Earlier I posted a "Few Thoughts on Church Planting." This is part two follow up of that post. _____________________________________________________________
Church Planting in one of the World’s most expensive cities (like Tokyo) requires:
I found a great quote by the missionary George Muller, who had faith in God’s ability to provide for the orphans he took care of –without asking anyone for help. He said, “Faith begins where man’s power ends.” I’ve been most inspired by men like Muller who lived a life of faith. But I have often felt uneasy when friends say, “Well, that was George Muller, and God was working in a unique situation then. We are not George Muller, and things are different now.” Or even of the apostle Paul, I’ve been told, “Well, that was the apostle Paul then. We’re not Paul..” and so on. I understand that these men lived in a unique context and time in history and God was using them mightily in a unique way. But this kind of relativizing draws a stark contrast from their times to our time that it fails to apply anything to our present ministry context. When I look into the Bible I’m confronted by the truth that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!” I’ve always thought God transcends time, and we all worship the same Jesus of Paul and other men of faith like Hudson Taylor or William Carey or George Muller for that matter. God is faithful and still hears the prayers of His people today. After all, history was written so that we can learn from it. So I did a quick research and found out what Muller himself said. There have been men who thought Muller’s kind of faith was a I Cor. 12 gift of the Spirit given only to a “special class” of men. Handling 1 Cor. 12 this way is not only exegetically wrong, but Muller himself wrote a response to those who thought he had some kind of special faith that wasn’t available to others. So he responds by saying: “Let not Satan deceive you in making you think that you could not have THE SAME FAITH but that it is only for persons who are situated as I am” (George Muller). Regardless of where we’re planting, faith in God’s sovereignty is necessary. Muller goes on to say:
“Think not, dear reader, that I have the gift of faith, that is, that gift of which we read in 1 Cor. xii. 9, and which is mentioned along with “the gifts of healing,” “the working of miracles,” “prophecy,” and that on that account I am able to trust in the Lord. It is true that the faith, which I am enabled to exercise, is altogether God’s own gift; it is true that He alone supports it, and that He alone can increase it; it is true that, moment by moment, I depend upon Him for it, and that, if I were only one moment left to myself, my faith would utterly fail; but it is not true that my faith is that gift of faith which is spoken of in 1 Cor. xii. 9.” (Narrative, Vol. 1, 302)
Most missionaries I’ve met and most Church planters do not “enjoy” asking for money for the sake of asking for money. If there’s any joy involved in the process of fundraising, it’s because of what God might do among the unreached that motivates us to raise support. Most Church planters and missionaries know they need to do this–so they raise financial support–and financial support raising is time-consuming and can be a tedious process in and of itself. Pragmatically speaking, if you’re an American, chances are that you’ll have more resources with your dollars than an Indian does with Indian Rupee to tackle this expensive mission field called Tokyo. If we were to plant a church in a village somewhere in India, with our monthly living expenses in Tokyo we could probably support other church planters and still be alright (monthly). So we need basic minimum expenses for living and ministry operations. I used to think if only I have faith everything else would take care of itself. But such kind of faith is lazy and is not real faith. Faith is active! I realized it takes more faith to actually trust in God to provide in the process of support raising– because there’s a lot of work involved, and you have to prepare your heart to face rejection in the process of asking for support.
I’ve met some very suspicious eyes in the past among indigenous Christians when I talk about raising support. I met a younger man once, who thought that missionaries shouldn’t raise support. In his opinion, he thought the missionaries he encountered tended to rely on outside support so much that they’re required to go back home to their countries after they run out of supply. Eventually some don’t come back. He thought they should have more faith or should have looked for work here. I fear he may be right to a certain degree, but what I realized he failed to realize (as an indigenous worker) is that being a cross-cultural missionary in Tokyo entails all kinds of things like ‘religious workers’ visa etc. To be on a religious worker visa, the immigration only grants you permit to stay in Japan if you have 200, 000 yen or more to live on monthly. In other words, foreigners do not have the freedom to do part time job (earning less than 200, 000 yen) and live like native people who don’t have that kind of requirements from the government. If they could, many would be bi-vocational. If you’re an indigenous planter, you could live on minimum, but many struggle to send their kids to schools and universities. So pastors have to get other jobs to pay for their families because the Church is small and cannot raise his salary. Leading other ministries, other than leading a Church plant, while being bi-vocational is doable. But to be a lead planter and be a bi-vocational at the same time kills your marriage, your family and you easily run out of time due to the job demand pulls as well.
