SINGAPORE, 22 NOVEMBER 2008 — Japanese teenagers are widely credited for their great dress sense and colorful J-pop culture but the opening question from Tan Ye Peng drove home the urgency for revival. He asked, “Why aren’t these youths in church?”
During the 90-minute “Meet-the-Pastors” session with about 50 delegates, mainly Japanese, Tan emphasized two key points. He said that the church must step out of its four walls in order to effectively reach out to youths, and that everything starts with relationship.
|PHOTOS: Daniel Poh|
Tan said that the church must eschew the loftiness of religion if they want to attract their youth to God. He explained how the “church without walls” concept has helped City Harvest grow from 1,500 to 3,000 members within a year. And this growth was fueled by reaching out to marginalized members of society — namely the elderly, intellectually disabled, prisoners and HIV patients.
At the same time, he stressed that they must not be impatient in increasing the size of the church. Instead, church leaders must take time to build strong foundations of prayer, fellowship, ministry, discipleship and evangelism in each member, while the church is still small. Only when members are grounded in these foundations can the church sustain revival-scale growth.
Tan also fielded questions on practical know-hows of starting a cell group, discipleship and reaching out to the youth. He reminded them to invest in the youth of their society and build relationships with them without being judgmental of their outward appearances. Giving a practical example of reaching out to teenagers, he said that many of O School’s students were once street kids. As City Harvest Church tapped into their love for dance and got them involved in church activities, these youths felt loved and appreciated, opened their hearts to the gospel and were subsequently saved.
Most of the delegates who spoke up said they were impressed by CHC members’ hospitality as well as the congregation’s unified style of praise and worship. But many of the delegates, as church leaders, were also concerned about discipleship. This was because many of their pastors back home were already in their 50s and 60s.
To address this issue, Tan said that they had to start identifying and discipling their young as soon as possible. He encouraged the crowd to send their children to the following year’s School of Theology (SOT) so that they might return to Japan with the fresh renewal needed for revival. Additionally, he stressed the importance of discipling based on biblical principles and not on personal preferences.
These lessons were indeed very relevant and timely, particularly for the largely Buddhist and Shinto Japanese population. Kunio Nishida from Fukuoka Harvest Church agreed that discipleship was the key to building a strong church, while Kumamoto Harvest Church’s Yoji Nakamura said, “Our church has just started its first cell group this year, and now is indeed the time to build them up with the five foundations mentioned by Tan Ye Peng.”
According to Bobby Chaw, CHC’s mission team to Japan headed by Wu Yu Zhuang has conducted many cell group trainings, seminaries for pastors and classes on organizing large-scale events. And since 2007, SOT has incorporated Japanese interpretations into its lessons to great effect. Last year’s SOT saw a large number of Japanese enrolling for the first time ever.
Reiterating his faith in Japan churches, Tan ended the session with a prayer for revival and breakthrough, as well as anointing upon the church and marketplace leaders.