Uchi and Soto
In Japan, there is a difference between how you treat people who you consider your inner circle of family and friends (uchi) and those who are outside of that (soto). This is true around the world, but it is perhaps more pronounced in Japan than many other countries. Japanese people generally find it very hard to join new groups and also difficult to accept new people into already-established groups.
The church is God’s ordained entity to bring the message of God’s grace and salvation to the peoples of the world. The missionary/pastor can encourage Christians in this task. If the uchi-soto (inside-outside) barrier in Japanese culture is to be overcome, the pastor needs to plan prayerfully for people from “outside the church walls” to become involved in the church body.
Here’s a way that could be achieved:
1. Vision. The pastor sets a course for the development of vision. This vision would include a deep conviction of the mighty power of the gospel. We know that the death of Christ on the cross effected a power that reaches to any person, with any need, in any culture. This vision would also understand the incredible potential for the Spirit’s conviction of any heart. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV). This vision must carry a humble awareness of the potential for spiritual reclamation and soul harvest.
2. Prayer. The church would pray for: a sense of urgency and opportunity, divine guidance and wisdom, the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the community, and God’s timing.
3. Discipleship training. Each believer needs to be trained in spiritual maturity. The congregation could be involved in discipleship training to prepare the congregation for a ministry to the secular groups in the local community. In the appendix of my book, I included a sample outline that the pastor could use for such training.
4. Local community groups. A church leader could go to the local city hall and community hall for lists of existing local community groups and clubs for the purpose of potential involvement of church members.
5. Day of dedication. This would be a day to challenge church members to consider joining a community group. There would be a time of prayer and a call to surrender to God’s purpose through the church in the community.
Purpose of community group involvement
The church must keep in mind why its members are getting involved in local community groups—to build relationships and look for open hearts that God has prepared. After such people have been found, then the message of God’s love needs to be carefully and prayerfully expressed to the prepared heart. Such witness should be planned outside the group—at a coffee shop or in the Christian’s home.
The church should be aware that this ministry would likely be difficult and not have immediate results.
The initial purpose is not evangelism. The purpose is to build friendships and to develop mutual relationships within the group.
As the Christian meets the members of this new group, he/she will begin to hear of burdens, disappointments, loneliness, and dissatisfaction.
As confidence builds, the Christian can (as the Holy Spirit leads) share the love of Jesus and maybe a personal testimony.
Care must be taken in gender roles. A lady could invite another lady to a coffee shop or to her home, but should never invite a man, or vice versa. If a married lady is concerned about a male friend in the group, she could say (if her husband is willing), “Would you like to have a coffee with me and my husband?” Or, if unmarried, she could ask a friend to join them.
Possible negative reactions
This plan would cost money. The church could set up a fund for this new venture and offer a possible 30% of the club membership dues.
It would cost time. Most Japanese are very busy and have little leisure time. However, the Christian could determine to dedicate two or three hours per month (or whatever time the club membership would require).
It may seem too slow. It would take many months, maybe years for fruit. But it could eventually break down the uchi–soto barrier.
The average Christian is often shy to talk about Jesus. But with the encouragement of the church and prayer of the people, that shyness can be overcome. The pastor could supply some tracts for witness, for example.
Remember, God is working to prepare the searching heart. When the heart is sufficiently prepared and the Christian is led by the Spirit to share Christ’s love, the miracle of salvation can take place. God can still do his work in his way, even in Japan.
May our God give guidance to his people for his glory and the reaching of many lost ones across Japan for his kingdom.
An edited extract from Communication in Community: The Christian Witness in Cultural Context, 2013, by Stan Dyer. Published by Guardian Books in Ontario, Canada. Available at CLC Tokyo Bookstore.
Stan Dyer ministered in Japan with OMS International for 26 years in evangelism, church planting. He also taught at Tokyo Biblical Seminary. He served as Executive Director of OMS-Canada from 1990. He currently lives in Ontario, Canada.