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Discipling through training

CMS missionary Kellie Nicholas has been working with university students in Japan since 2008. She works with the KGK (Kirisutosha Gakusei Kai), a Christian student movement affiliated with IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). Kellie shares how some of the most encouraging discipling relationships have happened almost unexpectedly through training students in leadership.

In 2018, a group of KGK students visited Australia for NTE (AFES annual National Training Event). They were greatly encouraged by the teaching from the Bible but also from meeting so many other believers their own age.  

After hearing about campus ministries in Australia, particularly Bible study leaders training, one of the students, Takuma, asked why KGK doesn’t run the same programs.  

Over time, I noticed that even if these students weren’t leading the group, they were asking better questions of the passage and were better at reading group dynamics. I was really encouraged.” 

I explained that KGK values being student-led so it needed to be initiated by students, but if he was interested in starting a group, I’d be happy to help. This style of leadership training was something that I had been keen to do for a long time but had been unsure how it would work. 

Growing through training 

In the middle of 2019 Takuma and I started leaders training for the students in Hyogo block (the area that I am responsible for). It was open to whoever would like to join, twice a month at my home after a shared dinner. About six students turned up each week and we worked through a training book that explored the different aspects of leading a group as well as how to write a Bible study.  

Over time, I noticed that in our block and campus meetings, even if these students weren’t leading the group, they were asking better questions of the passage and were better at reading group dynamics. I was really encouraged. In training them for leadership, we were also disciplining them in their faith. 

The other staff in my region had seen what we had been doing and asked me to run leaders training for the whole region. This was exciting but the challenge was how we could do it logistically. Most students in our region would need to travel over an hour to get to the Kansai KGK office for the training, which required a very serious commitment on top of their already busy schedules. Then the pandemic hit. 

An unexpected solution 
Almost overnight all our KGK meetings moved to Zoom, and this seemed to be the surprising answer to my dilemma.  

After the summer break, we started leaders training online and made it available to students from the whole region. Over the three semesters that we have run it, about 4-8 students have ‘attended’ each time. They have been from universities all over the Kansai region and many of them are leading their campus group or preparing to lead. 

One of these students, Mamiko, shared with me about her experience and how it impacted her leadership.  

“I was the group leader, but I didn’t really know how to go about leading, so I joined the training that Kellie was running. There were a number of other student leaders who joined, many of them were also first-time leaders. This helped me to not be afraid because I realised that we were all trying to work out what it meant to be a good leader together. I wasnt confident that I could be a good leader, but I was encouraged by Kellie and the other students, as we learnt together and prayed for each other.” 

The joy of Christian growth 

The opportunity to lead this training online has been one of the joys of these last couple of years of ministry. It has been a pleasure to see the students who have participated gain confidence in leading their groups and mature in their faith. Some have even started online groups for their campus and are working through how they can invite non-Christians. I’ve been particularly encouraged by the renewed enthusiasm among so many students to read the Bible together and pray for one another in a time that has many other things competing for their attention. 

Praise God that, despite the challenges of COVID and the many restrictions to ministry over the past few years, he has richly blessed us with this opportunity.  


Japan has three million university students across 700 campuses. Only a tiny fraction of Japanese students has ever heard the gospel. Do you have a heart for sharing the gospel with university students? Talk to your local CMS branch to find out how you can be involved.