Launch Team

We’re thrilled that you’re considering serving in Japan! While the land, people and culture here are beautiful in so many ways, there is a depth of darkness that lies right beneath the surface. Despite over 150 years of missionary activity in the modern era, the nation has remained consistently unreached, with fewer than 1% of the population identifying as Christian. Among Protestant churches, 1 out of 8 have no pastor, and nearly half of all Japanese pastors are over the age of 70. Christian leaders here envision a Japan where there are 50,000 churches, one for every community, but at the present time, there are fewer than 8,000 Protestant churches. The need is significant. By God’s grace, after many years of dwindling missionary numbers, God is raising up a new generation of laborers here. Will you consider serving in Japan?

The mission of Japan Launch is to provide an environment in which Pioneers missionaries and their families can prepare themselves for thriving and effective long-term church planting ministry in Japan.

The prospects are as bright as the promises of God.

Adoniram Judson, missionary to Myanmar

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

John 4:35

Where is the Launch program located?

The Japan Launch Team is located in Fukuoka, which is the largest city on the southernmost island of Kyushu. It’s been named among the world’s top 25 most livable cities, which is perhaps why it’s now the second-fastest growing city in Japan (after Tokyo). Nestled between a range of low-lying mountains in the south, and the ocean to the north, there’s no lack of natural beauty to be enjoyed here. In addition to its famous pork-broth rāmen (soup noodles), Fukuoka is known for its baseball team (The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) as well as the famous Dazaifu Shinto shrine dedicated to the Shinto god of academic success. Some of the most unchurched areas of Japan are also located in Kyushu.

What is the purpose of the Launch program?

Japan Launch is a program that prepares Pioneers missionaries for long-term church planting by focusing on three legs (heart posture, skills & knowledge) as they apply to five strands (language learning, cultural engagement, spiritual formation, collaboration & church planting). The length of the program depends entirely on each Launcher’s rate of progress towards goals related to the legs and strands; for the average new missionary, this typically takes a minimum of just over two years, but new missionaries are encouraged to move at a pace that works for them, even if that means taking three or more years.

Heart Posture

Church planting work in Japan can expose the deepest of insecurities and vain ambitions. At Japan Launch, we aim to ensure that our hearts are growing steadily warmer towards God, the Japanese people, and each other.

Skills

While we come with our own sets of gifts and skills, there are many new skills that we must add to our tool-belt in order to have thriving and effective long-term ministry in this nation that holds excellence as a high value.

Knowledge

Japanese culture is a high context culture, meaning that things are often expressed indirectly or through other means. We strive to establish a solid foundation of knowledge that will enable us to sensitively love our Japanese neighbors.

New missionaries to Japan are coming from different places, backgrounds, experiences, skill sets, and gifts. In a complex and often challenging ministry environment such as Japan, the Japan Launch team exists to help missionaries to not merely survive, but also to thrive. Furthermore, with its long missionary history, the Japanese ministry context is uniquely complex. Japan Launch seeks to equip missionaries so they can be fruitful and effective in this notoriously difficult field. It’s our hope that, coming out of Launch, you would have even greater faith and hope for the people of Japan!

Since much of the curriculum of the Launch program is created and taught by other missionaries and ministry leaders serving all around Japan, Launch members will have the opportunity to interact with all of the church planting teams, in order to discern which team(s) might be a good fit for future long-term ministry. Upon completing the Launch program, Launch members apply to join an existing team or start a new team.

Who should consider serving in Japan and joining the Launch program?

If you have a passion for God and a humble heart, and you desire to see God glorified among unreached peoples, then we invite you to pray about serving in Japan. There are many significant needs here, including but not limited to: sports ministry, counseling ministry, engagement of certain subcultures (ie, surfers, musicians), discipleship, disaster preparedness, English classes, children’s ministry, web design, and much more. Above all of these things, there is an urgent need for more people to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to their Japanese neighbors and friends.

At the same time, due to the rigors of serving in Japan, you might consider the following factors when praying about whether the possibility of serving in Japan:

  • Japanese is one of the most difficult languages for most people to learn, but due to the necessity of proficient Japanese language for long-term ministry, Pioneers requires our missionaries to reach at least an intermediate mid or higher level of proficiency, a goal that can take several years to reach.
  • In general, Japanese culture can be fairly rigid, conservative, and resistant to innovation. That’s where missionaries can bring fresh vision to help catalyze church multiplication. In order not to be discouraged, missionaries must have a long-term perspective towards change, as it can happen much more slowly than in their home countries or in other fields of service.
  • Unlike in many closed access countries where Pioneers missionaries serve, Pioneers Japan is required by the government to operate openly. Because Japanese culture is very heavily group oriented, Pioneers missionaries reflect not just themselves as individuals, but also the organization of Pioneers as a whole. For these reasons, missionaries with more individualistic tendencies, or with a very specific vision for ministry, may find aspects of serving in Japan challenging.

