“What religion are you?”

“Oh, I’m no religion.”

“Would you ever consider becoming a Christian?”

“Oh no, I could never do that.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I could never believe there’s just one God.”

While many people in the West might see a contradiction in this individual’s reasoning, it is not uncommon for people in Japan to think this way. People might phrase their ideas differently, but  the root is the same: people desire to interact with the spiritual realm without committing to a particular set of beliefs. 

Japanese people often feel allegiance to their Japanese culture, which makes Japan notoriously hard ground. The nation is only 0.3% evangelical. Nevertheless, there are glimpses of hope at what God could be doing. At the same time, even as the culture becomes less and less grounded in its roots, there are still many challenges for the growth of the church here in Japan.

Until recently, few people have realized that Japan is such an under-reached country. That seems to have changed in recent years. Awareness of Japan’s spiritual state has grown, so has interest in moving here to share the gospel. Japan needs missionaries here to share the gospel, establish healthy churches, connect existing churches, and build an infrastructure for Christian ministry to thrive. We’ve only lived here for a year, but we’ve had had many visitors who are thinking about moving to Japan one day.

I’ve also noticed growing openness amongst younger people as more Japanese people don’t feel as tied down by what they have inherited from those who have gone before them. I still talk to some people who think that it’s impossible for Japanese people to still be Japanese and Christian. But I’ve also met  many who find it completely reasonable that a Japanese person could convert to Christianity.

Another encouraging change is cooperation amongst churches in Japan. Certain pastors have begun to take the lead in starting regular pastors gatherings for encouragement and collaboration.

We’ve also seen more churches emphasize the importance of the congregation. Historically, Japanese congregations have revered the head pastor so much that they left most of the ministry completely up to him. Pastors have recently realized that this is not a healthy model so they have been working steadily toward a more sustainable and biblical polity.

The biggest need for Japan is for God’s Spirit to stir up Japanese believers. Even 0.3% still means that there are roughly 353,500 Japanese Christians—not to mention the Christians from other cultures who live in Japan for other reasons. There is so much that God could do through this small remnant. Please pray for their boldness, even as their families tell them they are forsaking their ancestors or their friends tell them to stop being so weird or their acquaintances treat them as not-quite-Japanese. The pervasive apathy can leave Japanese Christians (and missionaries) confused about what to do next, but we trust that God will open hearts and minds in his timing.

Additionally, the Japanese church needs more reliable, biblically faithful resources. Thankfully, different groups are publishing books by Japanese authors as well as popular books from the States (such as Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies). But there’s still a huge need, especially for books explaining the gospel and biblical ecclesiology.

No one expects the gospel to spread in Japan anytime soon, but we have Christ’s words to hold onto. The kingdom is like a mustard seed, and Jesus is building his church, even if we cannot always observe it with our eyes. For now, we want to faithfully share the gospel and equip the existing church. God will save people as Christians share the message of Christ crucified, raised, ascended, and coming again. When that happens, the Land of the Rising Sun will say, “The sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace” (Luke 1:78b–79).

Stephen Tipton

Stephen Tipton and his wife Alexandra serve as Global Workers with Reaching & Teaching in Japan to help make disciples and build up the church. The Japanese people are one of the least reached groups in the world and they want to see God glorified among them. They both love the region of Asia and have many things they want to continue doing in Japan as they make friends and proclaim the gospel, even in this historically difficult context for missions.

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