 5:25 — ‘If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit’ — is profound in its very simplicity. As we discern together the signs of the times, it is evident that despite the chaos of human disunity in which we live and witness today, there are many signs of the Holy Spirit giving life and creating hope. Africa, in particular, represents a site in which the Holy Spirit is breathing life into the church. Moving in the Spirit brings the notion of pilgrimage, of an ongoing journey of all believers, led and guided by the Holy Spirit. This is a pilgrimage that is characterized by constant hope for a transformed world of justice and peace and a commitment to renewal in Christ. This theme offers a prophetic message amid the complexities of today’s world.

“The second part of the theme calls us to transforming discipleship. We are called to be disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, to whom we witness and whom we proclaim as we move in the Spirit. How do we understand the phrase ‘transforming discipleship’? It carries three profoundly different and yet closely related meanings. We are called to live a life that transforms the very notion of discipleship as it is often understood. Such discipleship is one that is constantly transforming disciples as they open themselves up to Christ’s influence in their lives and to the formation that takes place in the Christian community. And such discipleship is one that is a commitment to transforming the world that is so full of injustice, pain and suffering.

“First, the very idea of discipleship needs to be transformed. Discipleship is often understood merely in the sense of being in a loving, friendly relationship with Jesus. While this is a profound truth, the discipleship that we intend to emphasize is one that is not only a relationship, but is actively engaged in continuing Jesus’ mission in the world. To know Jesus is to follow him in what he did. It calls us to witness to Jesus and to the kingdom that he preached, and, when appropriate, to proclaim Jesus’ name and his gospel as well. It calls us to an evangelism that is done in Christ’s way.

“Second, we are called to be disciples constantly open to being transformed, individually and communally, in our following of Jesus. Discipleship commits us to embark on a spiritual journey that will constantly challenge us and shape us into people who reflect the Lord Jesus in our actions, words and attitudes. Discipleship commits us to disciplines of prayer, practices that shape our character and hearts, and to the cultivation of habits that give us strength and courage to live lives of Christian witness.

At the conference on world mission and evangelism, plenary speakers explored the ongoing equipping of disciples who are dedicated to spiritual growth and transformation. Photo by Albin Hillert/WCC

“Third, we are called to be disciples who are ourselves transforming, and as such we are privileged to join in the mission of the Triune God, working together toward life, living out the values of the kingdom of God, and engaging in mission from the margins. In a world in which injustice seems almost inseparable, where hatred and racism seem to thrive, where suffering is so widespread and terrifying, our discipleship is costly. It calls us to put a theology of the cross into practice. It calls us to spend our energy and even offer our lives for the transformation that the kingdom promises.”

As we reflect on how we are to most effectively engage in God’s mission with our partners across the world, we realize that this was a timely event. The theme of transforming discipleship builds on the WCC’s 2013 statement on mission and evangelism, “Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes.” In this statement we are challenged to reconsider our traditional ideas of mission and recognize that, in Jesus, mission begins at the margins. The statement notes, “Mission from the margins seeks to counteract injustices in life, church and mission. It seeks to be an alternative missional movement against the perception that mission can only be done by the powerful to the powerless, by the rich to the poor, or by the privileged to the marginalized. Such approaches can contribute to oppression and marginalization.”

This calls us to reflect on our partnerships and ask how open are we to receive and act on the witness of our sisters and brothers in Christ, both near and far, who see the world from a different vantage point from ours, and who have insights that might help us to grow more faithful and be more prophetic in our witness. This is as much about our relationship to the immigrant church on the other side of town as it is to our overseas partners. Their message may not always be comfortable, or what we want to hear, just as the congregants in Nazareth experienced Jesus (Luke 4:16–30). Yet it is a necessary step in the evolution of the church if we are to remain faithful to our calling. This is a journey we began last year as we reflected on 180 years of Presbyterian World Mission.

Learn more about the conference and read many of the conference presentations at:

Philip Woods is Presbyterian World Mission’s area coordinator for the Middle East and Europe. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe visit

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