Mystery Worshipper: Banner Lady
Church: Jesus Lifehouse
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 April 2008, 11:30am
The church is located in the large basement of a bicycle shop. It is set up with a low stage at one end, and a sound and lighting booth at the other. There was a myriad of lights and a disco ball overhead.
Adjectives which best describe Jesus Lifehouse would be: modern, pentecostal, lively, joyous, welcoming and mission oriented. It is a multi-racial and multi-lingual community about 700 strong. Each part of every service is spoken in both Japanese and English. There are three services every Sunday and another service in West Tokyo. The church has been going six years and in that time has planted two other churches, one in Osaka and one in Hong Kong.
The bicycle shop is in a little back street near the US Embassy. A small sign on the steps was the only indication there was a worshiping community there. I assume most people found their way there through word of mouth or via the Internet.
The Revd Ryuta Kimura, associate pastor, commonly referred to by everyone during the service as "Roo". The preacher was an Australian, a young man in jeans and lumber jacket called Luke (or Rooku, if you are Japanese).
What was the name of the service?The 11.30 service
How full was the building?
Comfortably full – about 150 to 170, mostly young adults.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, a cute girl greeted me at the door with a small piece of wrapped candy and asked me to proceed to the name tag table. There someone asked me my name, and wrote it on a tag both in Japanese script and English. The tag was presented to me with a bow and I was waved and smiled inside. An usher opened the door for me, and then another usher helped me find a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews, but the blue and silver stackable chairs were padded, clean and comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Happy and expectant. People were genuinely glad to be there, like a big family gathering.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, church!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books, although there was a flyer on each seat advertising an upcoming conference. The words to the songs in English, Japanese and Kanji characters were projected onto the wall behind the musicians. We were encouraged during the sermon to get out our own Bibles, even though the scriptures used were projected onto the wall in both Japanese and English. After the service, an usher offered study notes to take home, with the sermon outline and scriptures typed onto a double sided A4 page.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, four guitars and drums.
Did anything distract you?
I was seated behind a speaker box, which meant I couldn't see the words to the songs clearly. I hummed along instead. The Japanese are very punctual people. One of the members of the congregation gave a testimony that was supposed to last five minutes, and a clock was projected onto the wall, with the last minute ticking down second by second. Even with each sentence having to be translated, the speaker finished with 30 seconds to spare, to the cheers of the congregation.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely happy clappy. The bi-lingual projection made it easy to understand what was being said in each language. Each verse of the songs was sung once in English and then in Japanese (or vice versa). It was a great way to learn the language and worship at the same time.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – It was a solid, four point sermon, preached with humour and, most impressively, without notes, by a young man who certainly had the gift of preaching. Luke looked to be about 20. There was an invitation at the end for prayer, commitment and connection to the life of the church.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about connections, based on Mark 2:2-12 (the paralytic man who was lowered through the roof to Jesus by his friends). The four points of the sermon were: (1) Connect with the power of God, because God can do what seems impossible. Disconnect from fear and discouragement. (2) Connect with a life group (the name of the small groups in a network which is the backbone of the Jesus Lifehouse community), because when we are weak we need strong and trusted friends around us. Disconnect from isolation, because good connections help us to grow in faith and maturity. Hold onto Jesus. (3) Connect with God's forgiveness, because healing and forgiveness are connected. Disconnect from pride and unforgiveness, which can rob you of your destiny. (4) Connect with God's plan for your life, because he wants us up and walking, not mired in misery. Disconnect from limitation, but beware of the pitfalls associated with having a victory mentality.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The laughter. The Japanese are smiling, cultured, and deferentially polite people, but they are also fairly conservative and restrained at least in public. So it was delightful to see everyone laughing during one part of the sermon until the tears ran down their faces. This was partly due to some hilarious mistranslations which my Japanese friend told me about afterward. Apparently, when the preacher mentioned that he grew up on a property in the bush (meaning the Australian outback) where wild cattle ran in the hills, it was translated that he lived in a shrub surrounded by wild animals, and the place erupted in laughter. The story got even funnier after that, and it was great to see everyone having such a good time. Laughter crosses all language barriers!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Japanese are punctual and polite, but also efficient to a fault! While it was lovely to be welcomed and ushered in, and to see young people taking their deaconing duties seriously, there were times when it became almost comical. Microphones were whisked about, water bottles appeared and disappeared as if by magic, music stands were taken down almost as soon as they were set up. I thought it all interfered with the flow. At one point the speaker's stand was rushed out of the way and the Bible and the speaker's notes went flying everywhere. I wanted to say, "Just relax, guys!" Most of us want to feel part of a family in church rather than part of some slick operation. But hey, it's Japan. They can't help wanting to be efficient.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was a book table where you could buy Hillsong CDs, Bibles in English and Japanese and even in the comic-book style that the Japanese call manga, some home study journals, and an assortment of well-known books. Several people introduced themselves to me, mostly to ascertain if I was on holiday or was a new resident. It felt like a warm and friendly place, with people who were genuinely interested in making new connections.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As a newcomer I was given a voucher for the coffee lounge, but I can't tell you what it was like as I did not go in. However, I did avail myself of the facilities, where there were both Japanese style hole-in-the-floor toilets and western style ones. While in the cubicle, I overheard two young women at the hand basin who were excitedly discussing a street outreach they had taken part in. One of them was telling the other that it was the first time she had prayed for a complete stranger to receive healing and had actually seen it happen. While there had been testimonies of salvation and baptisms during the service, it was this washroom testimony that left me with a smile on my face after church.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I know I would miss the liturgy and weekly communion of my own faith tradition (they have communion once a month at Jesus Lifehouse, and fellowship meals at the weekly life groups); but I think I could accommodate myself! It helps that this church is made up of people from a wide variety of traditions and backgrounds.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The laughter, plus the joy of a washroom testimony.