Furthermore, getting back to where I was, asking for support requires humility. Pride prevents me from asking God and people. As Asians, we’re very proud–because we’re self-sufficient (we think) and we rarely ask others for help. It has more to do with pride than humility; maybe some level of integrity as well. In any case, the heart needs to rest in the Gospel to deal with rejection during financial support raising. And I’m convinced that the free preaching of the Gospel should be made possible by God’s people who believe that the Gospel should be preached for free. God’s people should not expect the non-believing world to provide for Gospel cause in which they haven’t believed yet.
Ultimately, our trust does not lie in the arm of the flesh to bring spiritually dead people to life. Only God raises spiritually dead people! But we are praying and looking for team members to live as family, and to be co-laborers. After Jesus sent out the 70 he said that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. When I was younger (I’m 37 now), I used to think if I simply preached the Gospel, everything else would take care of itself. How naive I was! Without team building, we are left to a one man show, and ministry work is not sustainable in the long run with a lone ranger. And without a team, one man cannot model for people what a church community looks like. Given that it takes a lot of years to disciple people into maturity and train them to lead a church, ministry is not sustainable without mature team members coming in from outside as well. Most Christians still see Japan as their tourist destination, and a place to make money and move on to their next destination; but not as their missions field. We need not just visitors, but Christians who are willing to pay the cost; and lay down their lives on mission to see new Churches birthed in Japan so that disciples are made and people come to Christ, and are equipped, and sent out to make other disciples.
“Time is money,” as businessmen often say. But money is not time, and money cannot buy time. Time is valuable, and it ticks away, refusing to wait for any man. And to lead with fresh energy, and enthusiasm; to lead with momentum, we are seeking to be released on full time. Yisel works full time and would like to go part time. Two reasons for this. a) One reason is that she does not want to cut off her relationship with her non-Christian boss. Her non-Christian boss told me the other day that she trusts Yisel because she has lots of good ideas for their school. She has a good testimony there. b) Another reason is: if she is only doing a part time job, she can help disciple the younger ladies. I cannot and do not talk to women alone in ministry, without Yisel being there. With me going full time planting (letting off my part time teaching job) would allow me to concentrate on other ministry areas that needs oversight, development and leadership.
I can’t stress this enough. Prayer is key; and everything hangs upon it. Some people say, “What’s the point of prayer if God is sovereign?” To which we say, “What would be the point of prayer if God is not sovereign?” As Gospel-believing people we also need to pray more in preparation for what God might do– rather than only pray in response to problems. And we need your prayers more than ever–more than everything else. Your prayers sustains us. Prayer taps into the realm of things unseen, but heard and seen by the Father. We are revitalized when you pray. We know when someone is praying for us because our hearts are renewed; and we witness people’s attitudes and hearts changing gradually. We fuel each other as the body of Christ when we pray. When you pray, things happen! God hears your prayers for the mission field, because God is glorified when people come to know Jesus and they in turn praise Him for saving Him.
Encouragements in cross-cultural church planting context is a great need. There are multiple reasons to be discouraged about, while there are more multiplied reasons to be encouraged about. Encouragement can come in small ways. But often times encouragement does not come much from within, because most people want you to give their time. People take from you, but don’t give. And that’s alright, because that’s the mission– it’s all about giving it to the people. Appreciations are often rare, though we do not seek for it. We do get the joy of seeing people receive the Gospel and grow. Also Christians are quick to criticise the shortcomings of leaders, but short on grace and stingy on encouragement. Being an encourager is part of growing as a generous person. As John Piper once said, “If your heart is empty for the praise of others, your heart is probably full of love for the self.” Generosity in all aspects of life is part of growing in the Gospel of grace. Gospel-centered affirmation is praising the work that God is doing in the lives of others–even if that work looks insignificant and small in our own eyes. It’s more about finding evidences of grace, and less about hunting evidences of weakness to judge. Generous words of encouragement, or any form of generosity, is not costly to give when your own heart is full of God’s grace and mercy. After all, the most generous person came to us in the person of Jesus Christ– who paid the highest price that none could pay and bought us back into the Kingdom of God.
By the way, Muller said that,
“All believers are called upon, in the simple confidence of faith, to cast all their burdens upon Him, to trust in him for everything, and not only to make every thing a subject of prayer, but to expect answers to their petitions which they have asked according to His will, and in the name of the Lord Jesus. (302)”
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