May 2024 Newsletter: Greet also the Church in their House
May 20, 2024
April 2024 Newsletter: Theology in Service
April 15, 2024

Theology in Service

Meet our Academic Dean Walid Zailaa

Over the past five years, as we sought to respond to the changes in our context, the Lord reshaped the ministry of ABTS and moved us towards a new strategic direction. During this move, the work of our Academic Dean has been integral to helping us deal with the challenges of the pandemic and crises in the region while also continuing to meet the needs of the Arab church. But who is our current Academic Dean? And what does he do? This month, we sat down with Walid Zailaa to get to know him and his role a little bit better.

Tell us a bit about your journey with the Lord.

I was fourteen years old when I came to Christ. A friend invited me to go with him to church, so I went. There, I felt a love that I had never seen elsewhere. I saw the practical love of Christ lived out in front of me before I heard about it, and I instantly knew that I wanted to be part of this community. When I went back home, I looked for a church close to my home, and I found Hadath Baptist Church (now RCB), pastored at the time by Ghassan Khalaf (previous ABTS President). I attended the church for five years, and I was very active in our youth ministry.

When I was nineteen, pastor Ghassan asked me if I would consider studying theology. I gave it some thought and told him that I was very interested. He asked me to wait till the coming academic year so that we can start working stuff out, but during that time, I got the opportunity to travel to Qatar and work there. Back then, I was thinking that I needed to work to support myself and build for my future, so I went to Qatar and worked there for seven years. There weren’t any churches in Qatar, but my time there solidified my commitment to spending my life with Christ. After Qatar, I worked in Germany for a while. But throughout the years I spent abroad, I would always come back to the idea of one day studying theology.

Tell us a bit about your journey with theological education and how you started teaching theology at ABTS.

In 2007, after a lot of prayer and contemplation, I decided to come back to Lebanon and start studying theology. So, I joined ABTS as a Master of Divinity student. The environment at ABTS was very conducive for my theological journey. The people here believed in me. They saw that I had the potential to become a faculty member, and they encouraged me a lot. At the same time, I started to see how the Lord was shaping my passion for teaching and for the Old Testament to fit a need at ABTS for an Old Testament scholar.

During my MDiv, I had the opportunity to shadow many gifted teachers and translate for some of them, which helped me gain the experience I needed to begin teaching. In 2009, I started working as the assistant librarian at ABTS. I graduated in 2010 and began teaching courses at ABTS. Simultaneously, I pursued distance-learning opportunities. I studied for a Master of Theology at the International Baptist Theological Seminary, then a Doctor of Ministry degree at Acadia University, and I am now working on a PhD focusing on Old Testament studies at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

What really shaped me during this journey was the integration of what I was learning into what I was living out in my church life. It quickly became apparent to me how important it was to bridge the gap between theological understanding, which is the basis of our faith, and our everyday lived life. Theology is a way of thinking and a lifestyle, and we cannot separate the two. This is why our programs at ABTS focus on the lives of believers and the church. Today, I also serve as the pastor of Faith Baptist Church where I have been blessed with the opportunity to translate this way of thinking and living theologically into people’s daily lives.

Tell us a bit about your role as Academic Dean.

My vision as Academic Dean is to serve the church by preparing leaders through theological education, which coincides with the mission of ABTS. At ABTS, we provide accredited programs and invest in the lives of all believers by inviting them to be part of the theological discussion. We are working to propagate the understanding that we are all servants and theologians, and that theology is part of our daily lives.

As Academic Dean, I primarily lead the design of our programs and curricula, and I lead the academic team that has oversight of the daily operation where each program is directly supervised by a faculty member. This gives me the opportunity to invest in the vision of ABTS and help develop the programs to meet the needs of the Arab Church. This is how we were recently able to launch our Master of Theology, and reconceptualize the Master of Religion, and we are currently working towards the launch of the PhD program. We have been intentional with our programs so that students have a clear path at ABTS from the Certificate to the PhD. It is a holistic and contextual approach to theological education. An important part of supervising our programs is supporting our students through their journeys at ABTS, whether that be through mentorship or follow up.

I also oversee faculty where I seek to ensure the growth of the faculty through the faculty development plan and invest in their growth as individuals and as scholars. I am really passionate about the growth of the research community at ABTS. So, with the research center, MTh, and PhD, I want to encourage the development of a research community among our faculty and community.

What are the most significant challenges facing theological institutions today, and how do you see your role in addressing these challenges?

Internally, it is always challenging to have a body of faculty who speak Arabic, understand the context, and cover all different fields of theology. Investing in the development of new faculty takes a long time. We also face challenges with our move online. In our region, however, it has more advantages than disadvantages. One challenge is seeing more women theologians pursue graduate level studies.

As part of a team, I do my best to help with these challenges. We are intentional about investing in people as much as possible and for as long as it takes. We have also been intentional about the flexibility of our programs, which has allowed students to deal with life circumstances without heavily impacting their studies. To mitigate the risk of them feeling like they are facing challenges alone, we do our best to visit at least one country a year, to learn about their contexts so that we can remain relevant and contextual and help them apply their theological education directly in their church context.

Lastly, what advice would you offer to aspiring theological leaders and our churches today?

Speaking from experience, if you are called to pursue theology, do not hesitate. It opens a whole new world for you, and it helps you to directly benefit the Kingdom. I would also advise pastors and church leaders to encourage their congregations, especially their youth, to study theology as that directly reflects positively on the life of the church and helps prepare a future generation of effective, Christ-minded, and biblically equipped leaders.

As Walid continues to serve as Academic Dean, we pray that his ministry at ABTS is fruitful, and that he is able to contribute effectively to the mission of ABTS to serve the Church in our region as it realizes its Biblical mission of having Christ acknowledged as Lord by offering specialized learning resources and equipping faithful men and women for effective service.