I spent most of today helping to destroy a church. One of our church plants had run out of money, manpower and members, and so we made the obvious decision to close it down, end the contract on the building, revert all the alterations that had been made to it and to return it to the landlord. For some involved, I'm sure it was a sad day, but I have to admit that I took a perverse pleasure in it, laying into bookshelves and partitions with a ball-peen hammer. It's a great way to take out your frustrations. I wish I could call it creative destruction, but it wasn't, it was just destruction, pure and simple. I wish I could say that symbolically I was breaking down the building to set free the church, but no, really, I wasn't. I was just merrily swinging away, laying into pieces of wood that didn't really deserve it. And I loved it.
Evangelistic meetings, at least here in Japan, are a funny sort of performance art.
I spoke last night with a missionary from OMF, who has been working on a book on contextualising the church in Japan. At All Nations, and at some of the church planting sessions during missionary orientation, the need for contextualisation was hammered into us as if it were the magic bullet to make church planting work. But over the past couple of years I have become a little more nuanced in how I think about contextualisation. Read more about Contextualisation: No magic bullet
So I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to recently because, well, I have no energy. I'm currently hosting a Swiss short-term missionary who is helping out with Nagahama and Maibara, and I guess I feel quite a lot of pressure - self-inflicted of course - particularly in this first week or so, to make sure he is OK and well looked-after and entertained. The downside of this is that I feel I have to be on duty 24/7, not just making sure everything is OK but also making conversation and finding useful and interesting things to do. I am very bad at all of the above, hence the stress.
Today I raced down (and back) to Shizuoka, about half way to Tokyo, to meet a man who's working on issues of church growth and the lack of it in Japan. We had a good chat, more of a get-to-know-you thing than any real deep content, but important to do none the less. And now I have come back with a head full of thoughts, which is always good.
I remember reading - I don't remember where - about one of the key questions in Trinitarian missiology is “Who's not here?” Symbolically it pictures the Trinity in a “dance of love”, and while they enjoyed perfect community together, the question “Who's not here?” leads to them reaching out to include humanity. Then the dance expands to include the Israelites, the Gentiles, and so on until all are included. The challenge, then, for the church is to keep on asking “Who's not here?” Which sectors of society are we lacking? What part of the richness of God's creation have we failed to take account of?
It has been striking me more and more recently that I am, at this point in my ministry, doing pretty much everything I said I would never do on the mission field before I got here. I am teaching English for ministry. I am using - and creating - systematized programmes for evangelism and discipleship rather than responding flexibly to individual situations. And, as we plan what happens to my various preaching and teaching slots from January, I realise that I have taken on more work than is sustainable and reproducible.
As I wrote this morning, we had our second Maibara Revive meeting today. I arrived at church this morning to listen to a litany of people who couldn't make it. Takahashi-sensei said, “Well, it could be just the four of us…”
Today I went to a Buddhist funeral. I wasn't intending to go to a Buddhist funeral this week. In fact, it's not been a great week for our churches, as we lost two treasured members.
You can tell a lot about a country, particularly a highly literate country like Japan, by the books that people buy. I walked into a book shop today, (I don't do this anything like often enough) and the books on the main display were a complete sociology lesson: books about the hikikomori syndrome (by survivors), books about “how to restart your life”, one on “eight great founders of the world” (Socrates, Confucius, Jesus and Moses were in, Mohammed was not), and things on Iran and Israel.