Reflections on the Kyodan

Reflections on the Kyodan
by Sasaki Michio, vice-moderator
Kyodan General Assembly
I have been serving as the Kyodan vice-moderator since being elected to
the post at the 36th Kyodan General Assembly in the fall of 2008. There
is so much for me to learn as I participate in the various committee
meetings, such as the Kyodan Executive Council, and in ecumenical
relations with our partner churches overseas, and as I strive to
understand the structural workings of the Kyodan. As one of the top
executives of the Kyodan, I am aware of the heavy responsibilities that
are before me. Daily I pray for the more than 1,700 Kyodan churches and
house churches around the country, for their daily witness and ministries.

This year marks 150 years of Protestant mission in Japan, and there are
many commemorative ceremonies and evangelistic programs being held in
the various Protestant denominations as well as ecumenically. It is
important to remember with gratitude the commitment of missionaries in
the past, who worked tirelessly to spread the gospel of Christ and to
serve the people across Japan. The missionaries walked every corner of
Japan, carrying the message of Christ with them. Along the paths that
they tread grew churches, schools, and social welfare organizations that
still stand to this day. We, as the Kyodan, need to receive these
blessings of the past and to continue to serve with joy and
thanksgiving. At this time, Kyodan churches around the country are faced
with the issue of evangelism. As you may already know, many of our
congregations are aging, and the number of young people in our churches
is decreasing.

We might say that these trends are indicative of Japanese society as a
whole, but they are especially noticeable in the Kyodan. If the
generation that has supported the church in so many ways throughout the
years is aging, and the next generation is not able to follow in turn to
carry on the church, then we can assume that the witness of the
churches, the ministries of service to society, and the financial
feasibility of the church itself will be put in question in the years to
come. In particular, for the churches that witness in areas with a
declining population and that carry the gospel to a wide variety of
communities in the rural countryside, there is a real question of the
church’s survival. At the various district annual meetings this spring,
as delegates discussed district activities and budgets, people did
express their concerns on this matter.

The Kyodan’s Finance Committee produced a report last year entitled
“Data on the Kyodan over the Past 50 Years.” The report, with hard
figures that reveal the state of our churches, was circulated at
district annual meetings across the country. The committee also made
suggestions for the future of the church. There may be various opinions
regarding this report, but it is clear that our churches have been
experiencing the hard realities that this report confirms. The report
brings to the fore major issues that we must face. We must find the
strength and resolve to overcome these obstacles as we join in evangelism.

I have been pastoring a relatively small church for the past 30 years. I
have been very aware and grateful for the ways in which the missionaries
have, over the past 100 years, nurtured and given form to each of our
churches in the area. In certain instances, I have trembled anew at the
words of the risen Christ to “go therefore to the ends of the earth to
make disciples of all nations.” These are places that missionaries and
our predecessors in the faith came to over 100 years ago under
conditions much more difficult than our own. In these places they tried
to evangelize. These are the places in which God called them to build a
church. All over Japan there are such places where our churches now
stand. Many of our churches are still small, and yet it is in these
places that the gospel is preached, and the churches are able to make
their witness. These churches represent the hard work and the prayers of
so many people throughout the years who fought to protect and support
the church.

These, our churches, are now facing a major crisis. In order to hope for
a future in Christ, we need to pray and continue our efforts in
evangelism. We are called to pray together and to evangelize together as
one body. As members of the apostolic church who are called to hold firm
to “what we have heard from the beginning,” we must be resolved to stand
firmly in the faith. We can only proceed by finding common ground in our
understanding of ordained ministry. The Kyodan can only support each
individual church if we are able to find unity in faith and trust
between our churches.

As vice-moderator, I am humbled by the major issues that stand before
us. But I am also aware that the power to overcome these obstacles comes
from the Spirit, and from the Word, which is the foundation of our church.

I am very grateful both for the witness of our partners across the seas
as well as for all of you who continue to pray for the Kyodan. (Tr. JM)