Japan (MNN) — Materialism is a big problem in Japan. Many
Christians say it's one of the biggest obstacles to people turning to
Christ. However, Asian Access says one Japanese pastor points to the church as an obstacle itself.
Asian Access' Tim Clark says his pastor, Ryoichi Masuda
(yo-ee-CHEE mah-su-DAH), says there are 8,000 protestant churches in Japan.
"On the average, these 8,000 protestant churches see 8,700 baptisms every
year. And yet, over the last 10 years there's been no statistically-significant
growth in the church. Even though people are believing and being baptized, they
are not becoming part of the church."
Clark indicates that Pastor Masuda understands the reason
behind that. "The churches need to learn a new way of welcoming new
Christians because new Christians are not finding a place of belonging."
Many believe legalism and lack of discipleship are the culprit.
Asian Access is using the Alpha Course to help churches deal
with these issues. Clark says, "Many of us with Asian Access and many
other mission agencies and Japanese Christian leaders are receiving people in a
new way — creating opportunities for belonging before believing–creating
opportunities for people to discover the goodness of knowing Christ and
creating opportunities for seekers to open up their lives to the Holy
The Japanese culture has an inner group and outer
group. "Many Japanese Christians
are finding ways through the Alpha Course and through cell groups and through
other ministries to expand their inner group — to make room in their lives for
meaningful relationships with non-Christians. And in those relationships, the
Lord is doing a great work."
There are other issues preventing massive church growth,
however. Clark says, "People are very committed to their traditions. Even
though many Japanese people are not actively spiritual, they are not willing to
step outside of their family's commitment to Buddhist and Shinto traditions."
Clark is asking people to pray for Japan. "Many
countries have experienced God's blessing in a special way at a special time.
We're in a period of waiting for Japan to receive God's blessing– a blessing
through which many Japanese will turn and follow Christ. [We need] Christians around the world to pray."