|Elie Haddad, President
ABTS exists to serve the Church as the Church serves the world. The world around us is changing very rapidly. What God is doing in our region, despite the conflicts and the calamities, is unprecedented. If the Church wants to remain relevant to its context and maintain a vibrant witness then the Church needs to revise its approaches and methods, and adjust its language and discourse. To achieve this, the Church needs well-shaped leaders who have a heart filled with love for God and His mission, a critical mind, and sophisticated skills. Essentially, the Church needs leaders who are able to read and understand the signs of the times and are able to mobilize their church communities to respond in creative and relevant ways.
The main task of ABTS is to equip these kinds of leaders. This is why our training, in addition to the core of Bible and Theology, extends to a variety of disciplines that help leaders think more critically and holistically. To this end, we regularly refine our existing programs and curricula, and we are frequently thinking of new, creative, and more accessible ways of equipping more people for ministry.
One of the ways that ABTS is responding to the changing needs of the Church in our region is the ABTS Online program that we launched last year. This is an Arabic-language online Certificate in Ministry, equivalent to one year of residential study. This program is reaching new groups of leaders where no such training was previously accessible. We currently have more than fifty students in this program, with the enrolment increasing every term. We are experiencing a high rate of retention in this program, which is remarkable for an online program. We have identified two reasons for that. First, we are only admitting to the program students who are already engaged in ministry, and, second, the students are finding the material practical and relevant to their ministries. We expect the first cohort to graduate from this program by the end of this calendar year.
The next challenge for us is to think through new ways of using distributed learning. Our ABTS Online students are already requesting more advanced training beyond the one-year Certificate. In addition, our Lebanese part-time students find it challenging to enroll in a residential program designed for full-timers. We need to come up with more options for training and more diversity in delivery methods. With the long experience that we have in residential studies, and with the new experience that we are gaining in running online programs, we are well-situated to invest in more creative blended distributed learning schemes. This will be at the center of the next phase of innovation at ABTS.
Another area that we find ourselves recently drawn into is peacebuilding. Our Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) has piloted several such projects in the past. IMES has become a leader in interfaith dialogue in the region, which has helped build new friendships and has opened up new doors for ministry. Our next challenge is to move our interfaith work from being exclusively at the leadership level to reaching the grassroots level. Developing new peacebuilding programs and working at grassroots level and at church level is the next step. This is a key change for ABTS, moving beyond equipping leaders for the Church into engaging with the Church and modeling for the Church.
Our region is in deep need for peace and reconciliation. Many organizations and NGOs attempt to do work in these areas. Our task is to think through how we can have a Christ-centered and Gospel-centered approach. What does the Gospel have to say about our situation? How does the Gospel motivate us and equip us to be these agents of peace and reconciliation? This will be an exciting phase for us as we wrestle, alongside the Church, to find meaningful and powerful ways for the Gospel to engage with our peace-deprived societies.
It is obvious that we find ourselves in the middle of spiritual warfare at this time. We can easily observe the forces of evil at work around us. News media do a good job in communicating that side of the story. However, we have to look a bit more closely to see how God is actively at work in the region. The news media do not communicate this story. It is exciting to be in the middle of this spiritual war serving on God’s side. We pray that God will continue to shape us and mold us to be used by Him for His purposes in a deprived region that He deeply loves.
Elie Haddad, President
(Published in the ABTS E-Newsletter, July 2016)