In the past year, Footstool has expanded its network and partnerships with ministries in Japan. We sat down with John Mehn, longtime church planter and author of Multiplying Churches in Japanese Soil (2017), to learn about missions in Japan.
How long have you been in Japan and what kind of ministry have you been involved with?
Hi, I’m John Mehn and I work with Converge--formerly known as the Baptist General Conference. I have lived in Japan since 1985 and been involved in church planting, leadership development, and directing the Japanese Church Planting Institute (JCPI) for the past 20 years.
You recently came out with a book--can you give us a teaser about it?
The book is called, Multiplying Churches in Japanese Soil. Japan is very unreached in that it has the second largest people group in the world but there are only a few churches in the country. Basically, this book includes a lot of that information in an updated form to see what’s working in Japan and what’s not to reach the lost. Through this book, I am hoping to provide a lot of practical help for the pastors and missionaries working in Japan.
What are the greatest challenges for the church in Japan today?
One of the biggest challenges for the Japanese church is to become more "missional" and to have a vision for planting churches. Right now we are going through a large upheaval in the church where many of the pastors are over 70 years old and are retiring or dying and are not being replaced. Much of the focus of the church is just to survive--yet we have hundreds of communities that do not have a church. In all, we currently have 24 cities that still don’t have a church so we need to plant more to reach the 99 percent that are not believers in this country.
What do you envision for the next generation of church planters in Japan?
It’s hard to predict what my young colleagues will be doing in the next several years, but I think we will see a lot of innovation. Up until now, there was really only one way to plant a church. In the book, I outline six ways that are effective in not only planting churches but also in them reproducing themselves. I think we will see dozens, if not hundreds, of different ways to make the church relevant to Japanese culture and to plant it in Japanese soil. I would love to see that--it would be so cool.
Can you tell us a little about your story and what first drew you to Japan?
I came to Christ right after high school and was involved in student ministry. I then felt the call to missions after about a year of being a new Christian. Originally, I wanted to go on a medical mission but I felt like God was saying, “I want you to be involved in church planting.” My focus turned immediately to Asia because 60% percent of the world lives in Asia. When we came back from an internship in the Philippines, my wife and I heard from God that He wanted us to serve in Japan. That was in 1981 and we have followed that as best as we could since.
How can the global church be praying for Japan?
There is a whole section in my book about praying for spiritual breakthrough in Japan. We have seen other countries open up because of the prayer. In 1970, there were very few Christians and now there are more and more Muslims coming to Christ than any other time in the history of the church. Fifteen to twenty years ago, Mongolia had only 4 Christians, but now they have a goal to be 8% Christian in their nation. As far as Japan goes, we believe that there is spiritual oppression and spiritual warfare involved in this place and I covet anyone’s prayer for the nation of Japan--that God would have mercy and open hearts.
What word of encouragement would you give those who have a heart to serve in Japan?
You are coming to a place where you are really needed. JCPI has a lot of help here for you. We have a conference you can come to every two years, plus a lot of other training that we do throughout the year. I would really encourage you to lock arms with others and their networks to be able to be more effective for ministry. There are a lot of resources out there that a lot of people are unaware of. There are a lot of very encouraging stories about the church that many people are not hearing as we often only hear the bad stories. There are a lot of good stories out there and you should be encouraged.