SHANDONG, China – Elder Wang, a lady in her 60s, keeps a white notebook with the word “Shepherding”. In it she diligently records the names of churches, group leaders and believers in Feicheng who have participated in small Bible learning groups, and makes notes of each of their progress.
And then there is also a list of churches whose congregations are on a waiting list to learn to implement the Bible learning group in their churches. They are waiting because leaders are still being trained up to take on the task. At the moment, about 700 believers are on that wait list.
Two years ago, these names wouldn’t mean much to Elder Wang. But today, she knows that these names represent people who are yearning for proper discipleship, people who are hungering to grow into maturity in Christ.
According to Elder Wang, who oversees one of the churches in Feicheng, what she is seeing is unprecedented. “This is the work of the Lord! This is the first time we are having the small Bible learning group format in our churches using the discipleship materials The Abundant Life and The Abundant Grace donated by United Bible Societies. And we are seeing life change that only God can do!”
Churches In Crisis
Millions across China have come to faith over the past few decades but not all have a clear understanding of the Christian faith. Like many other churches in rural China, the believers in Feicheng are village farmers and laborers. Due to the severe lack of pastors and spiritual resources in China, many rural Christians are not able to be properly discipled. Consequently, they remain either as baby Christians or become nominal and apathetic believers.
Rev Chen Yiping, a veteran pastor from Fujian province, wrote in the preface of The Abundant Life and The Abundant Grace: “The Churches in China are growing but there is a potential crisis. As the number of believers keeps climbing, the quality is compromised. Look around in the churches, there are many sheep without shepherds. Whenever I visit rural churches, I come across many believers who are not clear about their beliefs. Some are just blindly following. As a result, they are also susceptible to the lure of cult groups.”
This was also the case in Elder Wang’s church. “We have members who only come on special occasions like Easter and Christmas, members who are not concerned about the church and are not serving in any ministry. And there are also those who have backslidden and stopped coming altogether.”
Turning Point for Elder Wang’s Church
The situation came to a head during the Covid-19 pandemic when church services were suspended. The pastoral team was concerned for their flock and so under the leadership of Elder Wang, they made home visits whenever possible. During one of the visits, preacher Zhen Shasha, a co-worker of Elder Wang, saw that a lady was struggling badly in her spiritual walk and needed help. So they began to meet regularly for prayers and to study God’s Word.
“Then we felt that our members needed materials that would guide them in a systematic way to know the basics of our Christian faith. To our surprise, we realized that the materials we received from UBS was just what we needed! The material which is designed for small groups comes with a leader’s guide. It brings a young Christian through foundational teachings like repentance, assurance of salvation and importance of Bible reading and prayer,” shared Zhen.
Elder Wang and Zhen then began using the materials in small learning groups held in the church, pouring into the lives of the believers. And the Spirit of the Lord began to work amongst them.
“God surprises us! From one small learning group, we have grown to more than 20 groups now representing about 240 people. And from our church, we have gone to share this small learning group format using the discipleship materials to 14 other churches in Feicheng! More and more people are interested in joining a small Bible learning group.” In fact, at one time, Elder Wang’s church ran out of the materials and had to re-use them while some group members hand copied the book.
Small Learning Groups Build Relationships and Result in Life Change
What is the draw of this small Bible learning group format? According to Elder Wang, small group setting has helped the church in two areas – it encourages relationship building and it drives pastoral care.
“In small learning groups, people find it easier to ask questions, open up and share. When relationships are built, there is mutual support, love and a sense of belonging. Secondly, as we go through the discipleship materials, it helps us to know where people are in their spiritual life and how we can come in to shepherd them more effectively.”
Elder Wang and Zhen were especially encouraged to see members who were previously diffident opening up to share and participating actively in the discussion. “Regardless of a person’s educational level, he is able to build his spiritual life in the Lord and benefit from the spiritual disciplines taught in the materials. I believe that when our spiritual lives are being built, we will bear fruits.” shared Preacher Zhen.
Praise God that Elder Wang’s church has seen personal spiritual growth in their members. “They now understand the importance of spending time with the Lord and even those who had little education have started journaling”, shared Preacher Zhen. “One of the key benefits from the small Bible learning group is accountability to have their personal time with the Lord regularly.”
Elder Wang added, “More have also stepped up to serve in church. People are on fire for the Lord now. They are bringing the gospel to their family and friends. Backslidden believers are also coming back to the Lord. We truly see God at work amongst us. Praise the Lord!”
The Urgent Task Ahead – Training Group Leaders
It has been said that spiritual growth and maturity happens in the context of relationships – everyone needs a Paul and Timothy in their lives. A growing Christian receives and imparts at the same time.
This is how Elder Wang and Zhen are raising up small learning group leaders – from members who have benefited from the discipleship journey since joining the group. ‘We start from the earliest batch of people who have gone through the process. They have become our core group of leaders who will go on to train others. But we still need more leaders to rise up. The need for shepherding is great.”
In fact, Elder Wang shared that some group members are feeling the need to go through the materials a second or third time. “They are hungering to learn the basics of their beliefs in a systematic way and also how they can integrate their faith with their daily lives and be an effective witness for the Lord. Furthermore, we plan to bring this small discipleship group format to the more remote villages.”
Prayers and Support
UBS is privileged to partner with Shandong Christian Council/ TSPM to support the churches in Feicheng in their discipleship needs. Thus far, more than 1000 copies of discipleship materials have been distributed to the churches in Feicheng. Pray for the churches in Feicheng to be able to train and raise up more small Bible learning group leaders to help shepherd and nurture believers towards maturity in Christ. Pray also for churches in other provinces which are struggling in their discipleship journey due to the lack of pastors and resources. Pray that the Lord will raise up more shepherds for His Church in China.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Photos: UBS CP
2022 © UBS China Partnership