Will You Go Where You Don’t Know?
May 15, 2020
ABTS Faculty Update: Dr. Abed El Kareem Zien El Dien
May 12, 2020

Don’t Waste a Good Crisis...

A Word from ABTS President, Elie Haddad

This was the advice that one of our trusted friends and partners gave me a few weeks ago. His advice was based on the reasoning that, depending on how one responds, crises have the potential to breed innovation. His advice was also based on the reputation that ABTS has garnered throughout the years as a place of innovation. Located in a highly volatile region, crises are not foreign to us. We have learned the hard way that when a crisis hits, we either cling to the mission that God has given us, be prepared to make some difficult decisions, innovate, or we die.

We are not facing a single crisis these days; we are facing a season of crises. The first was a crumbling economy in Lebanon that started mid last year, followed by political and social unrest late last year, then the coronavirus this year. No enterprise can withstand such successive calamities without being either scathed or reshaped. A valid question that a business asks in such difficulties is, “Why bother? It’s not worth it.” However, when it comes to God’s ministry, it is precisely in these calamities that people become all the more starving for meaning and purpose. This is the time when proclaiming the Gospel is crucial. This is the time for the Church to be ready to bring a message of God’s love, hope, and joy in the midst of suffering.

We find ourselves at a crossroads at ABTS today. In terms of economics, we are no longer thinking about growth, or even sustainability. Our immediate concern is survivability. In terms of ministry, however, this is an opportune time to come alongside the Church in responding to the rising challenges that our communities will be facing. So, what do we do?

We have started extensive conversations looking at the future of ABTS, exploring ways to re-envision our ministry. We are having two threads of conversations. The first one is life-giving and energizing, looking at what God is preparing us for and how we can come alongside the Church post-coronavirus. The needs in our communities are changing, the realities of church life are changing, and so are the realities of theological education and leadership formation. The second conversation thread is the more difficult one, looking at how we can survive the current crises and be available and ready on the other side of these crisis to re-grow in the right direction.

A few metaphors are helping us in these conversations. Representing the second conversation thread, I have been thinking of the metaphor of a train, heavily loaded, and having to pass through a tight tunnel. We don’t know how long this tunnel will be, but we do know that if we do not trim down the load, then we will crash and burn. We will not survive to see the other side. We are forced to make some tough decisions. We may have to let go of programs or methods that we love and have worked well for years to be ready and available for a new season.

Martin Accad, our Chief Academic Officer, is using a metaphor that represents the first conversation thread. It’s the image of a silkworm which needs to spend some time in a cocoon. Under the wrong conditions, this can be the end of the silkworm. Under the right conditions, a complete metamorphosis is realized, and a butterfly emerges out of it. Martin will be expanding on this and other metaphors in our first MEC webinar on June 18, 2020. Many of you have taken part in our annual MEC (Middle East Consultation) which took place every third week of June. MEC has gone through a metamorphosis of its own and now represents Middle East Conversation that will take the form of monthly two-hour webinars discussing contemporary issues of global concern but with a distinctive Middle Eastern voice. Martin will present the first keynote on June 18, with one global and one Middle Eastern response, followed by a panel discussion. The topic on June 18 is A Dynamic Pause: Reflections on Simplicity, Purpose, and Transformation in this time of Pandemic. Make sure you join us. In addition to the global nature of this conversation, it will give you a peak into our internal discussions at ABTS.

What does metamorphosis look like for ABTS? I don’t know. But we are asking the questions, raising the issues, exploring the possibilities, and challenging our pre-suppositions. This is a spiritual exercise, making sure that we are aligned with God’s vision for our future, and an exercise in innovation, willing to put an end to things that worked well while harnessing all the experience and expertise that we gained and channeling them to shape the future.

We are asking foundational questions: What are the advantages of residential education, and what are the advantages of distance education? What is the best combination? What is ideal for holistic formation? What does it take to form a community of learning? What is the ideal combination of training leaders within their context – somewhat of an apprenticeship model – and training them within a seminary context – more of a monastic model? As you can imagine, we are having serious but very exciting conversations.

Since we started expanding this internal conversation, I have been consulting with a few trusted friends and partners who are thoughtful and spiritual, who understand the world of theological education well and believe in the ministry of ABTS. These are people who are willing to ask us all the difficult questions. Their responses and feedback have been invaluable. They are helping us shape our thinking. Their feedback, however, is not only affirming. In a way, they are putting a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. They expect ABTS to be doing this exercise and to be charting the way forward for formation in our region. They are used to ABTS being this laboratory of new ideas and methods. What will this look like at the end of these explorations? We don’t know yet. Stay tuned. And in the meantime, we would really appreciate your prayers.