In Thailand, 0.5 per cent of the population is considered evangelical, while 85.3 per cent are Buddhist*. “That percentage has been still for decades,” said Lynchee (Thailand), the leader of OM’s work in Thailand.
One of the reasons for the lack of growth is a lack of discipleship among Christ followers. Many churches and Christian organisations focus on evangelism, church planting and building physical church buildings but do not often invest in discipleship to help people grow in their faith and share Christ’s love with others, explained Lynchee.
Additionally, “around 50 per cent of churches in Thailand have no pastor. This shows the unbalance of planting churches and making strong and healthy disciples within the church.” Lynchee added.
With a heart for discipleship, OM in Thailand works alongside local churches to equip and empower believers to “share Jesus with others and serve others like Jesus.”
Building on relationships
“For me, disciple-making simply means to do what God wants us to do,” Mimi (Taiwan) shared.
Mimi works with the church in Chonburi. When she first moved to the area, she quickly realised that many of the believers she met had a “desire to seek God for themselves, but they didn’t know what they could do. So, I started helping them learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.” Now, she walks alongside Jesus followers, encouraging them to take ownership of their faith and build a solid relationship with God that overflows into all areas of their lives.
The main group gathers once a week. Around 15 to 20 people attend the meeting, most of whom are young professionals in their 20s. The group is very relational, studying God’s Word together and also having fun — watching movies, playing games and doing crafts. “Thai people love to have fun!” shared Mimi.
Members are encouraged to bring others with them and often invite friends from church as well as non-believer friends to attend. “God has prepared [the participant’s] hearts already, and then He sent me here to lead them and walk together,” said Mimi. “It’s not that I teach them as a teacher or missionary but as a friend so that we can do life together as we learn from God’s Word, and the relationship we build together is what I really like about making disciples here.”
Pilw is a church member whom Mimi is walking alongside. When they met, Pilw explained to Mimi that she had not read her Bible in years but was interested in starting again. Mimi told her, “Let’s do it together.” The two met three days a week at 06:00 to study the Word together, in person when possible and, if not, over the phone. The regular meeting held them accountable and provided a space to be open and honest.
Though Pilw believed in Jesus from a young age, she “never understood about discipleship at all.” Through being discipled herself, Pilw has seen how “discipleship is important for the Church. Without it, people wouldn’t grow in their faith. …Discipleship is something that makes them have deep roots in their lives of faith and… people will see the reflection of God in their lives, and it’s the way to bring more people to come to know God.” Today, Pilw is applying what she learnt as she shares Christ’s love with children at the orphanage where she works.
Pilw encouraged those involved in discipleship to “start out their first step just as Mimi did; by building relationships with people.”
Be the salt and the light
Ryan (Hong Kong) lives in a small town in southern Thailand, doing various work such as reaching out to the youth, facilitating a Bible study for the elderly, running a scholarship programme and investing in the local church. In short, he is there to reflect Christ’s love in the community. Relationships are key.
“In the Thai context, relationships, like friendships, are very important,” Ryan shared.
Relationships have given Ryan the opportunity to journey with people in various stages of their faith journey. From sharing his own testimony with those who have never met a Jesus follower to encouraging believers who want to dig deeper into their relationship with Christ, Ryan is happy to come alongside people wherever they are. “I just do what God wants me to do here. I just want to be friends with the people whom God wants me to be friends with,” he said.
Ryan has become involved in the local church, teaching Sunday School when there are not enough teachers, being involved with the youth group and preaching occasionally. Recently, he helped put together a worship team. “We hope that in the future [the church] will have more local Christians who can take up the leadership to teach the locals because they know the right language,” he explained. Until then, he will continue to fill in the gaps where needed and encourage others to participate.
Around 20 adults attend the church, plus 10 children. The size of the church is typical in the area. Ryan explained that in the south, there is hardly ever a church with over 100 members. Though the Jesus followers may be few, “I hope we can be like in the Bible where it says we are the salt and the light,” Ryan shared.
Discipleship is vital for all believers as they are the “people of Christ in their communities who know His words and live out the truth,” said Lynchee. “True disciples will have reason to share Jesus with others and serve others like Jesus. But when churches focus a lot inwardly, people are not aware of the needs of those seeking God and make missions something unrelated to believers but more for missionaries.”
Mimi explained that people in Thailand often want blessings in life but do not want to let go of their old selves or wants. “I think the Thai Church needs discipleship because we are believers, and we are not here to only receive blessings but to be disciples of Jesus Christ, which means to do what He wants us to do,” she shared.
“Discipleship is important to every Jesus follower,” Ryan added. “It requires us to have discipline to listen to His callings and obey. And how can people discern His voice if they are not reading the Bible? The Bible should be the foundation of everything. I would like to see the Thai church discipling Jesus followers by teaching and training them how to read the Bible.”
Please pray for the Church in Thailand. Pray that the church planting movement will focus on building true Jesus followers instead of physical buildings. Pray for vision and inspiration for church leaders to encourage and disciple believers to live out their faith in their communities.