A vision for the church
I love the church. I believe the church is the only hope for our world. Why? The Church has weathered every season of human history since AD 1 and continues to thrive. The church has endured because a good and faithful God is at its center. People and communities who find this center stay together – the way a wheel turns smoothly and holds together as an axel at its center.
My Story: I begin with my personal story, as a carrier whose traits have been imprinted into the DNA of Cross- Way Church. Vision, one pastor said, is the greatest weapon a leader has. I was given one, but it took 20 years to mature. My vision for church started when I began going to church as a child. Seeds were planted in me in the context of the young Nepali church. As I grew, friends at church, vibrant youth programs, and sermons preached began to convict me at a deeper level. I loved the church more than anything life had to offer. Not only was I excited about events and messages, but even more so, the promises and possibilities that this community held.
Looking back on my childhood in Kathmandu, I see that what impacted me most was the missionaries lives and the unrelenting passion of the pastors for the gospel. These first-generation pastors endured much suffering for their faith - my pastor was even forced to leave the country - yet their continued boldness in sharing is what fueled my vision for the gospel and pastoral ministry. At age 14, while friends aspired to become doctors, pilots and engineers, I secretly entertained the desire to become a pastor, not knowing what that would entail.
At the age of 17, an almost-miraculous phone call from the USA led me to attending Mansfield Christian School in Ohio, USA. [After high school, I went on to Dordt College, but later completed my studies in liberal arts, mission and pre-seminary program from Kuyper College. I continued and finished with Masters in Theological Studies in Calvin Seminary. ] Ten years of education in the USA slowly matured my vision for both pastoral work and the mission of the church back in Nepal. Vision matures through life circumstances over many seasons and is tested and formed with perseverance and character. Eventually, the vision was planted in faith and God has made it grow and flourish.
Following the completion of seminary, the birth of our first child, and training and ordination in India, Bimala and I returned to Kathmandu. This was a tumultuous time, as Nepal was in the midst of the Maoist insurgency. Yet we knew we had been called back.
The Name: During the first year the church was taking shape, everyone was contemplating what the name should be. I happened to be reading John Stott’s The Cross of Christ at the time. I was becoming convicted that the Church must be modeled after the life of Jesus. The gospel writers unanimously agree that Jesus’ mission in the world culminated at the cross, the ultimate sacrifice - God’s love for the world on full display. John Stott says, “It was by his death that he wished above all else to be remembered. There is then, it is safe to say, no Christianity without the cross. If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus.” Stott’s explanation of the meaning of the cross and what it symbolizes to humanity was deeply formative as we planted the church in Kathmandu, thus the name: Cross-Way, meaning the Cross of Christ.
The Vision: Twelve years ago we drafted a vision: “Cross- Way Church is a well of grace, from where we’ll draw and serve, so that Christ centered churches will be planted in the 75 districts of Nepal.” In short, our vision is to plant Christ-Centered communities among all Nepalis. Amidst the steady growth, we have suffered bumps and bruises, experienced both internal and external opposition and persecution, and felt deep disappointments from failures. Yet we have not lost this passion. We do not under-estimate God, but have re-estimated God’s desire for a “healthy and excellent Nepali church” which does not always come with rapidly multiplying numbers or popularity. This vision includes not only the “go” to preach the gospel (Matt. 28:19) part of the great commission, but also the “teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded” (v20) part - as we establish deep roots in discipleship. Dallas Willard calls this the “great omission” of the great commission.
The essence of the vision is to reach all of Nepal and the Nepali diaspora. Will this be possible in our life time? Humanly speaking, no! We cannot. But we know that God can do it, in his time and in his way. We are called to be willing and available instruments in his hands. We will wait to see his glory and be satisfied.
Nepali Reformed Church: In order to reach this vision, we felt the need to identify the movement with a name. In 2010, we started calling it the Nepali Reformed Church (NRC). Cross-Way is a mother church, a well of grace that’s a resource to draw from as we serve, train leaders, and produce educational materials. Our desire is to pastor, mentor and pray - keeping our antennas up at all times to receive signals of God’s anointed leaders wherever they are in the world.
