by Michael L. Wilson
My ministry is based on the model presented by Henry and Richard Blackaby and Claude King in Experiencing God (Revised and Expanded Edition 2008). Recently my case study of planting Kiyose Grace Chapel was published by Wipf and Stock in the book The Facilitator Era: Beyond Pioneer Church Multiplication. I've alreadly blogged about the best practices of successful church multipliers from that book. Here's the case study I submitted that eventually morphed into Chapter 4. I would welcome comments or other feedback.
Facilitational Church Planting in Japan
Asian Access' policy calls for partnering with national church leaders to start a church multiplication movement in their respective countries. As the group's name implies the ministry focuses on Asia.
Currently, Asian Access missionaries work in Japan and nine other Asian countries. Plans are in place to open cooperative works in all 20 Asian countries before 2020. The vision driving this process is "to see a vibrant community of servant leaders with vision, character and competence leading the church across Asia."
The foundation of this vision was the evangelistic work of the Language Institute for Evangelism Ministries (LIFE) started in 1967 by Kenneth Wendling. Meeting the felt need of many Japanese to learn conversational English, LIFE missionaries taught English in partnership with a Japanese chaplain or pastor who presented the gospel during "chapel time." Even though a very fruitful ministry for decades, society began to change with the bursting of the Japanese "bubble economy" in the 1990's.
A new pervasive competitiveness prevailed. Several commercial English teaching schools sprang up seemingly overnight, quickly developing into school chains. LIFE's church-based classes with their primary objective of friendship evangelism no longer looked as professional as the schools that focused on helping people get high-paying English-requisite jobs. Sensing the closing of one door of opportunity from the Lord even as another was opening, LIFE's vision gradually shifted to a focus on church multiplication-planting churches that reproduce themselves.
From the start, LIFE's two-pronged approach to church multiplication involved developing Japanese church leaders in order to multiply churches. The Japan Church Growth Institute (JCGI) division of LIFE Ministries has trained over 300 of the top pastors in Japan inculcating the vision and competence to play their role in developing a church multiplication movement that will encompass the entire nation of Japan, and overflow to other Asian countries.
As the leadership development work eventually expanded from Japan into other Asian countries, the name of the group had to be changed due to politically-sensitive reasons. Asian Access became the new name, continuing to work to develop the vision, competence, and character for long-term involvement in church multiplication.
Only in Japan, does Asian Access deploy missionaries "on the ground" to partner with Japanese pastors and congregations that desire to develop new reproducing churches. These expatriate partners in the church multiplication cooperative relationship engage in evangelistic outreach in a variety of ways, and participate in some of the planning for the new church.
Missionary involvement in outreach has two goals in addition to the obvious one of evangelism. First, their evangelistic activities are to provide a model for members of the mother church, and to engage Japanese lay Christians in the cooperative evangelistic activity in order to recruit any whom God would call for the church development team. Second, their input and encouragement in the prayer and planning process is meant to synergize creative involvement by participating lay Christians.
As LIFE Ministries/Asian Access transitioned into a church multiplication ministry focus in 1996, a number of expatriate families went to Japan to become part of this exciting new work. One of them, the Wilsons, was assigned to work with a church in Tokyo after a year in fulltime Japanese language school. This assignment was unique in that the Wilsons would work with an individual church to plant another church. More commonly, one missionary unit is assigned for each church participating in a network although specific forms and strategies are in a continuing state of flux.
As the pace of the movement has picked up, the number of Japanese churches wanting to participate in a church multiplication network has greatly surpassed the number of available missionaries. The result has been the formation of some "missionary-less networks," networks with two missionaries serving five churches, and other combinations. The networks without missionaries on site receive coaching support from JCGI National Director Rev. Hiroshi Kawasaki and other national leaders.
This evolving process has resulted in a fluid job description for Asian Access missionaries working in a church multiplication role. Some are assigned to an individual church in a network and model evangelism while recruiting a church planting team from among the church membership. The more experienced may serve in several churches to model evangelism and coach national church planters.
Returning to the fledgling days of the movement in 1996, the Wilson family was assigned to work with Nerima Grace Chapel in Tokyo. Mike had just completed a year of fulltime language school. Mary Jo, his wife, who already spoke intermediate Japanese from her previous ministry experience as a single in Japan, cared for their small children aged 5 and 2. Their daughter and son attended a Japanese pre-school/kindergarten (yochien), providing Mary Jo opportunity to reach out to other preschool (yochien) moms.