These are but a handful of common challenges that await those with a heart for Japan. Serving in Japan brings with it fewer material sacrifices than serving in most other unreached fields. But as you can see above, there are significant sacrifices of the heart that must be made. If you have hesitations or questions about the above, please reach out and we’d be happy to help you process whether Japan might be a good fit.

If you continue to feel excited about serving in Japan, then we invite you to give serious consideration to the Japan Launch program. Apart from those who’ve had extensive experience serving in Japan, all Pioneers appointees who feel the Lord’s leading towards Japan are strongly recommended to complete the Japan Launch program before joining a church planting team. While Launch is a training program, it’s by no means limited to new, inexperienced missionaries; in fact, counted among its alumni are several missionaries who’ve served terms in other countries, as well as missionaries who’ve served in Japan for several years.

What should Launch members expect?

Based on our own experiences as well as observations of missionaries in different field contexts, the first term on a new field is almost always disorienting and difficult in ways that missionaries could not have anticipated. The Launch team and other Pioneers missionaries serve and assist Launch members, creating a supportive and safe environment to work through surfacing insecurities and temptations, as well as providing practical help and guidance as needed.

Launch members should not expect Launch to be a “soft landing” into church planting work in Japan. It’s often through severe challenges that God shapes us into the people and ministers he wants us to become. It’s our responsibility on the Launch team to help shepherd missionaries towards the God who has called them here, even as we help inspire a love and appreciation for the Japanese people whom God has uniquely made in his image. Thus, while there is some intellectual content that’s covered through the program, it’s not primarily academic in nature. We’re most concerned not with what you know, but how your heart is growing warmer towards God, the Japanese people, and one another.

Practically speaking, most Launch members will spend the majority of their initial year or more in full-time language study, after which they will transition to a missionary practicum that gives them opportunities to practice using the Japanese language in ministry contexts. Sometime during the Launch program, all Launchers will participate in an observational period with a local Japanese partner church, during which time they can develop an understanding and appreciation of how the local body of believers gathers. 

In the case of families with children, one spouse will be required to reach at least a lower intermediate level of proficiency before arriving in Japan. Once in Japan, they will enter directly into the missionary practicum stage while the other spouse begins full-time language study. Due to the demands of language learning on a family, the Launch Team recommends a number of options for childcare and children’s education in the area, which can free up parents to focus on their language learning.

During our weekly team meetings, we cover topics related to the five strands above, spend time in prayer together, process the language learning journey, and serve our children through the Jr. Launch Program. Additionally, we gather for biweekly Journey Groups (men’s & women’s groups) and regular meals.

Step #1: Pioneers Appointment

Pioneers is an international organization with mobilization gateways located around the world. Connect with the gateway closest to you and determine whether Pioneers is the right organization for you. Some gateways will issue a Pioneers appointment before the survey trip, while other gateways will ask applicants to first take a survey trip. Additionally, if you’d like to first explore a number of different organizations within Japan before making a decision, you may choose to take a survey trip before seeking appointment with Pioneers. In any case, at some point in the process, you will need to be appointed by your Pioneers gateway before serving in Japan with Pioneers.

Step #2: Survey Trip

With few exceptions, in order to serve with Pioneers Japan, you must first complete a survey trip to Japan, to visit the Launch Team as well as other Pioneers teams in other areas of Japan. By having face-to-face interaction with teams and leaders, and by giving applicants an opportunity to see the context and ministry up close, survey trips help clarify for both the applicant and leaders whether it’s a good fit to serve with Pioneers Japan and to join the Launch program. Survey trips typically require at least two full weeks (preferably 18 days), in order to allow time for jet lag recovery, travel between cities, meetings with team leaders and members, attendance at local Japanese churches, and time to walk around and visit different neighborhoods in each city. Due to the intensity of the time, a slightly longer survey trip is recommended for families with younger children.

Step #3: Invitation & Pre-Field

After completing your survey trip, here are some of the common prerequisites before moving to Japan:

  • Receive invitation to join the Japan Launch Team (or another Pioneers Japan team)
  • Receive missionary appointment from Pioneers (if not yet appointed)
  • Complete all requirements from Pioneers mobilization base
  • Complete Bible credits (if not already a requirement by your mobilization base)
  • (For Parents) At least one spouse reaches a lower intermediate level in the Japanese language
  • Raise funds for departure and monthly expenses during Launch program
  • Additional prerequisites may be added depending on each applicant’s profile

We look forward to dialoguing with you and hope to meet you in person!

Get in touch if you’re curious about any of these programs or have questions for our team. We’d love to hear from you.