The stated mission of Cross-Way church is- “to become disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples.” A disciple is an authentic Christ-follower in every act, word, thought and plan - one who is intent on knowing God as revealed in Jesus Christ and following in his footsteps. We agree with Detrietch Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man [to follow him], he bids [calls] him come and die” (Cost of Discipleship). Discipleship is a reciprocating duty. As one learns and receives in the process of becoming a disciple, they also lead others to follow Jesus. Eugene Peterson says, “Discipleship is a long journey in the same direction.” And we are committed to this journey together in small groups, at church, at homes, or elsewhere.
The Nepali church is known in the world for its rapid growth, resiliency against the challenges of the landscape, poverty, and persecution. So much so, that it has drawn substantial attention in modern missions history. Although the young church continues to grow, a proportionate number of leaders has not been developed. This, I believe, has been a detriment to the young Nepali church. While churches value evangelism and church growth, theological education and spiritual disciplines are undervalued and do not receive adequate attention or resources. Therefore, leaders are by default being raised according to the cultural pattern instead of a biblical one. I strongly believe there’s an urgent need for theological education in leadership development, alongside the local church’s intentional efforts in mentoring, to equip the next generation of leaders. After studying the Nepali church over last 25 years, and having led one for over 15, I feel that there a serious need for a critical rethinking to renew and reform its practices.
There is theology behind every practice a church adapts. I have extracted a few key principles for Nepali ecclesiology (theology of the church) in order for Nepali churches to be healthy, biblically-founded, Christ-centered churches. Let me share those and conclude with what I believe the Nepali Church is called to do in our time and context:
1. Sabbath: Sabbath, according to the Bible is the 7th day, a day of rest and a call back to God, who is Holy. Sabbath was the goal of creation. When God created everything, the fellowship with Adam and Eve was God’s delight. It is a day (time and space set apart) which God calls “mine.”
Seventh day is part of creation that belongs to God, his private property. On the Sabbath, God desires his people to rest, to delight in the goodness of creation with him.
The first part of the delight is to be in his presence, and not substance to consume, or blessings to collect. The church holds the Sabbath worship service where God is in the center, and we train ourselves to desire him. We study the Word, his self-revelation, and then we are sent out to his mission for the rest of the week, as Jesus says “as the father has sent me, I’m sending you.” (Jn 20:21). Sabbath is a sacred space for covenant-renewal ritual, where God says, “you are my people” and we respond, “you are our God.” We live our lives by this reciprocating relationship.
2. Mission of God: Mission dei, is God’s mission in the world. We are not to create a church to fulfill our desires and goals with activities, but to take on and fulfill God’s mission in the world. God’s mission in the world is to restore human beings as his covenant partners, and through them to restore the whole creation to himself. God is doing that through Jesus Christ - through his life, death, resurrection and coming again. He paid the ransom for God’s righteous demand through his own sacrifice. Those who accept and believe have salvation through Jesus Christ. Through that same power and process, the Holy Spirit is involved in the mission of creating Christ-centered communities across the world. The church is God’s outposts of Missio dei. We are sent into outlying areas of the world, representing God with his seal, to bring his word, in the same power of his Holy Spirit.
3. Covenant: A covenant is the special kind of relationship God has with his people, revealed throughout Scripture. God establishes the terms of relationship. God says, “I am the Lord YHWH your God, and you are my people” (Exo 19:5,6). This is covenantal language, clarifying relationship throughout the OT, and therefore is the basis of every command and promise God gives. People are called to be faithful, like YHWH God himself in this relationship: be obedient and you’ll be blessed in the Land, where you live. If you disobey, ignore your God, and worship idols, you’ll surely be cursed and suffer. Jesus comes as the mediator of the new covenant (Jeremiah 33, Heb 8, 9:15). The new covenant came with “grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16), because humans were unable to keep their side of the agreement. Sabbath worship, in essence, is covenant-exchange (like a bride and groom exchanging wedding vows) between God and his people.
