Seize the globalized day
The 2020 Olympics promise to bring the world to Tokyo, but the world is already here. This is good news for the church.
It’s a game I always lose. Ironic, considering I made it up. The game is to try to find a subway car without an advertisement that reflects globalization in Japan. But invariably, hung on the wall or swinging near the air conditioner vent is a poster for an English school, language-learning software, or an upcoming concert featuring foreign artists. The signs of globalization are everywhere.
Since 1868, ideas, values, languages, goods, services, and, yes, people have trickled into Japan. The internet age has turned the trickle into a gush as Japan becomes more ethnically diverse and globally minded. All of this represents an opportunity for the church in Japan.
All nations in urban Japan
The increasingly international demographic is especially palpable in Japan’s cities. Tokyo is now home to over 550,000 foreign nationals, and one in eight residents of Shinjuku Ward are foreigners.1 The population of foreigners across the country is at an all-time high,2 and Japan is expected to welcome more foreign workers in coming years to offset the shrinking Japanese population. In 2006, over 10% of marriages in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya were international marriages, so it’s no surprise that in the same year, 5.7% of children born in Tokyo were half Japanese.3 One researcher estimates that by 2039, 7.6% of Japan will have at least one foreign parent, and 9.2% will have at least one foreign parent or grandparent.4 To put it simply, not only is Japan more diverse than it’s ever been, it’s trending towards greater and greater diversity.
The 2020 Olympics promise to bring the world to Japan, but the world is already here. We must be committed to the work of contextualization in Japan. But the context is changing. True contextualization will lead us to embrace diversity in the city. This is a cultural turning point, and the church has the opportunity to seize the day of globalization. Japan is no longer monoethnic, but the gospel never has been. Jesus’ multicultural church should be at the front of Japanese society, leading the charge for unity in diversity.
The gospel for all nations
Christianity was multiethnic from the very beginning. The God of all the earth and all peoples decided to launch his church in Jerusalem on a day when people from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5 NIV) had gathered in that city to unwittingly hear the gospel (Acts 2:1-41). Before the disciples became witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), God gathered people from the ends of the earth into the city to hear his witnesses.
This new urban movement of disciples was a beautifully diverse community. But the ethnic diversity in the church did not come without challenges. As early as chapter six of Acts, racial tension appeared in the church as the Greek-speaking believers felt that the Hebrew-speaking believers were being shown partiality in the care of widows. One of the leaders of the Jerusalem church, James, would later write about the evils of partiality in the church (James 2:1), and the apostles took extra care to ensure that the church cared for people from a variety of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds (Acts 6:1-7).
Today, the ethnically diverse Mustard Seed Network churches in urban Japan have experienced challenges similar to those of the early church. One Sunday after a worship service, a Japanese church member told me, “This church doesn’t care enough about Japanese people.” This was certainly a troubling comment to receive as someone working to spread the gospel in Japan! However, that same week I received another complaint from a Filipino brother who said, “This church only cares about Japanese people.” I took both comments seriously and asked for ways we could improve, but I responded to both brothers in the same way: “This church cares for all people. This church is not an American church, a Filipino church, or a Japanese church—it’s a Christian church. Christian churches are for all people because God loves the whole world.”
Any church that seeks to be diverse must be ready for the friction and challenges inherent in that endeavor. Clearly, the church didn’t clean up all racial tension in Acts 6 because Paul continued to teach about the need for unity in diversity in many of his letters (Romans 14:1-15:13; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 3:11). I find encouragement from Tim Keller when he says, “If you’re going to have an effective center-city church in these great global cities, they are going to be multicultural, and therefore people are always going to be charging one another with cultural insensitivity.5” He goes on to encourage us to be patient with these charges of cultural insensitivity. The apostles experienced this, and we will too, as Japan continues to diversify.
Everywhere the gospel goes, it reconciles different people to God and to one another in one body through the cross, and it kills the hostility between people of different cultures (Ephesians 2:14-16). The beauty of a diverse congregation far outweighs the challenges therein. We cannot allow our ministry strategies or missiological principles to rebuild the dividing walls of hostility that were torn down by the gospel.
Opportunities in an “all-nations context”
There are amazing opportunities for our global gospel in this globalized context.
1. An evangelistic opportunity
Not only are people coming into Japan, but ideas are coming in as well. Additionally, with the high value placed on travel by most modern Japanese, “returnees” are coming back to their homeland with transformed and globalized worldviews, making them far more open to the gospel! This is evidenced by the remarkable fruit in international ministries to exchange students and returnees.
We have the opportunity to preach the gospel to many nations because they are gathered in the cities of Japan just like the situation in Acts 2. Over 75% of the people who have been saved and baptized at Mustard Seed Network churches have been Japanese. However, God also has also seen fit to save people from China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Australia, the USA, South Korea, the Philippines, and Brazil. Let’s preach the good news to all people.
2. A discipleship opportunity
Diversity brings challenges. Challenges are an opportunity for growth. Any time someone in your church wants more partiality or preference to be shown for their group, we have the opportunity to ask them, “Why do you feel that way? How can you consider others better than yourself?” People in monoethnic church communities might never experience the sanctification that comes through the natural friction within a diverse community.
3. A learning opportunity
Urban Japan is becoming a globalized environment akin to New York City, London, Lagos (largest city in Africa), and Shanghai. Sociologist Saskia Sassen makes the case in her book The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo that increasingly the residents of these cities are more like one another than they are like other residents of their own country. In other words, Tokyoites are more similar to New Yorkers than they are to their fellow countrymen outside of Tokyo. Many church planters in urban Japan gather inspiration and wisdom from “Redeemer City to City” resources and Tim Keller because of the contextual similarities found in cities across the globe.
Picture a church in a melting pot like London, Los Angeles, or Singapore. How would a church in those globalized urban contexts think about diversity in church leadership? They would make sure that a variety of people from different backgrounds are in visible leadership roles like the multiethnic leadership in Acts 13:1-3. We have the opportunity to learn from other churches who labor in the globalized cities of the world.
4. An opportunity for worship
All Christian churches welcome people from all nations. As our churches gather people from every tribe, people, nation, and tongue, we will begin to look like a preview of the great crowd that will one day worship before the throne of God (Revelation 7:9). The church in Japan has the opportunity to rehearse this worship event now. Let’s seize this globalized day for the glory of Christ in Japan.
1. “The Changing Face Of Tokyo: One In Eight Shinjuku Residents Are Foreign Nationals,” Feb 27, 2019, Nippon.com, https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00398/the-changing-face-of-tokyo-one-in-eight-shinjuku-residents-are-foreign-nationals.html (accessed Nov. 12, 2019).
2. “Record Number of Foreigners Living In Japan: 2018 Japanese Govt Survey,” July 12, 2019, Real Estate Japan Inc., https://resources.realestate.co.jp/news/record-number-of-foreigners-living-in-japan-2018-japanese-govt-survey/ (accessed Oct. 9, 2019).
3. “３０人に１人 親が外国人 ０６年 日本生まれの子 厚労省調査 過去最高に”. Tokyo Web (Japanese website). http://s01.megalodon.jp/2008-0804-0927-48/www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/national/news/CK2008080402000102.html (published Aug. 4, 2008).
4. Michael Hassett, “How Many Japanese Are a Bit of Something Else?”, The Japan Times, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2017/04/05/issues/many-japanese-bit-something-else (accessed Nov. 12, 2019).
5. Tim Keller, “Why Cities?” address at Lausanne Movement 2010 Cape Town, https://www.lausanne.org/content/world-faiths-what-is-gods-global-urban-mission-tim-keller (accessed Oct. 9, 2019).
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