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Serving as Partners Under Local Leaders

While Paul is a model of pioneering church planting in new places, the New Testament also records the work of Timothy and Apollos who worked alongside local churches. In their first term with OMF Tim & Miho Walker, mission workers in Japan, worked in partnership with a Japanese pastor, and trying to follow the example of Timothy and Apollos.

Could you give us short insight into your ministry in Japan?

For our first term with OMF Japan we served in Nanae Evangelical Christian Church alongside Pastor Kimura. A large part of that was about training – both by involvement and observation. We experienced various ministries including children’s and youth work, English teaching as an evangelistic outreach, and evangelism in the community.

Why do you think partnership with the existing Japanese church and pastors is important?

In Japan it can be relatively easy for cross-cultural workers to make contact with people and have opportunities to introduce them to Jesus for the first time, in a way it often isn’t for Japanese Christians themselves. But of course, the best place for new Japanese believers is in the Japanese church, which can, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:12, equip them for works of service in their own cultural context.

So I believe it is very important for missionaries to partner with the Japanese church, because by doing so we can combine our strengths to further the Kingdom in Japan. Also, foreign missionaries have an outsider’s perspective that can, when humbly offered, be a great help to the Japanese church.

Were there any difficulties you faced?

Since missionaries had been leaders of the church since its earliest stages, there was sometimes an expectation that they would go on giving direction and making key decisions. It was a learning curve for the church to adjust to their very first Japanese pastor leading them, with missionaries serving under the pastor.

For us, it was quite hard when the pastor asked us not to start a new ministry that we would like to have begun. But we realised that he had his own reasons for that and we weren’t there to insist on our own way and had to set aside some of our cherished ideas.

What would you tell someone considering cross-cultural partnership?

  1. I think humility is key. It’s vital that you respect their ways of being Christ’s Church – even where it is very different from what you’re used to in your own country.

  2. Being quick to point out what you believe to be wrong with the national church or wider culture will work against true partnership.

  3. The cross-cultural worker has to be a permanent student of the culture, always open to learning something new.

  4. You may need to submit to the correction of a national leader or believer.

  5. It’s good to remember that mission workers come and go, but the local church will remain by God’s grace until Christ returns.

What are your hopes as you partner with the Japanese church?

We’re involved in the first stages of a new church-planting work, serving alongside Japanese church leaders. Our hope is that we’ll be able to strike a good balance between what we believe we can offer to the work and what the Japanese leaders would like us to do. We hope to be a true help and not a hindrance to its growth as a genuinely Japanese church.

Do you see this kind of ministry as the natural progression for missions as a whole?

Yes. It is wonderful when God’s people from very different cultural backgrounds come together and partner in mission as co-labourers in the harvest field; it can be a powerful witness to the world. When we partner well together we bring glory to the God we serve, whose mission is to reconcile a sinful and divided world to himself through Christ.

This article originally appeared in Billions magazine ‘Partnership Power’ May – August 2014.

Will you pray?

  • Pray for missionaries as they partner with local churches to share the gospel. Pray for gospel humility and Christ-exalting partnership.

  • Pray that missionaries and local Christians would be able to learn from each other and be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

  • Pray for good communication in cross-cultural partnerships and that where there are tensions these would be resolved well, through prayer.

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