“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? “Romans 10:14
My family and I (along with Zach Cobos), serve at MustardSeed Christian Church in Osaka Japan. (www.mustardseedosaka.com). We are on staff missionaries, heading up different ministries focused on discipleship and church planting.
When you hear the words “Global Missions”, what images come to mind? For many people we have talked to images of disaster relief, hunger and medical aid, shelter building, teaching, and orphanage work have been some of the most frequent responses. Japan is a very wealthy country, with excellent medical services available to all, welfare, skyscrapers, bullet-‐trains, robots, international commerce, scientific breakthroughs, sushi, beautiful castles, incredible people and amazing food.
So why are we here? We are here because Japan has a huge need: the Gospel. Here are some quick stats to put things into perspective:
- Japan has the fastest declining Christian population in the world (The fastest growing being Afghanistan.)
- Out of the entire population of Japan, less than 1% proclaims to have a personal relationship with Christ. Out of that 1%, only .5% are connected in Christian community (Local Church, House Church etc.)
- The average church attendance is roughly 20 people.
- Average age of church members are between 50 and 70 years of age
- Many global missions organizations report that the majority of missionaries see 1 person come to know Christ in a time span of 10 years. Many return home after 4 years.
- Japan has one of the highest suicide rates out of any developed nation. Suicide being the leading cause of death among students.
This list could go on, but I’ll stop here. Simply put; Japan needs a new heart. Japan Needs Jesus.
Recently, our overseeing pastor had everyone on staff read a book called “Gaining by Losing” by J.D. Greear. It was an extremely helpful, engaging, convicting, and challenging read. (I recommend it) The central idea being that being “sent” is a myth: we have all been called and sent by Christ to go into the world (Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”) Furthermore, ultimately we are all called to make disciples, and churches are called to plant more churches.
Global missions is seen in many lights to be as something for the “elite” or “called” Christians, instead of for just plain everyone. Christ called us all to go into the world….whether that be your neighborhood or the other side of the world…and make disciples. The idea waiting to be “sent” or “called” is backwards…we have all been sent and called to go out. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to go to a different country or culture…nor does it mean to try and force the gospel into odd spaces in conversation. (“…now that I helped you save on your car insurance, let me tell you how to be saved for eternity”…..this is not usually effective and it comes off as odd.)
Being sent means going out into your city, job, neighborhood, family, and getting to know them; their hearts, and where they are so that you may be able to love them and tell them about the love of Christ. Study after study shows that most Christians have never even shared their faith—most indicating that somewhere 90 percent of evangelicals have never shared their faith with anyone outside of their family. (J.D. Greear /Gaining By Losing)
Francis of Assisi famously wrote “Preach the Gospel always…when necessary, use words…” To gospel of Christ is good news of what Christ has done for us on the cross. The Gospel is an event that has happened. It is what God has already done for us. We are incapable of proclaiming the gospel based solely by loving those around us. We are called to good works, but this is not the same as proclaiming the love of God through the Gospel. This entails a crucial verb; “telling”. Many houses have been built, and food has been dispersed in the name of the gospel without people actually hearing about the amazing love that has driven us to love and give sacrificially.
Our focus in missions is not only works of love and service (which are important and marks of a Christ centered life), but first and foremost, engaging our culture in order to proclaim the Gospel. This is in an effort to make disciples that make disciples, and plant churches that plant churches.
We have been fortunate to witness an average of 10 baptisms a year. In the last 4 years, MustardSEED’s weekly attendance has grown from 20 to an average of 100+ every week. By God’s grace and guidance, our church will support in planting a new church in Kobe this year. This growth has not been because of a handful of Americans in Japan, it’s because of a DNA culture that is being fostered; one that places every old and new believer on mission. We have been blessed to be able to grow, counseled, and equipped into this missional culture. It is our prayer that you would be stirred to share the gospel. To be sent and called into missions where you are. We can’t go on living assuming that our good works will be all that is required for someone to know the love poured out for us on the cross.
Tim Keller wrote on how this culture of discipleship and church planting can impact a city and country as a whole in his book “Center Church”:
“Only if we produce thousands of new church communities that regularly win secular people to Christ, seek the common good of the whole city (especially the poor), and disciple thousands of Christians to write plays, advance science, do creative journalism, begin effective and productive new businesses, use their money for others, and produce cutting- edge scholarship and literature will we actually be doing all the things the Bible tells us that Christians should be doing! This is how we will begin to see our cities comprehensively influenced for Christ.”
Cities and Churches that know the depth of Christ and resound in hearts transformed by the Gospel will move towards practically and deeply committing to movements of compassion and social justice. Lasting good works come from hearts and cultures transformed by the love of Christ.
We must use our words to tell them the cost and depth of that amazing love. That is not to say that it might get awkward at times, we should also use common sense and do our best to contextualize the Gospel in a way that it would make sense to person you are trying to reach. Yet, if at the end…if it gets kinda awkward, isn’t it ultimately worth it for you to feel weird for a brief time in order for that person to have the chance to hear about the amazing love given to us on the cross. If they hear they might believe, and if they believe they might tell others….and so on.