6 – Lessons from Japanese leaders

Implementing Ministry Aggressively and Practically

For a leader to reproduce a church at least three times, what does it take? Over the last several articles we’ve examined five key characteristics of leadership that contribute to reproducing churches in Japan (see Fall 2011 issue for the background to this research). The final characteristic identified in my research was that they all implement ministry aggressively, achieve ministry objectives practically and realistically,and lead the church into new directions.

Implement aggressively

To fulfill a God-given vision (Winter 2012), these leaders aggressively engage in ministry. As the church is on the offense, they are determined to mobilize lay people in ministry. They are burdened with the implementation of the vision—not merely to think or talk about it, but also to do it. When Pastor Tanaka1 was asked for practical advice on starting new churches, he simply replied, “Just do it. Please do it.” These leaders are serious about ministry accomplishment—they are action-oriented. One secondary leader portrayed his pastor simply as “effectual” (実効的 jikkōteki).

These courageous leaders, in risk-taking faith (Summer 2012), do not let obstacles stand in their way. One leader said of his pastor, “He does not give up, has strong tenacity, and continues engaging.” They are not afraid of experimenting with new approaches to overcome hindrances to church reproduction.

Courageous leadership also means change. Pastor Watanabe completely revolutionized his church from a traditional ministry. Another church discontinued a large expensive ministry, because it was not working to accomplish their purposes.

They also exhibit tenacity with achieving objectives. Misumi’s study of Japanese leadership has found that goal-oriented leadership is a very positive trait, especially when the leader couples it with caring for the team.2

Checkpoint #1: In your leadership, what hinders you from being decisive and aggressive in your ministry? What makes you timid? What makes you tenacious?

Achieve practically and realistically

Leaders of reproducing churches are practical and realistic. These leaders are not interested in theory alone, but also in real-world results. As practical doers (実行 jikkō and 実践 jissen), their behavior emphasizes doing, not just knowing. When asked for reasons why other churches don’t reproduce, Pastor Abe replied that leaders have not been taught how to do it practically.

These reproducing leaders are incredibly realistic (現実主義 genjitsu shugi). Pastor Kubo gave advice to those interested in starting churches: “Just do it and find out . . . You do not know until you do it. I am a realist.” Practicality is used to overcome obstacles and remove unproductive efforts. This characteristic is the basis for their hands-on training for lay mobilization.

To these leaders, flexibility (柔軟 jūnan) is necessary to be practical. Having a dynamic church with a simple relational structure (Autumn 2012) allows easy midcourse corrections. Flexibility allows appropriate changes to surmount obstacles. Pastor Abe suggested including strategies in your original plan to overcome barriers. One secondary leader said of his pastor, “He is flexible because he carefully thinks about . . . the current needs without sticking to old [patterns].” Studies of church planters in Japan have proven that flexibility is essential, and flexible ministry plans are usually more effective.3

Being practical also means being creative (創造的 sōzōteki). Creativity is a characteristic not normally praised in Japanese leadership.4 These reproducing leaders find creative ways of applying ministry in different settings. New ideas and attractive (魅力 miryoku) ways of ministry are introduced. Several pastors use technology like DVDs and video streaming to overcome the difficulties of distance between churches. They utilize anything in the cause of starting new churches.

Checkpoint #2: Is your leadership realistic and practical? Why or why not? How could your leadership practices be more flexible or creative?

Lead into new directions

These church-reproducing leaders boldly lead in new directions rather than defending or protecting (守り mamori) what already exists. These leaders do not believe stability to be the true nature of the church and ministry. Pastor Shimizu asserted, “The church is always wanting stability, but it cannot reproduce without instability.” Leaders must do what is necessary, and the goal of aggressive leaders is not security or stability.

A mark of growing churches is leaders who primarily lead rather than manage.5 By leading in new directions, these leaders place less importance on management (管理 kanri or 経営 keiei). These leaders oversee others with the gifts and abilities to administer many ministry responsibilities. They coordinate people in ministry, which, inspired by faith, does not undermine personal initiative or creativity.

Due to its dynamic and living nature, they believe a leader cannot control or manage the church. Detailed planning prevents the leader, as Pastor Kubo says, from “going with [the] flow.” Based on vision, their planning and strategy is practical for overcoming obstacles by following simple leadership structure and decision-making.

Checkpoint #3: Is your leadership goal to protect and manage stability, or to lead in new directions? How can you develop those skills? Do you primarily lead or manage?

Final thoughts

These reproducing leaders are people of action. They know reality and they confront it. They overcome; they do not worry about obstacles, they expect them. Because they are aggressive implementers, these leaders achieve goals by being flexible and creative. Being realistic and down-to-earth, they do not talk about doing it—they do it. They start new things by leading in new directions. Through this determined focus, they see their visions for the church fulfilled through church reproduction.

The next and final article will review all six characteristics of Japanese leaders reproducing churches. I will expound how these characteristics interrelate and will discuss more implications for ministry in the church in Japan.

1. The names used in these articles are pseudonyms. Due to the personal nature of
this research, the true name of these leaders cannot be identified.
2. Jyuji Misumi, The Behavioral Science of Leadership. An Interdisciplinary Japanese
Research Program. English ed. M. F. Peterson (ed.). (Ann Arbor, MI: University
of Michigan Press, 1986.
3. JEA Church Planting Survey Committee. Church Planting Survey: Interim
Report. JEA Consultation on Evangelism. Karuizawa, Japan. (Tokyo: Japan
Evangelical Association, 1988), 1–10; 国内開拓伝道会 [KDK] (National Pioneer
Evangelism Association). 開拓伝道者への贈り物 (A Present to Church Planters).
(Tokyo: 国内開拓伝道会 [KDK] (National Evangelism Association), 1998).
4. Darius K.-S. Chan, Michele J. Gelfand, Harry Triandis, and Oliver Tzeng,
“Tightness-looseness Revisited: Some Preliminary Analyses in Japan and the
United States,” International Journal of Psychology 31 (1996): 9–10.
5. C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth. (Ventura, CA: Regal Books,
1984), 44–63.

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.