During the initial work at Nerima Grace Chapel, which was planning to birth a new church, Mike engaged in outreach through teaching some English classes, an English Bible class, and an evangelistic Bible study entitled "God's Love Letter." At least one Nerima Grace Chapel member teamed up with Mike in each evangelistic work. Another opportunity for outreach came when a student from nearby Musashi University came to the church office and asked if anyone could help him start a Christian English club on campus if he procured a charter for such a club.
As time went on and Mike became more fluent in Japanese, Nerima Grace Chapel's Pastor Ogasawara asked him to preach on a number of occasions. At these times, a lady in the church would help Mike craft his sermon in Japanese.
Mike had a habit of asking the housewives in the church about their husbands' work, hobbies, and interests. Seeing so many housewives attending church alone burdened him. The average ratio of women to men in the Church in Japan is about 70 percent female to 30 percent male.
His language helper told him that her husband used to play tennis before he became so busy at work, and that his doctor had recently told him to take up tennis again to maintain his health. Mike arranged to go to his language helper's family residence at a time when he could meet her husband, ostensibly for help on a sermon. Mike met his helper's husband, Toshi. As the two talked, Mike mentioned that he was looking for a tennis partner to get some exercise. Toshi agreed to join him. A close friendship quickly formed.
One day as they were playing tennis, the two friends finished a set and were walking to exchange sides when Mike thought he heard the Holy Spirit tell him to tell Toshi about the little spat he had had earlier in the week with his daughter. So Mike shared the conflict with him, and added that conflicts with his wife or children were usually quickly resolved through application of biblical principles and prayer.
Toshi stopped in mid-stride and asked to hear more. What Mike did not know at the time was that Toshi and his high school age daughter were in the middle of a serious conflict. Toshi was at his wits end trying to find resolution and reconciliation. Mike told his friend he was forming a men's small group to learn together and encourage each other as men, husbands, and fathers. Toshi's response: "I can't wait!"
The men's group composed of Toshi, Hiroshi, another newcomer, and four church members began with Mike leading the meetings using the 4 W's: Warm-up, Worship, Word, Work. Warm-up questions were gleaned from a number of sources. At first worship began with singing a familiar song like "Amazing Grace" acappella. But after a short time it became known that Toshi had been a rock guitarist and he still had six guitars at home gathering dust. So this seeker became the leader of the group in praise songs using an acoustic guitar.
For the Word portion, Mike led the men in an inductive study of John using a translated text from Precept Ministries. This fit Mike's advanced beginner's Japanese language level, and it engaged the men, providing insights they had never perceived before. Toshi and Hiroshi remarked that they had heard of the name of Jesus but had not known that he was the Creator of everything or that he had become the sacrifice for sinful humans. With every meeting the two newcomers to Christianity were being drawn closer to Christ by the testimonies, inductive study of the Word, and the warm fellowship.
One cell member had cerebral palsy and had never experienced acceptance or love, even from his family. The men's cell group changed all that. Some of the work projects included service projects for Tsuyoshi and some of his friends with physical handicaps.
Toshi and Hiroshi were deeply touched by the active compassion shown by the group as they participated in service opportunities. All the cell members were strongly impressed and grew to love God and each other more as they saw Tsuyoshi transformed by their active love and compassion extended to the community.
About the same time two of Mike's English students accepted Christ and then the two of them led both of their husbands to Christ. It was harvest time at the mother church, and Mike and the church member partners were rejoicing daily. Most of the church members had never been involved in leading anyone to Christ before. The new experience lit a fire in them.
After about a year of the Wilson's partnership with Nerima Grace Chapel, the pastor and church elders arranged for a number of meetings to be held in a rented room on the sixth floor of a bank building in the nearby community of Kiyose. The Wilsons and cell group leaders would attend to discuss and dream together what God might want to do to establish a new church through them.
During the discussions the group eventually developed a plan to plant churches at approximately 30-minute intervals up and down the Seibu-Ikebukuro train line located near Nerima Grace Chapel in northwest Tokyo. The pastor would commission five cell groups based in the Kiyose area to plant the first new church.
Initial outreach efforts focused on the cell group members' friends and families (oikos) in the Kiyose area, just over 30 minutes north of the Nerima Grace Chapel location in Tokyo. Mike made some advertising flyers for English classes and English Bible classes and had them distributed through members. They discovered that "word of mouth" referrals were much more effective than just distributing the flyers to strangers.
