by Hansung Kim
The Church in Nepal is the fastest-growing Church in the world today (Mitchell 2013). Officially, there were no Christians and Protestant missionaries living in Nepal until 1951.
The Church in Nepal is the fastest-growing Church in the world today (Mitchell 2013). Officially, there were no Christians and Protestant missionaries living in Nepal until 1951.
A handful of medical missionaries and five Nepali Christians entered Nepal and resided in Pokhara in 1952. With this humble beginning, the number of Nepali Christians has grown phenomenally despite political and social persecutions. There were 40,000 baptized believers in Nepal in 1990 and 274,462 baptized Christians in 2001 (Barclay 2009, 189).
According to a senior leader of National Churches Fellowship of Nepal, there were approximately 700,000 to 1,000,000 Christians and 5,000 to 6,000 churches in Nepal in 2014.
Such an explosive growth in a very short period of time in one of the poorest countries in the world imposes many challenges for the Nepali Church. Leadership development is one of them.
While there are some leaders who studied theology on the graduate level overseas, many pastors and church leaders have not received formal education for their ministry. To date, active believers with an evangelistic zeal often become pastors of a church or start a fellowship. The life of David Mukhia, who started the first Protestant church in Nepal and who had a great evangelistic zeal for his people resonates with that of ordinary Nepali pastors even today. David had no proper theological training.
Below I will discuss the development of and issues surrounding theological education in Nepal. I will then suggest how Nepali churches can better engage these issues. Part of my research was interviewing a number of theological education leaders from 2013 to 2014.
The Development of Theological Education
Churches in Nepal began offering short-term basic Bible training for leadership development in the 1960s. The Discipleship Training Centre (now Nepal Theological College), first offered a forty-day Bible training program in 1978, which was followed by a three-month course soon after and one-year program in 1980. Nepal Bible Ashram was founded in 1981 with a one-year curriculum to train Christians for pastoral ministry. It was later renamed Nepal Institute of Theology and expanded its program to two years (Tamang 2011).
Short-term Bible training, varying from a few days to a year, has been available through various missionaries, organizations, and/or Bible schools until today. Such training is typically in the Nepali language.
For almost thirty years from the 1960s, short-term Bible training was the only church leadership training program in Nepal. Christians in Nepal were under persecution during this time and they struggled for survival (Tamang 2011). Additionally, the Christian population was still small and relatively less-educated. Because of these things, they did not see a need for a Bible college.
Two Bible colleges were founded before 1990. Nepal Presbyterian Theological Seminary celebrated its silver jubilee graduation in 2013 (Nepal Presbyterian Seminary 2013) and Jesus College, the largest Bible College in Nepal, was founded in 1989.
After 1990, when the political change in the kingdom eased the government’s persecution against Christians, more formal theological education began to serve Nepali Christians. Nepal Ebenezer Bible College (NEBC) was founded in 1992 and, from its beginning, has offered a Bible and theology program.
NEBC is affiliated with National Churches Fellowship (NCF) of Nepal, the largest Nepali Christian association. Nepal Theological College (NTC, the former Discipleship Training Centre) began to offer a two-year diploma in theology program in 1999, and a three-year BTh program in 2007.
Evangelical Presbyterian Theological Seminary, formerly called Nepal Evangelical College and Seminary, which offered unaccredited BTh and graduate programs in the evening, began to offer a three-year BTh program in 2002.
Nepal Evangelical Holiness Theological Seminary was founded in 2005, offering a BTh. These schools have four to seven full-time professors, who primarily hold MDiv or ThM degrees from India, South Korea, and English-speaking countries and some part-time lecturers. Many of these schools use English as the medium of instruction.
Graduate degrees in Christian ministry are available in Nepal as well. NEBC started an MA in organizational leadership in 2009, which was recently accredited by Asia Theological Association (ATA). There are two graduate schools that run the MDiv program. Kathmandu Institute of Theology began its educational ministry in 1999 in partnership with a seminary in India and Himalayan Graduate School of Theology in 2008. They typically depend on international guest lecturers since they do not have full-time professors. Since the fall of 2015, NTC and NEBC jointly offer a Mdiv program, which is taught in English and courses are offered in a modular format.
Today, there are more than fifty-two Bible colleges and schools in Nepal. A majority of them are in the Kathmandu valley. Seven Bible colleges, offering mostly the BTh degree program, are accredited by ATA, while four are associate members of the organization. Some have their own property and some rent a building.
All these accredited Bible colleges have libraries with a very limited number of books and computer labs. According to senior administrators of two Bible colleges, the estimated annual cost for a student per year, including tuition, room, and board, is $US1,000. Many students receive generous scholarship, while some pay a significant portion of the educational cost. However, it may vary, depending upon the college.
Some graduates go on to pursue further studies—many choose India for affordable tuition and easy accessibility; others choose South Korea, for generous scholarship and evangelical theology. Some go to Singapore, and the Philippines. A few have received their doctoral degrees from universities or seminaries in the U.K., the U.S., and South Korea.
