For 20 minutes three times a week, groups of students gather in their residence halls and have the opportunity to grow closer to each other and to God.
Dr. Steve Pettit, president of BJU, said discipleship groups allow students to grow together as a community of believers. The New Testament has more than 50 “one another” passages; discipleship groups are a way these passages can be put into action.
Pettit emphasized the importance of peer discipleship. “The greatest influence on the campus of [BJU] for the life of a student is always another student,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the professors don’t have influence, or your pastor or your parents, but your peers supersede everything.”
The goal of discipleship groups is to nurture these godly relationships with peers.
Rachel Sellew, a sophomore studio art major, said discipleship group is a great way to meet people. “You’re meeting people that you wouldn’t otherwise have anything in common [with]—you’re different majors, different years, different societies,” she said.
Kayla Burget, a sophomore theatre arts major, said she loves the unique opportunity to get to know her friends spiritually. “It’s great because . . . you want to get together with people and have a Bible study,” she said. “[Discipleship group] kind of automatically does it for you.”
Hannah Campbell, a senior health sciences major, said that being an assistant group leader on freshman floor is one of her favorite things about the residence halls. “I went into the first few nights expecting to speak truth into each of their lives and praying to see them grow,” Campbell said. “A week into the semester, I was stunned to realize that these girls were ministering to me instead!”
Campbell and her roommate, Anna Joyce, have both suffered from Lyme disease during college. Imagine their surprise this year when they discovered a freshman in their discipleship group also has Lyme.
Campbell said sharing her struggles with these girls has been the most incredible gift in her life. “God is using your life in ways you would never expect,” Campbell said. “Do not underestimate His power in your story.”
Jena Burmeister, one of the girls in Campbell’s group, said her own relationship with God grew more last year than it ever has before.
“[I was] encouraged daily to look to God in every aspect of my life,” Burmeister said. “[My discipleship group] inspired in me an awe of God and a realization of how he deserves our praise in every aspect of our lives.”
Prayer is a major emphasis in discipleship groups for its importance to spiritual growth.
“Prayer to a believer is like air to your lungs,” Pettit said. “You can’t live without prayer.”
Brandon Riddell, a sophomore cinema production major, said it’s helpful to pray for everything—from basic requests such as school projects to bigger life decisions. Jonah Lawson, a junior business administration major, said it’s always an encouragement to share their spiritual goals for the semester and to pray about them.
Mark Kamibayashiyama, a sophomore cinema production major, said, “Every Sunday night we pray for the upcoming week, and then every Thursday we share what God has been doing during the week.”
Kamibayashiyama said God has answered prayers in areas like job opportunities, internships and projects.
Nathan Swaim, a sophomore accounting major, said they did a split night where they did smaller groups and prayed for each other.
“That has been one of my favorite nights so far,” Swaim said. Pettit gave four “A’s” to help groups grow closer: accomplishments, adversities, amusement and appreciation.
First, Pettit suggested groups accomplish something together. “I would encourage the group to, once a semester, do an ‘others’ project,” he said.
Many discipleship groups set aside a Saturday and serve together somewhere in the community.
Glenn Faris, a sophomore history major, said his group frequently prays for Beneth Jones, Dr. Bob Jones III’s wife who is struggling with cancer.
They also wrote her an encouraging, hand-written letter, and each member of Faris’ group signed it.
Second, share adversities. When people are willing to be transparent about their struggles, they can grow closer.
Faris said he thinks it’s important to share with his group what’s happening in his walk with Christ.
“The biggest thing as an assistant group leader is taking initiative to share even when it’s uncomfortable,” he said. “You never know what’s going to be encouraging to someone else.”
Joe Oestreich, a sophomore accounting major, said discipleship group is a good way to get to know your friends better and talk about issues you’ve been having.
“It’s encouraging to talk about things and then pray with each other,” he said. Burget’s group frequently went past the required 20 minutes and had long talks together. “I learned that just because someone isn’t transparent doesn’t mean they don’t struggle,” Burget said. “[Discipleship groups] have helped me become more open and help me help others.”
Third, amusement—do fun things with your discipleship group. Some groups play games, have parties for birthdays and holidays, share food or do gift exchanges at Christmas.
Sarah Carpenter, a sophomore studio art major, said her favorite game she’s played in discipleship group is with M&M’s. Everyone takes one and answers a question based on the M&M’s color. “It’s a great way to hear funny stories about people,” Carpenter said.
It’s also important to spend time together outside of discipleship group. Burget’s group ate brunch downtown, visited her parents’ house and went on outings with their prayer partners.
“[These girls are] a huge part of my life,” Burget said. Lastly, appreciate each other. On someone’s birthday, for example, everyone in the group can say what they’re thankful for about that person.
A lot of groups simply show appreciation by sharing food with their groups or verbally encouraging others. These four ideas can bring students closer together and help build the relationships necessary for community and spiritual growth.