Since the founding of our mission in 1967, our focus on partnership with the wide spectrum of Christian churches throughout Japan has resulted in many new relationships between Christian groups over the decades. That accelerated even more after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.
The Christian subculture challenge
A few years ago when I met with a Japanese Christian leader to catch up on each other’s lives, we discussed the challenges of the spread of the gospel in this nation and dreamed a bit about how to build upon the many partnerships that have been developing between Christian groups here. During our conversation, he surprised me with an unexpected comment: “The leaders of the church community in Japan need to come from outside the church community!”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Church leaders need to be out in the community,” he answered. Then he explained that the Christian church subculture is so different from the realities of everyday Japanese life that for most Japanese, the church has no connection to the community. “We can’t keep doing things the way we always have,” he emphasized.
For any leader to truly know how their church can reach the local community, rather than focusing solely on the “maintenance” of the existing church family, they need to be out in the community. Then, from the community they can come into the local church to provide leadership for reaching back out to the community.
Statements like the above from Japanese leaders give me great hope for the evangelization of Japan—a country that has been known as a “missionary graveyard” for decades. Another encouragement was that just a couple of weeks earlier I had attended an Asian Access Japan sponsored “Vision Festival” that drew together over 60 Japanese pastors from all across Japan to discuss church multiplication.
One model presented was the “convenience store” concept. At that time there were over 45,000 convenience stores in Japan (with 50,000 being considered the saturation point). On the other hand, there were only about 8,000 evangelical churches. So the formation of 42,000 more churches—whether “traditional,” “house,” “cell,” “satellite,” or some other model seemed to be a logical goal.
Another pastor talked about how his group of churches is achieving church multiplication by using a “strawberry evangelism” paradigm. Just as a strawberry plant sends out multiple runners to start new plants, so mother churches in this network send out church members as “runners” to plant daughter churches.
Yet another pastor had a vision for Japan’s population to be 10% Christian by 2024! (from the then current 1/2 percent!) As missionaries, how do we respond to mind-boggling dreams from our Japanese partners?
First, we praise God that visionary pastors are being moved by God to dream big dreams.
Second, we are reminded that our task is not only to make disciples, but to equip them to “make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples”!
Third, to achieve these “impossible dreams,” we must go even deeper in our partnerships across the entire evangelical church community, encouraging each other in multiplication—knowing that if we truly are willing to follow God where he may lead, we won’t be able to continue “doing church” in the same ways we have for decades.