Issues in Theological Education
Ganesh Tamang has listed eight challenges to theological education in Nepal:
• dependency on foreign aid • creating healthy partnership
• misuse of resources • developing appropriate curriculum
• politics among leaders • lack of appreciation of theological education
• division among churches
• lack of resources (2011)
H. Laltlankim has suggested that theological education in Nepal has faced four challenges:
• appropriate curriculum
• competent education
• Nepali theology (2013, 27-30)
I identified, among many, the following seven issues as the most pressing challenges for theological education in Nepal:
• the government’s recognition
• Nepali Christian books
• scholarship development
• training for pastors in service
• library development
• curriculum development
Generally speaking, Bible colleges and seminaries in Nepal are Evangelical and Bible-based. However, how they address these issues with their very limited resources may decide the direction of the churches in Nepal.
Theological education may have a new chapter when the government recognizes and supports it. The Nepali parliament has passed its constitution after eight years of consultation. While this once-Hindu monarch became a republic country, its view on Christianity and Christians has not changed much. Although the constitution states the freedom of religion, the meaning of it, provided by the chairman of the constitution drafting committee, is that no one can change from one religion to other religions (Sharma 2015).
This shows that Nepal is still under the influence of Hinduism. Very few churches have been able to register properties under their names. No Bible colleges and Bible schools are recognized as higher education institutions. As a result, degrees granted by Bible colleges are not acknowledged as they should.
It is a real challenge for Nepali Bible colleges and seminaries to meet the needs of proper facilities andcovering costs for good education.
For this reason, colleges and seminaries have sought accreditation from ATA, and eleven schools have achieved its member status. However, it is perceived as a temporary remedy. Some Nepali leaders in theological education believe that Tribhuvan University, Nepal’s national university, should have a Christian department and that Bible colleges and seminaries should be acknowledged through their affiliation with it. They have approached the university about it, but have received no positive response.
Finances are always a challenge for emerging churches like those in Nepal. Only a small number of colleges have their own campuses; the majority rent out space in buildings. Acquiring land or building a much-needed dormitory is simply too big a task for a young church in an underdeveloped country. This is especially true when the demand is urgent.
We can, however, look to Korea as an example of why investing in Bible colleges and seminaries on the mission field has a long-term benefit. Western missionaries founded Bible colleges and seminaries when the Korean Church was growing and yet struggling with money.
Today, these institutions still benefit Christians and non-Christians in Korea and in foreign lands. Many schools subsidize student’s tuition and dormitory expenses, often because the students come from poor rural areas. While some Bible colleges may seek financial help from their denominations or affiliated churches to some degree, Bible colleges and seminaries often receive financial help from overseas.
It is a real challenge for Nepali Bible colleges and seminaries to meet the needs of proper facility and running costs for good education. Of course, one needs to practice wisdom when one makes financial contribution. If one has principles and policies concerning how to handle donations, these can serve as helpful examples for generations to come.
Christian books in the Nepali language are much needed. All the ATA-accredited schools officially use English as the language of instruction. There are, however, some cases in which instructors personally choose to use Nepali for courses. The principal of one Bible college said, “One day, Nepali will be the medium of instruction. But books and resources that we use for teaching are in English. And we don’t have theological terms in Nepali.”
Today, there are more Christian books in Nepali than ever before. However, there are not enough books for pastors and future church leaders to read and learn. If this continues, Nepali Christians may find it difficult to develop and express their understanding of God and they may not discern false teachings, which is already a pressing problem for the Nepali Church.
That said, printing costs for books are very low compared to developed countries. Publishing ebooks or articles in PDF format and making them available online may allow pastors, students, and believers to access them for free or at a cost that they can afford, since this production cost is much lower than that of paper books. Nepali churches, Bible colleges, or outside donors can provide stipends for writers.
Scholarship development is a must for theological education in Nepal. To help the Nepali Church to be part of the Global Church, the Nepali Church may need to learn and embrace the history and tradition of the Global Church. It may also need to address the issues and problems that are unique to the Nepali Church. This is a job for the whole Nepali Church and every Nepali Christian.
At the same time, the Nepali Church needs well-trained minds that can relate the Bible and the history of the Global Church with the context of the Nepali Church, which is ultimately a job for Nepali Christians. This may require formal theological education on master’s and doctoral levels. Nepali church leaders and scholars may need to discuss how and when they can offer sound post-graduate studies.
Organizations and individuals may need to consider partnering with one another.
Academic conference and journals for Nepali scholars may help address this issue as well. There was such a forum on Nepali Christian Theology at a Bible college in September 2014. The Nepali Church needs more conferences like this to encourage emerging Nepali scholars to ask and answer questions relevant to the Nepali Church. The Mission Institute of Nepal at Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission in South Korea has published Nepali Christian Journal in English annually since 2013.
Lifelong education for pastors is crucial for the health and growth of the Nepali Church. There are still many pastors without proper training for their ministry, especially in rural areas. While there are ministries and programs that are geared toward equipping them, they are often short-sighted, city-based, and culturally inappropriate.
Organizations and individuals may need to consider partnering with one another, which will require discussion, planning, and coordination in order to be more effective. The courses that will benefit these pastors are culturally appropriate, practical, and comprehensive. For instance, chronological Bible teaching may help them gain a comprehensive understanding of the Bible, since some of them are known to preach on certain books in the Bible.