Mike taught a dozen classes-some three times a week, some twice a week, some only once a week-all around the Kiyose area. He went to class carrying his books and materials on a bicycle. This proved to be somewhat challenging in the winter when a wet snow sometimes falls.
During this phase, outreaches included a celebrity Christmas concert in a rented hall, a concert in the lobby of the city hall, home parties, barbeques, the ever-present English classes, cooking classes, kids' clubs and many cell group initiated activities designed to provide "fishing pool" opportunities for members. It was very gratifying for Mike to see his old friends Toshi, Hiroshi, Setsuko, Megumi, and others, leading outreach events targeting their friends and families, the next generation of believers.
As time went on, Mike realized this type of disciple multiplication was not that common in the Japanese churches to which he had been exposed during his six years of ministry in the hierarchical "Land of the Rising Sun." Rather, believers tended to compartmentalize their faith. Often they did not even let their faith be known in the workplace. Most churches left evangelism to the professional pastor or missionary. In addition, many believing housewives were forced to continue ancestor veneration rituals in order to keep their marriages and families intact.
One question increasingly challenged Mike: How could these dear Christian brothers and sisters be freed from the cultural "prison of disobedience" that kept them from multiplying disciples generation after generation so that they could reach their loved ones with the good news of Jesus Christ?
From the beginning the vibrant spiritual DNA of the Kiyose Grace Chapel plant had a stimulating effect on her mother, the Nerima Grace Chapel. The core of the new church consisted of 25 members from the Chapel. The friendship evangelism and resulting multiplication of new Christians became an item for study by teams of elders who came periodically to learn more about what God was doing in the Kiyose location.
A number of Nerima church members were mobilized for evangelism like never before, in part through exposure to the multiplication that was occurring at the church plant. It was almost as if a holy envy took over at Nerima Grace Chapel, spurring certain members to try new things, including a round of home parties and barbeques. A number of conversions resulted.
A monthly combined worship service brought members from both churches together. This created mutual stimulation and encouragement, resulting in increased fruitfulness at both locations.
As the final year of the Wilson's stay began, it became obvious that no one on the church planting team seemed ready to take the reins of the new work and become the pastor. The Wilsons prayed long and hard about who would be the right pastor to take the fledgling Kiyose church to the next level in extending Christ's reign in the Kanto, the region around Tokyo.
As noted earlier, the mother church and daughter church had maintained a close relationship, which included financial support. As the offerings increased at Kiyose, financial support from the Nerima church ceased.
Because of the close contact between the two churches, the Wilsons were aware of the personal development of Katsuhiro Sugaya, Pastor Ogasawara's right hand man at Nerima Grace Chapel. Sugaya led worship, managed the office and had become a zone pastor for about half of the Chapel's cell groups. In addition, he was exposed to a lot of innovative thinking about "church" by his visionary pastor as well as by the many guest speakers who came to the church to consult with Pastor Ogasawara.
Early on, Mike and Mary Jo had considered Sugaya for the pastoral role of the new church but he was so busy and could not join the church planting team, even though his wife did. In addition, he was not involved in evangelism.
As the new church core grew at Kiyose, Sugaya developed a cell group back at Nerima, and multiplied it twice through evangelism. Some of the new Christians were emotionally troubled so Sugaya developed a "compassionate competence" in pastoral counseling as well as evangelism. The Wilsons noted the new developments and prayed for an opportunity to talk with Pastor Ogasawara about releasing his key #2 leader to become pastor of the new church.
The opportunity eventually came for the Wilsons to meet with Pastor Ogasawara and share their conviction that God might be calling Sugaya to pastor the new church in Kiyose. They noted that by releasing the ultra-efficient Sugaya, opportunity would be given to two or three other leaders to emerge in the church who would otherwise likely stay undiscovered.
Pastor Ogasawara, a man of exceptional faith and vision, agreed that Sugaya seemed to be God's man for the new church and began to make arrangements to release. The timing would coincide with the Wilson's departure.
As a kind of final crescendo for the Wilson's service with the Nerima and Kiyose churches, the leaders agreed that taking a combined summer mission team overseas would be a good way to jump start discipleship with several new believers and younger long-term believers at the mother church. They agreed that Sugaya and Mike Wilson would co-lead the combined mission team.
Assuming Mike was an expert in cross-cultural missions because of his missionary tenure, the Nerima Grace Chapel leadership asked him to lead the training for the combined short-term mission team. He led team members in intercessory prayer, testimony preparation, and asking the "prior question of trust"-is what I'm saying, doing, or thinking building or undermining trust?
