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December 03, 2012

Japan: Catching the Wave

Re-thinking traditional church-planting methods is helping Japanese churches grow and reproduce in new ways.

  • A Reminder

    The Junkers hope that people remember the victims of the March 2011 disaster in Japan when they see the image of waves on their prayer card.

  • Traditional Church

    Teaching new worship methods and helping train lay-leaders of the established Japanese churches is an important part of the ministry.

Jon and Tammy Junker, TEAM missionaries from the Matsumoto Valley at the base of the Japan Alps, remember the victims of the March 2011 disaster in Japan with the artwork on their new prayer card.

The artwork, a famous Japanese woodblock print of a big wave with Mt. Fuji in the background, honors the culture while bringing to mind those giant tsunami waves that followed the destructive earthquakes.

“We chose waves to remind people of the ongoing devastation from the tsunami,” said Jon. “It seems like the world has forgotten about the people who still need help.” According to Jon, in just one prefecture affected by the tsunami, around 1,000 people have died in the time since the disaster due to loss of hope along with all that was dear to them.

The waves also represent a new wave of church planting in Japan. Rather than following the traditional methods, where the Gospel is presented in an un-churched area and new churches are formed, the Junkers are working with existing churches that need to be “re-planted.” These existing churches have stalled in growth due to many factors, including aging congregations and traditional worship methods that don’t appeal to younger families. “Our goal is to teach reproducible methods to existing Japanese churches so that they can grow and reproduce without us,” Jon said.

Some of these methods include creating a sense of community in the congregation. When the Junkers first started attending their current church, they found that people came to the service and left at the end without really interacting with each other. After many failed attempts including offering lunch after the service, Tammy decided to hand out tea, coffee, and cookies during the announcements, while everyone was still sitting in their seats. “It is rude to say no in Japanese culture,” Tammy said. “So they can’t refuse when I offer them tea and cookies, and now more of them are staying after service to chat.”

Another way the Junkers are trying to update the traditional churches is through modern worship music. Many of the hymns sung each Sunday are written in a difficult form of the Japanese language, similar to English hymns written in the King James form. “Most people in the church did not even understand the words they were singing,” said Jon. “So now we try to explain the words in the old hymns and also update those hymns with more modern music styles and tempos.” They occasionally use worship songs from contemporary Christian music.

Jon also intentionally shares the pulpit when possible to train up lay-leaders and have area pastors exchanging pulpits. He also encourages the Japanese pastor to help with mentoring and leadership development. One young man, a new believer who was initially quite shy, finally started opening up. Instead of mentoring the young man himself, Jon asked the Japanese pastor to step in and offered support to the pastor in this new mentorship role.

Working with national pastors to both plant churches and build up weak churches so that the churches will reproduce themselves is the Junkers’ ministry vision. As more people catch the new wave for church planting in Japan, these “re-planted” churches will reach more people for Christ.

-Written by Lisa H. Renninger
-Photos provided by Jon and Tammy Junker