Less than three years after Izumi Park Town Christian Church in Sendai called its first pastor, he resigned. By that time about half of the congregation had already left. What could the church do now?
They turned to OMF International for help. The church had been under missionary leadership for more than twenty years when they called a pastor, so OMF was somewhat reluctant to get involved. Nevertheless, the church really appeared to need outside help, so OMF agreed to send a missionary couple for four years to help it regain its footing. My wife and I were asked to go.
When the OMF regional director met with the church leadership he stressed the need for them to take responsibility for their own future. He said, “You are not a baby church. You are a teenager approaching adulthood.” Our question was—What could we do to help this teenage church reach a point of healthy independence?
As we got to know this church we realized that the church was not yet ready for the challenges of adulthood. They needed to grow deeper as well as larger. Church leadership needed to have a clear understanding of and a solid commitment to the Word of God. Direction needed to be based on faith and the direction of the Holy Spirit. We needed to help the church members assume responsibility for their own future, use the gifts that God had given them, and work together for his glory.
One dilemma we faced was how to reach unbelievers with the gospel. Previously, I have taught English as a means of meeting unbelievers and sharing the gospel with them. But I was hesitant to start something that our Japanese church members could not continue after we left. We needed to reach out in evangelism as well as train church members to be involved in this and other ministries themselves.
The church already had a strong children’s ministry. Since our son was kindergarten age, one of the first things we did was to enroll him in kindergarten. In the end it turned out that a large number of the children who attended our children’s outreaches were his kindergarten classmates.
There were numerous other opportunities for evangelism which could be done in partnership with church members. But we also needed them togrow in holiness, serve one another, and take on leadership.
Everyone using their gifts
One of the main reasons why the handover to a Japanese pastor had failed was that the church members thought that the pastor could do almost all the work of the church by himself. Again and again, I have emphasized the need for everyone to use their own gifts for God and his church. I think they are gradually getting it.
After four years it was time for us to go on home assignment for a year. We had had a few baptisms and seen significant growth in some individuals. Our church giving had gone up considerably. But with some transfers, numerically we were right where we had started four years before. Could our church make it on their own? The church leadership decided to ask OMF to extend their help a little longer. It was agreed that we would return to help this church our next term, although perhaps in a more limited capacity.
Now that we are in the U.S., the church is dealing with no full-time pastoral leadership for the year. We are encouraged by how God has provided help from other pastors and missionaries, and by how the church members appear to be rising to the challenge.
By Joel, OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- That God will build his church: Izumi Park Town as well as many others in Japan who are struggling.
- That the church will be built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, using materials that will last.
- For wisdom for OMF as they receive requests for help from churches.