What to look for in a Church when looking for a church in Japan? Well, I don’t claim to be an “expert” on this. But like many, I’m following the footsteps of veteran missionaries who have gone before us in this most wonderful nation called Japan. This is my 11th year, and I can’t thank God enough for His grace all these years.
And from my past experiences, here is a list of what to look for when choosing a church. Please keep in mind that Japan is 2nd largest unreached people group. So if you’re coming from a Post-Christian context, keep in mind we’re talking about a pre-Christian context, and your criteria for choosing churches is going to be different because there aren’t many churches in a nation with less than 1% Christian population (not just yet). If I miss anything, please feel free to add your own using the comment box below. In no particular order, here they are:-
1. Look for a Church with sound biblical doctrine.
Make sure the church is committed to teaching sound biblical doctrine. For example: Are they committed to teaching the true Gospel? Or are they simply teaching moralism using the bible? Please don’t buy the saying,”no Church is perfect” on this particular one. Though it’s true that no church has it all, they must be committed to growing in teaching biblical doctrine. The apostle Paul told Titus “..as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2: 1). And one of the qualifications of an elder/pastor is sound doctrine. Sound means healthy and doctrine simply means teaching. So be discerning of any church that tells you that “doctrines do not matter” because that itself is a doctrine (a teaching that says “doctrines do not matter” is a teaching). If they are not committed to teaching the whole counsel of God’s Word, and sound biblical teaching is not a top priority, look for another church. Healthy teaching is good for your soul.
Unsound teachings can mislead you and the entire congregation. It is particularly good to know whether or not the church you are checking out has connections to churches or groups or organizations that are deeply committed to historic confessional and/or evangelical beliefs that keep them accountable. Scripture is infallible, but human interpretation is fallible. And one of the qualifications of an elder that Paul laid out in Titus is that: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 2:1). Again, check out their websites thoroughly. Ask others around. Before you jump to conclusions about the church by sheer excitement or impulse, pray, listen to the sermons, open your Bible, and check out the teaching carefully and pit it against the scriptures. I’ve played the guitar for over 20 years as a musician, and I wish I could tell you to choose a church based on how great the music is! But I prefer to point you to the biblical standard of a church, not my preferences– though I understand about the role of good worship music that does not distract from God. If you want a quick read on “Why is sound doctrine so important?” here it is.
2. Make sure the Church is committed to discipleship/evangelism locally or globally/ or at least committed to becoming evangelistically effective.
Some churches are committed to teaching biblical doctrines, but they are either not growing or have grown inward over the years. In other words, there is no evangelistic zeal or passion. Look around and see if there are any non-Christians in their midst. Paul expected that there will be non-Christians in the Church (see 1 Corinthians 14: 24). Or check to see if they have any evangelistic ministries that are aimed at reaching outsiders who don’t know Christ yet. A church cannot claim to be doctrinally sound and not have evangelistic zeal at the same time. If they do, something is missing. Healthy teaching means healthy practice –eventually–and that includes becoming an outward focused church. Remember that when the Holy Spirit filled the early disciples, the early church grew in both doctrinal depth and evangelistic effectiveness amid great persecutions.
3. Look for a Church that prays regularly together/corporately.
I come from a 95% Christian community in India that has seen great Gospel renewal and revivals over the years. One of the marks of a healthy church is that people have a passion for ongoing prayers. When the fire at the altar dies down, so does the life of the church. Also, the church may be weak in this area– so they may be painfully aware of this, so be sensitive and see how you can become part of a group that prays together for the church and the city. Maybe you are weak in your prayer life. If that’s you, a praying church is a good place to learn to pray. A praying church will always have a renewed focus on reaching outward.
3. Look for a Church where you can become a contributor and not a consumer.
This is where you come in! You may be fairly new in your walk of faith. Maybe you’re a maturing Christian, coming from a foreign country. You have a pretty good church back home. Maybe you’ve been involved in some small groups/ bible study groups/ sports ministry/ leading community groups/worship or you have a certain set of skills that could help the church flourish in some ways. Maybe you just want to discover your gifts and serve in a nation that is so in need of the Gospel, and you’re here only for a short time. Well, why not make that short time (however short or long) a fruitful time of growth and servanthood in this most needy nation? Look for a church that is committed to sound doctrine, evangelistic effectiveness, prayer, and servanthood. Look for a church community that won’t let you simply sit as an observer or bystander. This may be the kind of church where you will get to know more about the Gospel and grow.
4. Consider Joining a Church Plant.
“Seriously?” you might say. Maybe you’ve never thought about this! But I would encourage you not to dismiss the possibility. Pray and ask God first. Knock on doors. Consider joining a Gospel-centered mission-minded church where broken and messed up people are welcome. Note: We are in the early stages of planting a church from scratch and would love to have you join us, if you’re coming from overseas and looking for a church to call home. Check out our values, beliefs and priorities: http://www.thebridgejapan.com And come visit us and check us out. Write to us.
I hope this was helpful to you in some ways.