The Executive Leader of the Church Mission Society, the Revd Canon Philip Mounstephen, reflects on a recent visit to Christians in Nepal and ponders what difference it would make to the Church in the West if it was as filled with the Holy Spirit.
In April I found myself in Nepal visiting the Church there. The Church in that land has experienced sustained and significant growth over recent years, and it was a privilege to spend time with brothers and sisters there.
One morning I was sitting with a group of hospital staff gathered together for their morning devotions, and almost inevitably I was asked to “share a word”. I had nothing prepared, but I was sitting next to someone called Barnabas so I took his name as my cue.
If we’re allowed to have biblical heroes, Barnabas would be mine. He’s a man that did so much good. Trace his story through the early chapters of Acts and what do we find? The first we hear of him is that he’s generous with his possessions, as he sells a field and gives the apostles the proceeds (Acts 4:36-37). He’s the one through whom Paul enters into his incredibly fruitful ministry (Acts 9:27 & 11:25). He recognises the grace of God as the gentiles are brought into the church in Antioch; he’s a catalyst of much church growth (Acts 11:24). And he’s the early leader of the Church’s mission (Acts 13:2).
So, seated next to Barnabas as I was, I asked why the younger Nepali Church was growing when the older Church, where I live, was in decline. In the UK, and in much of the western world, as a Church we face a combination of indifference and suspicion. But we can’t use that as an excuse, because while the church in Nepal doesn’t face indifference, it faces considerably more pressure and suspicion than we do in the West. And yet it is growing.
So what explains the difference? The answer lies in the biblical Barnabas. Luke tells us he was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). Those words speak of a powerful combination of the human and the divine, as the holy power of the Spirit is met with human hope and faith. And it’s the intersection of the two that made Barnabas’ life in mission so fruitful.
And so Barnabas is a blueprint for each of us personally: a living demonstration of what happens when the holy and the human meet.
But more than that: Barnabas is a blueprint for the Church too; collectively we too should be a living demonstration of what happens when the holy and the human meet. And that explains, at least in part, the state of the Church in Nepal. As I told the people that morning in the hospital, it’s no exaggeration to call it “a Barnabas church”. It’s “a good [Church] full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”, a place where the holy and the human meet, so that, as a consequence, a great many people are being brought to the Lord.
The name “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement”. And the Nepali church should indeed encourage us: look what can happen when a Church is filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith! But at the same time the Church in Nepal is also a challenge to the western church. What do we lack that this Church has? How can we too be filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith? How can we be a place where the holy and the human meet?
Surely we must begin with prayer. We must recognise our emptiness, and ask to be filled. And may we indeed be filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith that through our faithfulness and fruitfulness a great many more people might be brought to the Lord. Globally, may we be “a Barnabas Church”.