I spent the first three days of this week in Shizuoka, a lovely area south of Tokyo famous for its green tea, eel, and wasabi. I was there to participate in Asian Access’ annual Japan Church Growth Institute conference for pastors. Although quite honestly I wasn’t all that excited about leaving my family and attending, it was a really good, full few days. Thankful to Eric for covering the homefront!
The speaker was a church growth expert from Talbot Seminary, Dr. Gary McIntosh. I think I most enjoyed his five principles of church growth that are still true after Donald MacGavran first wrote them forty years ago in Bridges of God. They ring incredibly true to our own ministry:
1) People come to Christ primarily through family and friends
2) People come to faith through personal conversations over spiritual things with people they know and trust
3) People’s willingness to talk about Jesus Christ and spiritual things comes and goes; hearts are open and closed at different times
4) We must be involved in people’s lives, and then wait until God brings them to a place of willingness to hear the Gospel.
5) We must provide a loving welcome for new people and embrace them with love into a new church. People want to be accepted first, then accept Christ.
These are great reminders for all of us involved in loving people…
The highlight for me was the opportunity to talk with various pastors across Japan and hear stories of what they are encouraged and discouraged about; where God is at work; what I can learn from what others are doing. As I am preparing for teaching a seminary class this winter on Evangelism, it was a great chance to glean from others.
I had a wonderful surprise the first day when two of the D.Min students, one from three years ago and one from this fall, walked in together — married! Shiho was single when I taught her; I knew that Suzuki Sensei had recently gotten married but didn’t know to who. They were in their forties/fifties when they were married; now they are co-pastoring a church in the Tokyo area.
My last day I sat with a neat married couple who pastor a six-story church in downtown Hiroshima. I prayed over them, so encouraged to hear of their vision, the three worship services that they are holding; the many young people they are reaching.
I spent a number of meals with the “AboFo” crowd– short for About Forty. These were the youngsters in the group…the future of this country. In casually interviewing one of these pastors who had been a student when I was TAing at Fuller, I asked him how many people he has led to Christ since he started his church eleven years ago. LOVED his answer — two hundred!
As I continue to work on my course on evangelism in Japan, I am convinced that there are no easy formulas. But I do believe there is wonderful evidence of the Holy Spirit moving across the land. Perhaps elusive; definitely not as fully as any of us would choose. But I was reminded again this week that thankfully God is much bigger than we can imagine and He is using all kinds of people to do his work.