Mobilizing Japanese lay workers
Training and sending Japanese believers to make disciples among their existing relational networks has been producing encouraging results
“And He [the Lord] was saying to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (Luke 10:2 NASB).
This prayer is simple but brilliant. Jesus was preparing the disciples to pray for workers—the most critical element for realizing a plentiful harvest.
From early in his ministry, Jesus called others to partner with him in the mission to expand the kingdom. All along the way, he modeled a strategy which he then sent others to imitate.1 The same pattern was carried on by the early disciples in the book of Acts. Often in the gospels and Acts, the call to faith included a call to join the mission.2 The gospel message was rapidly spread far and wide by new followers of Jesus. And mobilizing others continued to be important for spreading the gospel in other regions.3
A surprising response
I have now worked in West Tokyo for four years with a small team. Each member has personal goals to share the gospel regularly, both with people they know and strangers. And we are finding people interested in following Jesus. However, we spend most of our time training Japanese lay people to make and multiply disciples with the aim of forming new faith communities.
Over the last year, we’ve collected data with a view to celebrating what God is doing and to identify areas where we can improve. At each follow-up training, we ask the group to identify how many people
- they have attempted to share the gospel with (in various contexts),
- have heard at least a simple gospel presentation that included a request for a response,
- have chosen to believe, and
- were willing to set up another meeting to learn more.
We also tracked how many new discipleship or discovery groups formed as a result and whether anyone chose to receive baptism. While we are careful to encourage every participant that any attempt to share the gospel is a win regardless of the result, we classify a “successful” response as someone wanting to confess Jesus as Lord and to begin following him, or someone exchanging contact information, or setting up a follow-up meeting with a desire to learn more. We’ve seen 18% of interactions result in someone at least willing to set up a follow-up meeting. This statistic is pretty staggering. I have been tracking the growing number of gospel movements all over the world for about six years now, and in some of the fastest gospel movements in India right now, the response rate, as defined above, is close to 12%.
Empowering Japanese lay workers
We were astounded when Japanese lay workers reported a 50% success rate (same definition as in previous paragraph) at a recent training event in Yokohama. Each of them (including two teenagers) had attempted to share the gospel with at least one relative or friend in the previous month. Two people who had heard the gospel indicated a desire to follow Jesus, two new discovery Bible studies had been formed, and a handful of people had demonstrated a desire to learn more. This statistic confirmed a trend that we had already been seeing—namely, that the most successful evangelists by far are Japanese lay people.
I have been praying for years for the Lord to send laborers to specific segments of the population—particularly elderly people and business people. By God’s incredible grace, we have seen Japanese come to faith from both segments, but it was not because anyone from our team entered those spheres. Rather, it was because we trained Japanese believers in those spheres.
This strategy is not a new one in Japan. I cannot fully explain why we are seeing these results, but the openness to the gospel is overwhelming. And there don’t appear to be enough workers to gather the fruit. The primary missing element today is the same as it was when Jesus told the disciples to pray—workers. Every Japanese Christian in every gospel-believing church is a worker. And so many only need to be trained and sent. And with each one that is sent a greater harvest is reaped. The time is short. Would you pray with me that the Lord would send these laborers into this plentiful harvest?
- Matt. 9:35; 10:1–8; 28:18–20; Luke 8:1, 4–15; 10:1–12; John 4:1–2.
- Mark 1:17; Luke 9:59–60; Acts 22:12–16.
- Acts 13:49; 19:9–10; 20:4; Col. 1:5–8.