Taiwan, like many Asian countries, still has many citizens who resent Japan's aggression of more than 60 years ago. The language difference provides many opportunities for misunderstanding and breaking trust. Building trust is an essential element of incarnational evangelism anywhere, but particularly in Asia.
The original plan had been to take the team to work with a cooperative of churches in India but at just that time India and Pakistan were flexing their nuclear missiles at each other. So the Nerima Grace Chapel elders decided that the team would do better-and be safer-in Taiwan.
From the time their feet hit the ground in Taichung, Taiwan, the Tokyo short-termers were amazed at how God had prepared the way and was working through them. Another team from mainland China met up with them. The unity and cooperative spirit on both sides was inspiring to behold. Every morning began with a 5 a.m. prayer meeting, and then a quick breakfast of noodles and tea or juice before heading off to do park evangelism with a translator.
A number of the older folks doing tai chi chuan exercises in the park were touched by the team's unity and joyful spirit. In the morning team members invited the youth they met to attend afternoon evangelistic events. In the evening there were rallies where someone translated Mike's preaching. When all the outreach activities were over, the leaders would meet to debrief the day and plan for the next. Finally, the exhausted but joyful team leaders went to bed around 1 a.m. most nights.
The Lord opened up an amazing opportunity to go to the largest hospital in Taichung and share the gospel with individuals from the top floor to the bottom. Many came to Christ in moments of crisis or as the Lord healed them in answer to the short-termers' prayers.
There were several other special outreach events that featured cooperative efforts with the Japanese, Taiwanese, and Chinese Christians effectively working together. In ten days, 72 people made decisions to follow Christ, but that was only part of what the Lord had planned for the short-term mission team from Japan.
About halfway through the ten-day trip, some of the Japanese team members noticed that the Taiwanese pastor was uncomfortable around them. Though the Taiwanese expressed unambiguous hospitality in multiple ways, the pastor would often leave the room when the Japanese arrived. Sugaya eventually told Mike about the situation, and what a Taiwanese church elder had told him-that the pastor's grandparents were tortured and killed by the Japanese during WWII.
The mainland Chinese team leader and Sugaya decided to have a foot washing ceremony to attempt reconciliation by employing identificational repentance. They asked Mike, the only American, to represent the American people who suffered. The Chinese team leader represented the mainland Chinese who suffered. One of the Taiwanese grandmothers who had personally suffered terribly at the hands of the Japanese represented the Taiwanese people.
At the start of the ceremony, the entire Japanese contingent crawled into the room on their faces, many weeping uncontrollably. They washed Mike's feet first, and there were a few sniffles in the crowd. Then they washed the feet of the Chinese team leader. More sniffles. When they washed the feet of the Taiwanese grandmother, there was not a dry eye left in the gathering of about 400.
From that time on the pastor often embraced his newly reconciled Japanese brothers and sisters. A cooperative relationship between the Taichung, Taiwan church and the Tokyo, Japan church, was initiated. God's special surprise capped a trip that was transformational for everyone involved.
At this writing the Kiyose Grace Chapel is preparing to participate in the North Kanto Church Multiplication Network scheduled for April 1, 2009. The church plans to develop a granddaughter church for their parent church, Nerima Grace Chapel. By the time the Wilsons had left the Kiyose church for their next assignment, it had grown to 40 members.
The Kiyose church has since grown to 90 strong. And as it contributes members and funds to birth a new church, God will no doubt infuse it with a renewed passion to reach souls for Christ, and again increase its numbers. In addition, the process will provide a catalytic effect for members to grow into all that God wills for them.
1 Appreciation goes to my friend Mike Wilson <MWILSON@ASIANACCESS.ORG> for providing the information used in this case study. Mike and his wife Mary Jo serve as missionaries in Japan. They have been involved in facilitational church development in Tokyo and Okinawa for nearly 15 years.
What should reader learn from this case study?:
1. The purpose of planting a new church is to extend the reign of God in an area.
2. Newly developing churches can edify and inspire the birthing parent church.
3. God extends special grace to his servants engaged in extending his reign through the multiplication of churches.
4. God often gives tremendous influence to expatriate missionaries who submit themselves to national leadership in the church multiplication process.
5. Supernaturally-empowered relational evangelism is a very effective way to develop disciples who reproduce themselves through evangelism (disciple multiplication) for church multiplication.
6. God draws people to himself through the active love and compassion of his people in community.
7. From evang / discipleship to church multiplication
8. Fluid job descriptions
The Facilitational Era
(c) Tom Steffen 2/11/11