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Checkpoint Autumn 2022: Shaped by small groups

CMS missionaries Andrew Buchanan and Abi Tandiseru serve in a theological college in Indonesia, with long-term links to the student ministry, Perkantas. Here they explain that discipleship in their context works better in small groups. 

The Perkantas student ministry doesn’t usually use one-to-one discipling. If a small group gets down to just one member, it will be combined with another group. The ongoing process of discipling is considered more effective in a small group than one-to one. Why? 

Abi writes: “I was converted and discipled in one of the early Perkantas small groups in Toraja and then became the first home-grown associate staff person in Toraja. Fellowship, teaching, and prayer were the key ingredients of our small group. Discussion centred on the Bible, aided by the more mature understanding of the leader. It was effective for group members because our fellowship in Christ brings trust and open sharing of struggles and sins. Through prayer, we brought issues of heart and action before God who works powerfully in us to will and to work for his good pleasure.” 

Bible study groups in a village church use the Swedish method to learn God’s word.

What a small group does well 

What a small group does well here is make more concrete the role of God’s people as the source of godly honour and shame.

Toraja has a relational culture where interdependence is basic to survival. This means an emphasis on fitting in with others’ expectations.  

Plagiarism (copying source materials or friends’ work for assignments) is a significant problem in Indonesia. Most students are supported by their parents, many of whom can understand the difference between an A or a C grade, but have a limited concept of what being educated looks like. High grades bring honour while low grades bring shame on the family, regardless of how those marks were obtained. 

Abi writes: “I found that being part of a small group helped reshape my desire for honour in my studies. In the small group context, engaging in plagiarism would be a source of shame. My small group had an alternative culture of valuing integrity and faithfulness, and this helped me, and others, resist the culture of seeking good grades at any cost. I discovered the joy of godly honour through service in student ministry, so the worldly honour of grades became less important to me.” 

Is it possible to make some sort of biblical assessment of how best to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19)? Probably not, for neither one-to-one ministry nor Perkantas-style small group meetings have exact parallels in the New Testament. But both are means of grace—vehicles for the word of God to transform lives by the power of the Spirit. So, we try to apply our biblical understandings to work best in the contexts where God has placed us.

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Making disciples is as diverse a process as humanity itself and requires adaptation and cultural flexibility. Do you have the flexibility to take the unchanging gospel to a new context? Contact your CMS branch to learn of the possibilities.