Pursuing a deeper knowledge of God
Bringing theological education to the local church
Few doubt the importance of education. You can live without any education, but the more you know the better and fuller your life can be. This is why most governments in the world require education for children. This is why most families in developed countries send their children to high school. This is why companies recruit people with higher education. Yet, students benefit, not only from acquiring greater knowledge through education, but also from gaining valuable life skills through the rigors of studying. They become enriched as individuals.
The benefits of education are especially true for Christians. We must understand that we cannot worship God if we do not know him. As one preacher expressed, “Depth in the Word produces height in worship, length in ministry, and breadth in outreach.” However, many believers in Japan have not received systematic teaching of the Word of God. It is common for Christians to know little beyond the fundamentals of the gospel, thus their lives may tend to be guided by common sense and worldly wisdom. The lack of deep and true knowledge of God and his Word can only generate a shallow and superficial Christian life. We cannot practice what we do not know. We cannot proclaim what we do not understand. We cannot fully live the new life God has blessed us with, unless we know him and his truth well.
Japan Bible Academy (JBA) exists to educate believers to know their Lord better and to train men to teach and preach his truth to others around them. JBA offers two curriculums: Lay Leadership Track (LLT) and Expositors Track. LLT is similar to lower division Bible degree courses with classes like Introduction to Hermeneutics, Systematic Theology, OT and NT Surveys, as well as several on practical Christian living. Classes are taught with a significant amount of practical applications so that the students not only learn the truth but also are challenged with the truth in their own lives. We want to educate our students to be better people because of what they learn. The LTT course consists of 18 classes; each class is taught in a single weekend with 15 hours of lecture time, so that students can participate without taking time off from work. A teaching weekend is held every two to three months at each location.
JBA believes in the priority of the local church, since Christ builds his church and not a theological institution. Therefore, all LLT classes take place in the context of the local church, under the watchful care and discipleship of the pastor(s). For many churches in Japan, pastors are not able to provide systematic teaching of the Bible to their congregation because of the pastor’s heavy responsibilities. JBA desires to come alongside the local church to provide theological training, while pastors continue to disciple their congregation in day-to-day ministry and life. Pastors benefit by learning alongside students from their congregation, students can remain in their own church context as they learn and grow, and the church itself also greatly benefits. In order to accomplish this, JBA asks like-minded churches to host classes at their facility, and JBA teachers travel there to teach.
Since its inception in 2013, JBA teachers have trained close to 100 students in seven locations throughout Japan (see map on this page). The students have been excited about the intense study of the Word, and their desire to know the Lord and live out the truth has been contagious. They share what they have learned in small groups, their personal devotions are enriched, and they become more active in serving the Lord. This in turn frees up the pastors from many miscellaneous ministry duties in order to focus more on their own study of the Word. Then, as they nurture their own souls, they are able to preach what they have studied. There is great benefit to the local church as a result.
Paul has clearly laid out the process of how the church is to grow. He writes, [Christ] “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–13 ESV). The people mentioned here that Christ gave to the church have one thing in common: they all have speaking gifts to communicate the truth of God. They are to use their gifts to equip the saints for the work of ministry, so that the church grows to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. If this is not happening in the church, the believers will continue to remain as children, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). True believers must be active ministers to each another, and for each one to be an effective member of Christ’s body, they must continue to grow in the knowledge of God. JBA’s desire is to help local churches to kick-start this alongside local pastors.
However, the true desire and the goal of JBA’s training ministry does not stop at lay-level training. We desire to train men for teaching and preaching ministry. As many of you know, Japanese churches are facing a serious crisis right now, namely the shortage of pastors in the church. We are beginning to see more churches without a pastor. Current pastors are aging and not many are available to replace them, because few are seeking training in pastoral ministry. That few are seeking to do pastoral ministry has always puzzled me since I strongly believe that there is no greater work in the entire world than to serve and care for the flock of God as under-shepherds of Christ. As Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).
While there may be a few different reasons for the lack of desire among the believers to aspire to be in the pastoral ministry, one of the primary reasons is spiritual immaturity. Just as little children do not desire to do hard labor no matter how satisfying that work may be, spiritual babes do not seek to pursue hard ministry no matter how rewarding it may be. But as believers grow in the knowledge of the Lord and become equipped to do the work of ministry, they begin to see and taste the joy of serving the Lord and his people in the local church. Lay-level training at JBA is designed to encourage people in this direction, so that we can nurture them further to become preachers of the Word and shepherds of the flock.
In the history of Christianity, awakenings and revivals have begun with men who were committed to preach the Word accurately, faithfully, and boldly. No gimmicks are necessary to bring about a great work of the Lord in Japan. It is God’s Word that the Spirit uses to bring sinners to the Savior and to change fallen men to the likeness of Christ, so faithful proclamation of the Word of God is all that is needed. True biblical preaching is not a communication of human wisdom and opinion. It is an accurate explanation of what God meant to say through the original authors and an authoritative declaration of what God means as it applies to today’s audience. JBA’s mission is to train men to become faithful preachers who lead and shepherd the flock of God.
Jeremiah wrote, “let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jer. 9:24). Our boast is in our understanding and knowledge of our great God. The deeper our knowledge of God is, the higher our worship will become. The more we know him, the better we live for him. To know him better together with the saints is what JBA aspires as we train his people in theological education.