Friday, May 28, 2010

Being Effective at Reaching Japan for Christ #1 -- Death by Meetings

There are aspects of the culture of Japan that "pushes" people to hold a lot of meetings.
A few years ago I decided that life was too short and our mission far too important for me to waste time in meaningless meetings so I avoid them as much as I possibly can.

How big a deal is this issue?

A high level committee in Japan made up of missionaries and pastors discussed a badly needed new translation of the Bible for 15 years. During that time this group didn't make a decision to move ahead and actually do it.

A church in Tokyo established a committee that met for over 100 hours to plan the church's anniversary celebration.

If every church and mission in Japan cut the amount of time spent in meetings by 50% and also had a clear purpose for every meeting that does take place we would be far more effective at reaching Japan for Christ.

I have worked in Japan for over 20 years as a missionary and my observation is that we waste large amounts of time in meetings -- I wonder what would happen if we just quit doing that?

What do you think?


kohakulibrary said...

I'm floored to hear that a new translation has been waiting 15 years!

Being one who is also annoyed by meandering meetings, this was very interesting to me. However, I have to wonder - how much of the meeting is 'wasting time', and how much of it is simply part of some Japanese cultural process of 'getting things done'?

Granted, 15 years is pretty extreme! And the idea of these people not accomplishing anything really doesn't jive with my (perhaps stereotypical?) view of Japanese efficiently.

I'll be interested to follow this post and read other's insights...

Robin said...

The problem is that this is so ingrained in Japanese culture as a whole. I think this is part of why Japanese people work such long hours; they don't actually accomplish more, but spend more time in meetings and thus HAVE to work longer hours to make up for the wasted time.

Robin said...

PS - What if we spent as much time talking to God as we do to each other?

Scot Eaton said...

I think that, to an extent, for an idea to take hold in Japan people have to let it grow on them and gain a slow appreciation; I don't think that will change. It would be like saying that social relationships in Japan would be easier if people could just learn to be direct. It might be true, but you can't change things that drastically and hope to have some people on board.

However, this problem doesn't just exist in Japan; the same thing happens here. There are steps to be taken that can make things more efficient in both cultures. I think the first step for Japanese churches is to not have the pastor have to be present at everything. I am on staff at a church myself, and I KNOW that I tend to spend more time on meetings and planning sessions because that's what I'm paid to do. It is so easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone else in the room is a volunteer, and they are not getting paid to sit there.

Paul Nethercott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Nethercott said...

Thanks for your good comments!

Issues like this are complicated and I don't want to sound like I have all the answers. Every culture has both negative and positive "leanings" that shape how we live. In Japan it is normal to spend a great deal of time in meetings. This is true in business, in the church, in daily life (I think this is widely recognized).

Now how do we respond to that? I know missionaries who feel that we should just "fit in" and accept it. Others get angry, condemn the Japanese culture and become ineffective. I think there is another option which is to accept the culture and the people that make up the culture while not accepting the notion that we can't do things differently. The reality is that a lot of Japanese are tired out and fed up with too many meetings. Groups and organizations that run well in Japan are not wasting a lot of time in meetings.

American culture has "leanings" too that "push" us in certain negative directions. For example, living In the US this year I have found it really hard to avoid gaining weight. It seems like the culture conspires against me to eat too much and exercise too little. Should I just "fit in" then? No, I fight the culture so that I can maintain my health.

In Japan it is a lot easier for me to live a healthy life style. I love the food in Japan. In every convenience store there are lots of healthy snacks -- onigiri being one of them.