Ministry in the Middle East today is very challenging. News and analytical reports conclude that the very mere presence of many Christian communities in the region is being threatened. This is true. We read about the rise of extremism, violence, conflict, and regional political and religious schisms. This is also true. However, the crises and predicaments that we are witnessing in the Middle East are providing great opportunities for the Gospel to take root among people groups that were previously closed to the message.
This is the paradox of ministry in the Middle East. As Christianity is declining, the Gospel is increasing. As communities in the region are enduring violence and conflict, the Church is discovering its role in being an agent of peace and reconciliation. As people are experiencing hopelessness and despair, the Church is finding new ways to present the hope and the Good News that Jesus brings. In other words, the Church used to operate out of a survival mode mentality where ministry was about self-care. This same Church is now discovering its prophetic voice, learning how to witness in both word and deed, boldly but respectfully.
This is the challenge for us at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS). Churches in the Middle East today need leaders who are experts in reading and understanding the signs of the times and who are skilled and competent in mobilizing their church communities to respond appropriately to what God is doing around us.
In addition, because of the freedom that we still enjoy in Lebanon, we are able to train leaders for the Church in the entire Arab world, irrespective of their religious background. Training leaders for this diverse context provide an added challenge. We need to equip leaders who can be effective in their respective ministry contexts.
Obviously, a traditional theological curriculum does not address the emerging needs of the churches in our rapidly changing and vastly diverse context. Consequently, we redesigned our curriculum in a way that addresses the prevailing need. A curriculum that is holistic, contextual, that equips leaders to understand their Bible as well as their culture. A curriculum that develops critical thinkers who are able to assess their changing realities and lead accordingly. A curriculum that equips leaders in inter-faith engagement and that incorporates training in peacebuilding activities. A curriculum that challenges leaders and their churches to touch their world in fresh new ways. A curriculum that is malleable enough to react to ongoing developments in the region.
Incorporating inter-faith engagement in our curriculum at ABTS has been a life-giving journey. We are learning how to love our neighbors and how to proclaim the Gospel to them in new ways that are loving and respectful. Our students are learning these same lessons as well, and are becoming causing transformation within their own communities. However, these inter-faith activities have mostly been at the religious leadership level. Recently, we have been getting into peacebuilding initiatives, moving the conversation from leadership to the grassroots. In this process, we are learning how to approach these peacebuilding initiatives from the perspective of Gospel-centered, Christ-centered, Kingdom-centered engagement. This has been an exciting journey for us as we are exploring new ways of being Church in our messed-up world.
Jesus continues to be the hope of the world, and His Church continues to be His agent of hope. It is such a privilege and joy to be called to equip leaders for the Church in the Arab world and to play a small part in the unfolding story of God’s work in our region.