The term “church renewal” or “church revitalization” implies that the church is not functioning as it ought to, just like a building in need of renewal is probably no longer meeting people’s needs. For example, what should an aging city do with an unused school building? Should it be modified into a home for the elderly to respond to the needs in the community? Or perhaps be remodeled into a specialized cooking school to attract young people, as Mikasa City did with its high school?1
A church, however, is more than a building. It is an organic body whose unity does not depend on its meeting together at one place; its members are united to the one Head, Christ, and thus form one organic community. So when we talk about “church renewal” or “church revitalization,” it implies that this organic body is not growing—it is struggling or is even in the process of “dying” if no immediate help is available.
In 1 Peter chapters 4–5, we see teaching that is vital to revitalize and renew the organic living whole. We will summarize it by borrowing the acronym CPR.
1. Care for, not control of, the flock (5:2–3)
The principles of hierarchy, honor, and shame in Japanese society can put church leaders in a dangerous position. The congregation may allow the leader to take on an overly authoritative leadership role without considering their own involvement as leaders. If we are church leaders, are we empowering and equipping congregations to evangelize and not be overly dependent on leaders? Or are we lording it over those entrusted to us rather than trusting them and nurturing their growth?
2. Prayer, not over-protect (4:7, 5:8–9)
Prayer is the best way to safeguard the congregation in times of trial. Peter himself witnessed the brutal persecution of Jesus and experienced personal failure then too. So he knew very well the meaning of being alert in order to pray. He knew what it was to suffer for the gospel in times of trial. Church members may be tempted not to testify for God or to avoid gospel conversations. But is this the way Christians should act?
Churches may also be tempted to over-protect the “proper” form of Sunday Services or evangelical activities. But these churches may lose the passion to share the gospel, fail to put their hearts into understanding those who join church activities, or even lose their eagerness to experience God. For the sake of doing things right, they forget to do the right things.
3. Response, not responsibility (4:8–11)
Neither the missionary nor the pastor is the head of the church, but Jesus Christ. There is a general belief that the pastor is responsible for pastoral work, the missionary is responsible for evangelism, while church members are responsible for fellowship. However, 1 Peter 4:10 states “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (NIV). A healthy church works together as a community.
Satoshi Nakamura, principal of the Niigata Bible Institute, shared that past revivals in Japan relied too heavily on people or circumstances specific to that time. As a result, when the situation changed, those revivals were disrupted. He believes that genuine revival can come only with prayer and when the Word is faithfully shared.2 For us, in our work in Mikasa and Bibai, this means we don’t simply assume a pastor’s role but work to ignite a passion for God’s word in the small congregations, concentrating on how they themselves can do evangelism and create opportunities to reach their neighbours. Peter’s recommendation for reviving a struggling church is that care, prayer, and united response are vital.
1. Hokkaido Mikasa High School stopped recruiting new students in 2010 and was scheduled to close down in March 2012 by Hokkaido Government but was transformed into a high school specializing in cooking courses by Mikasa City and re-opened in April in the same year. “北海道三笠高等学校,” Wikipedia, accessed June 24, 2018, https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/北海道三笠高等学校.
2. Nakamura Satoshi 中村敏, 揺れ動く時代におけるキリスト者の使命：日本はどこへ行き、私たちはどこに立つのか？ [Christians’ calling in an age that is being shaken up: Where is Japan heading, and where do we stand?] (Japan: Inochi no kotoba sha, 2016), 112-113.]
Ricky and Winny Leung are from Hong Kong and have been with OMF International since 2014. They serve in rural churches at Mikasa and Bibai in Hokkaido.