I’ve recently been thinking about an idea I heard from Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta. He talked about the difference between problems to solve and tensions to manage. For instance, in his church, there is always the tension of excellence and financial stewardship. Move too far either way and you can either go broke or lose the quality you seek to have in your services and programs. There is no simple solution to solve this tension. It needs to be managed.
For us, we face several tensions that do not have easy solutions. One is that Tokyo Life Church is a bilingual, international church with a heart for the Japanese. We have been steadily increasing our well of Japanese lyrics in our song database. We strive to translate most everything we do. Yet, our community is roughly half internationals and half Japanese. Those who serve in our kids ministry may not be fluent in Japanese. During our young adult gatherings, some only speak English, some only Japanese, and several who are fine with both. As we prepare for small groups, we will constantly face the tension of keeping things simple and separate, or have a blended community with the language complexities. Since our passion is to welcome Japanese, create a community for them, and speak messages that connect to their lives, we will always live in a tension of having everybody in mind as we communicate.
Another tension we are experiencing is the reality of the busy Japanese life. Some people work six days a week, with only Sunday to spend time with family, rest, or do other things. Some people even work on Sundays. As we think about small groups, no time is necessarily ideal for most people. We live in the tension of being too legalistic by pressuring people to attend services regularly or being very lenient and letting people come whenever it is convenient for them. Neither option sits well with us. We want our community to be full of grace and life. If showing up feels like a duty, this destroys the community we are trying to create. For our volunteers, we are learning to become flexible as things come up or people get sick. Last minute changes are quite commonplace. Again, a tension to manage. Too much pressure and people may feel burned out.
A final tension is ministry and family life. We try to complete our sermons by Friday, along with slides and other last minute details. However, we often find ourselves writing emails, doing final edits, and finishing projects on Saturday. We strive to keep Saturday as our family day, since this is one of Allie’s only days off each week. Doing ministry out of our home makes it tough to have a clear divide from work and home. With technology, we are constantly able to talk to people, check email, and work on things. One of our major commitments is to care for our family, so our girls grow up loving God and the Church, rather than feeling like they were always a distant priority to God’s work. We are fortunate to have people who love our girls in our church. They play with them as we set up on Sunday mornings at 8:30am. When we have people over for meals, our girls feel included. There are no clear guidelines for how to balance both well. No easy solutions. But, we seek to manage the tension of fully pouring our lives into others and our church, while not neglecting our family in the process.
Please pray for us as we manage these (and other) tensions. Despite these tensions, we truly feel privileged to pursue God’s vision for our life as we plant this church with our whole family.