Better Together – Vineyard Japan

By Gail Beran Neils with Karl Neils


The Vineyard churches in Japan are encouraging one another to dream, to work together, to support each other, and to take risks. They are raising up a new generation of leaders who are effective at outreach and discipleship - particularly with children and youth. New music, new churches, new adoptions, new leaders, and new approaches are finding expression in supportive collaboration with first-generation Vineyard leaders.

For the past eleven years, Japan Vineyard pastors and leaders have gathered for a yearly conference. Friendships have formed. New pastors have been ordained. Churches have been welcomed into the partnership. All have joined in times of worship, updates from the pastors, messages about key concepts of the Vineyard movement, prayer ministry, rich fellowship, and food.

One of the things we look forward to each year is hearing the pastors share updates about their local churches. The sharing is honest, funny, sometimes interwoven with music and photos, and always interesting. From the small to large, all of the churches are celebrated for the accomplishments of the year and encouraged to pursue the work of God’s Kingdom.

Currently, we’re seeing pastors broadening their vision for evangelism and outreach, risking new ventures by faith. We’ve seen some beautiful developments, including:

  • A larger Vineyard in central Japan ‘gave away’ two trained younger leaders to serve with two Kobe churches that recently adopted into Vineyard Japan. Those churches have flourished in local outreach with children and families:
    • One of the senior pastors reflected tearfully on the new life abounding at his church this past year. “I really thought I was done … and now look at this,” he said, as he showed photo after photo of various groups springing up in the church building and out in the surrounding township, where he is widely recognized as a chaplain to the community.
    • The other Kobe church caught a vision for joint outreach with two neighboring churches, and together they’ve rented and repurposed a local facility as a mission-ministry-training center. They’ve already begun reaching out to young people through after-school projects, youth groups, and fun events.
  •  A Tokyo-area church decided to move away from a centralized meeting location and foster a house church movement. They have re-formed into four house churches called “International House of Vineyard” (IHOV), emphasizing micro-group discipleship and house- and neighborhood-based outreach. The lead pastor is training as a barista and plans to open a coffee shop as an IHOV outreach ministry.
  • Several churches collaborated in donating musical equipment to assist a church in Mongolia after one of the pastors shared about his mission connections there.
  • Church members from the Seattle Vineyard welcomed a twelve-year-old student from a Yokohama-area Vineyard for a 3-week homestay this summer. A trip highlight was attending the Vineyard Northwest region “Anthem” youth conference with other Seattle Vineyard teens.
  • The central-Japan Vineyard is nearing completion of a long-term dream to build a Missions Center (see photo). The church prayed for years for the specific property site—a rice field adjacent to their church—to become available, and was able to move quickly once it came on the market in 2016. The center, due to open this November, will be used to reach out to more people in their city through counseling, education classes, youth ministry, and a host of special activities.

One of the most touching developments from this past year grew out of a 2016 visit to Seattle by a Kani Vineyard worship team. We had invited the team, which has produced seven original Japanese worship CD’s, to come and share with Japanese-focused churches and student ministries in the area. One of the students who came to their meetings was a young man named Yuki. Born in Japan but schooled in the US, Yuki came to Christ while attending an Intervarsity group hosted by friends of ours in Tacoma—friends who also served at the Kani Vineyard the last two summers. Yuki was able to join a few different events with the worship team, and was amazed to find young Japanese Christians who were so full of joy. “I honestly didn’t believe that they [Japanese Christians] existed … But when I heard this team worshiping and praying in my heart language, I felt like I heard my father’s voice for the first time.” After that, Yuki shared with us a dream of returning to Japan to visit these churches and spend time serving among Japanese believers. As we write, Yuki is just putting together his reflections on a five-week visit with Central and Kansai-area Vineyards … clearly a life-changing experience. He writes:

“Through these friends Jesus showed me the joy of being in a community (a community of Japanese people) with Jesus in the center and the love and hospitality that everyone brings in.”

One of the next dreams we have for the Vineyards in the Japan and Korea Partnership is finding and funding good translators. Senior leaders in both countries have a voiced a desire to translate a series of Vineyard materials into their languages, especially for the purpose of leadership training. Our partnership would love either to raise finances for translators, and/or to locate individuals with Vineyard backgrounds who are fluently bilingual in (written) Japanese or Korean and who would like to assist with translation of these materials.

The Seattle Vineyard is the only U.S. church invested in the Japan-Korea partnership, and we certainly have room for other U.S. churches. We have a strong emphasis on mutuality across the Pacific, cultivating long-term friendships based in deep respect, listening, and support. If you resonate with that approach and the stories shared above, and would like to join the Neils’ on a look-see trip, please let us know. Arigatō!

Visit the Japan/Korea page for more information on connecting with this partnership.