Also, participatory and oral -based teaching/learning may be more culturally appropriate and practical because pastors learn the content in a meaningful way and can utilize this method in their ministry.
Other issues we need to address are library and curriculum development in Bible colleges and seminaries. There is a library called The Association for Theological Education in Nepal (ATEN) that was founded in 1994 which houses twenty thousand books. Individuals and institutions may have access to the library with a membership.
ATA-accredited schools met their library requirement through the partnership with this library. Some Bible colleges have received book donations from an organization in North America. The curriculum used in Bible colleges and seminaries in Nepal is not very different from that of North America or South Korea and a number of principals of theological institutions expressed that they would need to develop a theology that address Nepali issues. These issues are closely related to other issues mentioned earlier.
The issues of theological education in Nepal are challenging and, yet not invincible. I suggest three practices that may help address these issues: setting a high standard, engaging in dialogue, and working together.
- Set a high standard. If the ultimate goal of theological education in Nepal is to have Christian workers with a biblically-relevant and culturally-appropriate theology, Nepali church leaders and educators need to consider setting a higher standard.
Teaching and learning simple Bible knowledge for a short time may not be effective for ministry. As believers grow in their faith, they may need solid food accordingly. As believers live a new life in Christ, they may need to learn not only about their relationship with God, but also how to live everyday according to their faith. This requires lots of work.
In the past and, to some extent, for the future, short and simple Bible training was and will be what is needed for training some ministers. A more comprehensive and systematic theological education will be needed more and more as the Nepali Church matures. And this needs to be done on all levels of theological education.
- Engage in dialogue. Many Bible colleges and schools have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain since 2000. There is a danger of competition for many things such as getting qualified teachers, financing the cost, seeking accreditation, and recruiting students.
This may lead institutions to narrow their service in order to cater to a small portion of the educational need, which causes competition for resources and opportunities among them.
Meeting and talking with one another is critical for the Nepali Church. In dialogue, leaders can gain insights and learn from one another. Dialogue may not solve all the problems; however, a spirit of cooperation may arise and a sense of competition may be weakened. This is already taking place among some principals of Bible colleges.
- Work together. Individuals and institutions should try to work together, sharing resources and building each other up. The cooperation between ATEN and a number of Bible colleges is a good example. Another good example is a joint MDiv program by NTC and NEBC.
By working together, schools may overcome some of their limitations and possibly launch small projects such academic conferences, journals, and/or textbook publications. Schools may also work with local churches, which may also increase the possibility of additional funding.
Nepal has gone through a series of major political changes since 1990. These changes have brought freedom to seek and worship the God of the Bible to this once hermit kingdom. As the Nepali Church grows in number and quality, the need for theological education becomes greater than ever before. In the face of legal and social persecutions and out of the need for Bible training, the leaders of the early Nepali Church appeased their thirst for leadership training with simple periodic Bible seminars. Today, there are many Bible colleges and schools that train pastors and future leaders. Theological education in Nepal faces a number of challenges which can be effectively dealt with if theological education leaders set a high standard, continually dialogue, and faithfully work together. As theological education was perceived to be most important for the future of World Christianity (Esterline, et. al. 2013), the future of the Nepali Church may hinge upon the development of theological education in Nepal.
Barclay, John. 2009. “The Church in Nepal: Analysis of Its Gestation and Growth.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 33(4):189-194.
Esterline, David, Dietrich Werner, Todd Johnson, Peter Crossing. 2013. “Global Survey on Theological Education 2011-2013.” Accessed January 6, 2016, from www.globethics.net/documents/2781038/15101992/GlobalSurveyReport_130918.pdf/ab372cc6-bad2-459e-a031-5e896a9b479d.
Laltlankim, H. 2013. “Theological Education in Nepal and Its Challenges.” In Nepal Baptist Bible College, 27-30. Kathmandu, Nepal: Nepal Baptist Bible College.
Mitchell, Russ. 2013. “The Top 20 Countries where Christianity Is Growing the Fastest.” Disciple All Nations. Accessed January 6, 2016, from https://discipleallnations.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-top-20-countries-where-christianity-is-growing-the-fastest.
Sharma, Bal Krishna. 2015. “Another Earthquake.” Unpublished article.
Tamang, Ganesh. 2011. “ Brief Survey of Theological Education in Nepal.” Accessed 20 July, 2015, from www.nepalchristianvoice.com/theology/contents/abriefsurveyoftheologicaleducationinnepal.
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Hansung Kim is associate professor at the Asia Center for Theological Studies and Mission in South Korea. He was a missionary to South Asia with OM. His interests include Majority World mission, missionary training, Korean/English teaching as Christian mission, and cross-cultural missionary cooperation. He can be reached at email@example.com.
EMQ, Vol. 53, No. 1. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.
Questions for Reflection
1. What does it mean to have a biblically-relevant and culturally-appropriate theology for the Nepali Church?
2. How can the Nepali Church achieve sustainable theological education in their context?
3. What are the ways that missionaries may support theological education in Nepal?