4. Temple: Temples in the Old Testament were a set apart (holy) space, that represented God’s presence among the people. It symbolized and held people’s aspirations and longings centered in God. Temples were also centers of culture and treasures of the land. Priests educated and guided the people on all things concerning God and his desires as revealed in his laws. They mediated people’s prayers and aspirations, therefore a deeper, unseen heart’s matters to God and vice versa. The tent of meeting, tabernacle, temple, and church are spaces set-apart for covenant reenactment between God and his people. The God of creation desires to dwell with his people by way of covenant design. Churches, in this sense, are the holy temples of God. It was never the physical temples that God desired, but what they represented. Therefore, in the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the new temple. We come to God through Jesus Christ, purified by his sacrifice, and clothed with his righteousness.
5. Body of Christ: The church is the New Testament community in the covenant tradition of the Old Testament. Jesus, at a turning point in history, fulfilled the covenant requirements of Israel and established a new community around himself. Paul who planted many churches and loved the church described the church as the Body of Christ. He said, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). And Christ is the head (Eph 4:15). The life of the church is modeled after the incarnation of Jesus Christ- his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and the second coming. The church as the Body of Christ, illustrated through the life of Jesus, has two characteristics: 1. Coming to God as people, to re-enact their identity, (church at worship) and 2. Going out into the world to bring Jesus into every sector of life living the gospel-mission. A church that is carefully designed visibly practices the body of Christ. Participation in the Lord’s Supper is the direct and basic illustration of the church as living body of Christ.
6. Shalom: Shalom means peace, but it is more than peace as we know it. Shalom is God’s vision for the creation. Shalom is state of the world where desired order has been restored, namely justice, truth and delight satisfies God, human beings and the creation. Professor, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. beautifully defines shalom as “Webbing together of God, humans and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” According to the Bible, he says, it is a “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight— ...a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.” (Engaging God’s World). If shalom is God’s vison for the world, a local church must serve this vision, more than its own local interests. Shalom is also a hope-filled future vision of our world, where Jesus is Lord, and God’s rule is fully realized.
7. Shepherd Leadership: Leadership in a church is like no other found in the world. Yet, leaders in Nepali churches are formed by culture of our times. “How do we learn to lead?” I often ask students and we discuss. Our parents, our teachers, our neighbors and society, education system, politics both local and national, and deep-down our own personality and ego serves our leadership goals. Jesus came to fulfill the laws and the prophets. (Matt 5:17). Leaders of Israel, prophets, priests, kings, and judges were all meant to be shepherds as God would have them. Each of them served, but only to a limited extent, with flaws and limitations. So God said, he would provide a prophet, priest and king of his choice, the Messiah for them. Jesus was the messiah who came to fulfill the Shepherd leader God desired. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:11). In this way Jesus, taught and lived one-of-a-kind leadership, often called servant leadership. Servant leadership, according to professor Todd Hunter, is “leadership for the sake of others.” (Our Character at Work). This is a skill learned over life-time in humility and boldness, compassion and justice, service and activism, with all gifts and resources, leveraging for the Kingdom of Christ, and for the sake of neighbors flourishing.
Cross-Way Church, serving locally in Kathmandu, and through the Nepali Reformed Churches movement across Nepal, is ignited and fueled by this vision for a Christ- centered local church. As a well of grace, Cross-Way is a resource church leading a national and world-wide movement of planting and growing “healthy and excellent Nepali church.” Resources are intended to be a tool in our hands to use to build God’s kingdom, not our own. They are not meant to be consumed for self. Jim Elliot, the great missionary who was martyred sharing the gospel once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We believe, wise is the person and a church that leverages everything in their hands to build a community of Christ, where everyone (not only their own members) can flourish.
May the Lord, the Great Shepherd lead us into this vision for His church. Amen.
Author: Rev. Arbin Pokharel