Why a Burden for Japan
2 Tim 2:10 “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (NASB).
Hello Lighthouse! My name is Seichi, and I have the great joy of serving as one of the interns this summer. Going into my third year as an M.Div. student at The Master’s Seminary, I am preparing for ministry in Japan, to church plant and serve as a pastor for a Japanese church. I’d like to introduce myself and explain how the Lord has worked in me a strong desire to minister in Japan.
My mother is from Okinawa, having become a believer in her early twenties while studying to become a nurse. My father spent most of his childhood in Kagoshima (Kyushu) and, after moving to the States with his family, came to know the Lord in his thirties. They both currently attend the Japanese congregation of Gardena Valley Baptist Church, which is where I grew up and where the Lord graciously granted me saving faith.
According to Joshua Project, the evangelical population of the Japanese in Japan is 0.3%. Japanese Christians and missionaries to Japan have often wondered why Japan has been such a difficult place for ministry. Historically, the church has never flourished and spread in Japan as she has in other countries. Many socio-cultural factors can be given, but I am convinced that the greatest factor for the hindrance to the spread of the gospel is that Japanese Christians are not growing up into maturity.
Gal 4:19 “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (NASB).
This is the heart of any pastor or mature believer. We agonize for Christ to be formed in the lives of our brothers and sisters. Last Sunday, Pastor Mat exhorted the fathers in the church to cultivate an environment where grace flourishes best—more specifically, where discipleship is the norm. The exhortation extends to the rest of the church: we are to imitate Christ and declare Christ. We are to show the excellencies of Christ both in our conduct and our speech, in how we live and what we say.
But is discipleship the norm in the Japanese Christian home and in the Japanese church? I do not presume to give a definitive answer, but I am afraid that, based on my own experiences and observations—and those of others—I am wary of any confident answer in the affirmative. At least for his church, a Japanese friend confirms my assessment: “discipleship” may be a familiar word (or expression in Japanese) to many, but people don’t know what it looks like in practice.
The missionaries’ task is not done when the Japanese come to faith. They must grow up into maturity. There is much rejoicing when a lost sinner turns to Christ in repentant faith (Luke 15), but the work has only begun. Christ did not commission His followers to go and make converts. Since her founding, the mission of the church has always been to make disciples who will go and make other disciples of Christ.
Why do I have a burden for Japan?
2 Cor 11:28–29 “…there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” (NASB).
The church is crippled when the Word of God is not rightly understood and delighted in, expounded and preached with authority, and obeyed and applied in the lives of God’s people. What does it say about the health of the church in Japan when a fervent elder prioritizes “ministry” over family, and all four of his children are not walking with the Lord (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9)? Or when 80% of a sermon by a well-respected pastor consists of stories from the news and personal experience, and Scripture is taken out of context to prove his point (2 Tim 2:15; 4:2)? These and more are true accounts I have heard from others or witnessed myself.
As it has been said, the church does not rise above its leadership. Among pastors, the consequences of poor character, poor theology, poor discernment, poor shepherding, poor counsel, poor exposition, and poor teaching are devastating. I knew a young, believing woman who went through a period of unresolved marital conflict, fell into depression after giving birth, was sent to a hospital and isolated from others, and tragically ended her life by hanging herself with a rope. My heart grieves over the events that transpired and the overwhelming sorrow that must have filled her heart. I cannot help but wonder how she was being shepherded and how the church was speaking the truth in love to her (Eph 4:15). How can I not be in anguish when this is the condition of Christ’s beloved church?
I believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty of God, and I trust the Lord that in His timing there will be a harvest for reaping. But at the same time, if what I have observed and described above is the characteristic state of the Japanese church, it is no surprise that the word of God has not spread across Japan. By this statement, I do not disparage the work of past missionaries to Japan. I praise God for the proclamation of the gospel in the recent history of Japan. Moreover, I’m sure there are churches that prove contrary to what I have seen. However, the systemic problems within the evangelical Japanese church need to be rightly assessed and addressed. Otherwise, the world will continue to weaken the church (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:14). How can infants contribute to society if they are always feeding on milk and baby food and never grow? The church in Japan—as do churches everywhere across the world—must feed on the solid food of God’s Word (Heb 5:11–14) and grow up into maturity if she is to reach the people of her country and the world for Christ.
In light of these reasons and more, I am grateful to Lighthouse for the work they are doing in Japan. As Pastor Kim teaches an introductory course on biblical counseling, church leaders are trained to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12). Because of Lighthouse’s kingdom mindset and her concern for the joy of the Japanese people, Lighthouse has chosen to partner with ministries like Christ Bible Institute and All Nations Fellowship in Nagoya. Lighthouse is grounded in the authority and sufficiency of God’s inerrant Word, and centered on the gospel. There is an emphasis on God’s grace not only to forgive, but to transform. The church boldly proclaims the gospel not only as a means to save, but save to the uttermost (Heb 7:25). The gospel is meant for all of life.
These are the truths I appreciate and cherish about Lighthouse, and I am excited to know and be known by this church family who hold fast these same truths.
If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts and heart for Japan or even just to get to know me more, please feel free to reach out. I pray that our gracious God would continue to bless Lighthouse for the exaltation and proclamation of Christ in the South Bay, California, Texas, America, Mexico, Japan, and the ends of the earth.
In our Savior,