Word from the President

A Look Back, A Look Forward

The month of July at ABTS is the ideal time to look back and reflect. June marked the end of the academic year. Seventeen students graduated and went back to their communities. Some are resuming their previous ministry roles. Others are being launched into new ministries. Their approach to ministry, however, has been totally transformed. They allowed God to use their time at ABTS to shape them into effective spiritual leaders who are skilled in using their Bibles and in engaging their communities with meaningful and transformative ministry.

The rest of the residential students also went back home for the summer to reconnect with their communities and to apply what they have learned so far. They will be reflecting back on their summer practical ministry when they continue their studies in September.

For the online and distributed learning students, there is no break in the academic year. They continue their learning throughout the summer months.

June also marks the highlight of our year, the Middle East Consultation. This June, we began a two-year theme focusing on Jesus Christ and the Religious Other. We started to explore how our understanding of religion affects our witness as followers of Christ. Expert sociologists, theologians, and missiologists helped us gain a deeper understanding of the issues. This year’s consultation was very rich in content, and we look forward to the continuation of this theme next year. A consultation report is available at IMES.blog.

What marked our year as well was the steady growth of our Peacebuilding initiatives. The first initiative is Khebz w Meleh, which brings together Christian and Muslim youths to share meals, to openly discuss their faith together, and to take action for the common good of their local communities. This is the second year of this initiative, which is now expanding beyond Lebanon to become regional.

The second initiative, the Church-Mosque Network, was started this year. This initiative encourages committed Christians and Muslims in neighboring communities to interact more intentionally together, to discuss common challenges, and to seek ways to work together for the common good in the community.

The third initiative, the Forum for Current Affairs, was also launched this year. This initiative brings together key evangelical church and organizational leaders for strategic conversations on the prophetic role of the Church in response to surrounding political, economic, and social realities.

These peacebuilding initiatives are led by our Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) that has branded its approach as kerygmatic peacebuilding. The term kerygma means proclamation. We continue to explore in depth how our peacebuilding initiatives can be Christ-centered. Special attention is given to the incarnation of Christ and the ongoing incarnational work of Christ through the Holy Spirit and the Church; the cross of Christ as the foundation for cruciform peacebuilding; and the resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of Christ as the foundation for hope and renewal.

Looking back, we cannot but be amazed at what God has accomplished in our midst this past year. It is far beyond what we planned or anticipated. This has been the case every year. God expands our ministry way beyond our expectations. However, July is not only the time to look back. It is the ideal time to look forward, to prepare ourselves for where we believe God will be guiding us next.

The need for solid leaders for the Church in the region continues. With the various crises and conflicts, and with the changing political, economic, and religious climate, God has been challenging the Church and shaking it to the core. Christianity in the region is in decline. Ironically, however, the Gospel is gaining ground and penetrating into new people groups every day. Leaders who understand what God is doing, and who are able and skilled in leading their communities into more meaningful engagement within their societies, are highly needed. As is the need for more contextual theology and missiology that can provide meaning to God’s activity in the region.

This has many implications for the ministry of ABTS. First, we need to keep refining our residential program in response to the changing realities and the unfolding new challenges. The content, shape, and approach of our curriculum need to remain relevant. Likewise, we need to keep nurturing a faculty team that can provide leadership and direction for this process.

Second, we need to strengthen and grow our distributed learning programs, to make our training more widely accessible within the Arab world without compromising on quality or content. The way critical thinking is cultivated from a distance is different, and the way transformation is fostered requires a lot more intentionality.

Third, we need to expand the peacebuilding initiatives by mobilizing the local churches and encouraging them to take ownership of some of these initiatives, and by the regional growth of these initiatives through the work of our graduates.

Fourth, we need to keep building on the DNA of ABTS as a place of innovation and experimentation to look for new and creative ways for equipping strategic leaders for the Arab Church. One example of that is a conversation that has already started among a few of our seminaries in the region. We are investigating the possibility of launching a collaborative regional doctoral program that provides a unique opportunity for research that is rooted in the region.

All of this comes with the predictable difficulty of increasing the impact of the ministry of ABTS while maintaining a sustainable operation. We appreciate your prayers for us as we aim to fulfill God’s mandate for us to see God glorified, people reconciled, and communities restored through the Church in the Arab world.

Elie Haddad, President

(Published in the ABTS E-Newsletter, July 2018)