Ben, Michael and Fujishima, thank you for your posts. I think there are many people out there that have been wounded by JLH but are afraid to say anything due to the shockingly aggressive way they handle people, (especially Christians that have come to Christ prior to coming to JLH) over things that would be deemed “normal” in any other protestant churches, especially those that question their authoritarian style leadership.
Light and shadow is a good way to describe Jesus Lifehouse. On the surface everything seems happy, exciting and passionate. But once you get into a Life group there are all these shadowy unwritten and strictly enforced unBiblical rules. Most of which you find out about over time long after you have built strong relationships and have become settled/involved enough where leaving would become somewhat isolating. I didn’t agree with some of the things my Life group leader presented, but I always kind of thought that a church is made up of imperfect people so therefore you aren’t always going to agree with everything. That the right attitude in church was to focus on Christ, try mold your life to resemble him, build each other up and overlook minor theological details for the sake of unity within the body. Little did I know the details I believed were minor were actually quite major in beliefs of my leader:
I heard how you shouldn’t go to other churches that you can’t grow if you are always moving around. Like a plant that keeps getting uprooted and replanted. Which I can agree there is some truth to that. But at JLH I later found out that also meant not attending non-JLH sponsored Christian Bible studies, events, and other Christian fellowship style gatherings. While going to JLH I was asked if I wanted to join a Bible study by one of my friends from another church. I decided to join. We would sing some praise and worship songs, then do our study and have discussion, eat snacks and go home. Pretty typical Bible study stuff. I loved it! It provided the in-depth discussions that I felt were lacking at JLH and JLH provided the worship, passion, and young adult congregation that was lacking elsewhere. I thought everything was perfect.
Soon after I started attending the Bible study I brought it up in Life group thinking some of the other girls might want to attend. My Life group leader suddenly got very stern with me. Explaining how that was not allowed and how I was attending another church. When the girls started questioning her she explained how you can’t have more than one leader/church because you might hear two different things and that will cause confusion/conflict and keep you from growing. She used the word picture about the vine and the branches (John 15:5). She explained that churches are like a cluster of grapes and each of us are a grape we can’t switch clusters. After our Life group finished she asked if she could talk to me. She pulled me aside and very sternly lectured me about how I was being rebellious to leadership and if I had questions about such things, I should talk to her personally outside of Life group. She added that because I was a Christian already I was held at a different standard. I felt as if she was implying that I should have known better. Naturally I am a very quiet girl, I don’t like trouble and wouldn’t have even brought it up had I known it was an issue. To me it just seemed normal…and I even felt bad, like I had done something terribly wrong!
After my leader told her leader about what I did I was kicked out of Life group. I was shocked!!! Because I was out of Life group I was no longer allowed to attend any of the teams I was involved in. I was told that I was suppose to think about what I had done and if I continued to come to church with a happy attitude the leaders would discuss about letting me back into a Life group but under stricter supervision (or so they made it sound). I felt awful, but what was worse was people kept asking me why I wasn’t in Life group or on team. When I would pass my leader she would smile at me but act like I was just another church face. I really cared about my leader, I felt bad that I hurt her but frustrated because I was so confused. I feared gossiping out of hurt feelings and it almost seemed like I was being forgotten amidst the hundreds of others in the congregation. I didn’t know if they would remember to ask me back into a life group or if they even wanted to. I also feared that if they did take me back I might once again say or do something that would have been considered natural at my home church and be scolded for it or worse. So after about a month and half I decided to leave quietly. I couldn’t believe that the happiness that embraced me when I first came there could eventually turn so cold.
Over time I have met other people who are deeply scared or have lost their faith due to the hands of JLH leadership. Many of them were young in their faith or just re-strengthening their faith. Most of them are afraid to talk about their experience.
I think when you see so much life coming from a place it is hard not to question if you are the bad person, even if your intentions were good. I felt like they encourage you into church, they get you into a life group, they get you involved to the point you are doing little outside of work and JLH (which disconnects you from other relationships) and then, within the Life groups they slowly wrap their own rules around basic Biblical teachings. You swallow the little bad parts because it is wrapped in something good.
I know that there are many good people at JLH with beautiful hearts, and only God knows what the leader’s true intentions are. I hope and pray for the sake of the next generation of Japan that they are for God’s glory and God alone. With the power they could and already possess, if it is not in the right hands, it could become dangerous. And for those who have been damaged by JLH I pray for their healing and the right people to come along in their lives to show them that Jesus loves them, no matter which shepherd(s) care they might be under.
(Title added by the Editor)
(Special thanks for Mr.Fuji’s permission for forwarding and translating of the document)