Wrap-up – Lessons from Japanese leaders

Practical Implications

Imagine, 6 churches starting 62 churches! This is what is happening in Japan. Why do some churches reproduce and others do not? In the previous six articles we have looked at six characteristics of Japanese leaders who reproduce churches.1

The six characteristics we have reviewed are closely interrelated: receive ministry vision from God, exercise risk-taking faith, envision the church as a dynamic sending community, develop lay people for ministry, lead relationally through encouragement, and implement aggressively through practical ministry. These all work in concert; any one of these characteristics, though exemplary, would not necessarily indicate a reproducing leader.

I will look at just three implications from what we’ve learned.

1. Expanding hope for the Japanese church

Celebrate that church reproduction is currently happening. This gives us hope that it is possible. We do not have to react like one Japanese pastor who insisted I must be talking about another country. The church is reproducing in Japan.

For this research project, at least sixty Japanese churches were discovered to have reproduced no fewer than three times in a twenty-year period. This figure is not as high as many would prefer but, nearly one-percent of Japanese churches appear to have an extreme measure of reproductive health.

Yes, there are churches struggling, but there are also churches with incredible stories of evangelism, discipleship, leadership development, and church reproduction.

Checkpoint #1: Share the good news that church reproduction is happening. Many will be encouraged and will want to know how to reproduce their own churches.

2. Addressing foundational issues

Early in my research I received a letter from a leader who has reproduced his church to the fourth generation! This pastor stated that the church in Japan usually does not reproduce because the mission of the church is not grasped, lay people are not released into ministry, and churches are pastor-centered.

Several church-reproducing leaders I studied revealed they had undergone a change or a paradigm shift in their thinking of the church, leadership, and their role as pastor. I’ve discussed these changes under three specific foundational areas:

  1. They viewed the church more organically and as a dynamic sending community affecting their vision and faith.
  2. They moved to a theology of empowering authority to the laity.
  3. They developed a role not as the center of the church but like an encouraging coach or father.

In each of these foundational areas a change in perspective meant a change in how the pastors led and conducted their ministry.

Like the church-reproducing leaders we studied, there is a distinct need for the Japanese church to undergo a paradigm shift from a pastor-centered church, to equipping lay people, empowering them, and sending them out.

Checkpoint #2: Have these paradigm shifts happened to you? Do you view the church differently theologically and practically? How is your view of leadership? You can be a catalyst to encourage leaders to be more biblical in their thinking about the church and their role.

3. Developing more leaders

What excited me about this research was networking with real Japanese pastors who were leading reproducing churches. I wish we had so many more of these types of pastors in the Japanese church. Not just 60 but 6,000 just like them. But where would these leaders come from?

One of the dreams driving this research was the possibility of developing many more who could pastor reproducing churches. This will require dedicated prayer for harvest workers, care in selecting leaders, and hard work. I believe each of these six characteristics can be developed. Church leaders mentioning their own and other’s growth in these characteristics proves this.

Leaders need to learn how to seize God’s vision, clarify it, and share it; leaders can be challenged to understand the Biblical view of the church more fully. Through practical training, they can learn to empower others, and work in an aggressive and practical manner.

Developing leaders who focus on church reproduction is a great need. In 1991, in his presentation at the Third Congress on Evangelism, Pastor Kaoru Kishida appealed for every church to birth another in a period of 10 years. He also cautioned the audience declaring that for each Japanese church to become churches that birth churches (教会を生み出す教会 kyokai o umidasu kyokai), the nature (本質  honshitsu) of the church must change. Pastor Kishida also shared that churches are not reproduced often because of ineffectual leadership.2 His cautions were 22 years ago. Every church leader must have a renewed commitment to church reproduction.

Checkpoint #3: What are you doing to develop better leaders? How can you grow in these key six characteristics and a commitment to reproduction?

Wrapping up

One lesson for all of us is to emulate these Japanese leaders. First, have God-given vision. Lead with risk-taking faith, dream of a healthy reproducing church, train lay people for ministry, encourage and empower people, lead aggressively and practically.

Like these church-reproducing leaders each one of us must develop leaders around us. Be on the lookout for potential leaders. Just like Jesus, spend time with them: help them personally and in ministry, empower them, pray with and for them, instruct them in truths of the church and leadership, foster vision and faith in them.

You might have to stop doing some things to see this happen. I have been focusing more on people I believe have great hearts for God and a real potential for leadership and church reproduction. I have also been working hard at developing lay people in several churches and producing materials for training leaders.

I love Pastor Tanaka’s words: “Just do it.” All this we can do. Go out and have an adventure.

Checkpoint #4: What are your next steps in this adventure of seeing the church reproducing in Japan?

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1. This series has run in every issue of Japan Harvest since Fall 2011, except for Spring 2012.

2. Kaoru Kishida. Nihon no Senkyo Senryaku ni Tsuite (Concerning Japan Mission Strategy). In Nihon, Ajia Soshite Sekai e (Japan, Asia then to the World) (Tokyo: Third Japan Congress on Evangelism Publications Committee, 1992) 43-48.

About John Mehn 8 Articles
John Mehn and his wife, Elaine, have served in Japan with the US agency Converge Worldwide (BGC) since 1985. John’s ministry has been in church planting and leadership development, and he has served as the chairman of the leadership team of the JEMA Church Planting Institute (CPI). He has a Doctor of Ministry in Missiology from Trinity International University.