A Turkish theologian and a friend of mine describes the theologies that frequently govern the ministry of churches serving in a majority non-Christian context like ours at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Beirut, Lebanon.
The first is a theology of retreat, where churches function in survival mode, just wanting to be left alone.
That’s when ministry becomes mostly about congregational care, or self-care. The focus becomes inward with not much impact outside the four walls of the church.
Alongside that theology is a theology of fleeing, where the focus is on how to leave to a better place where there is no hardship or persecution.
The thinking is that there is no future for our families in this difficult context, so the right thing to do is to leave to a place where it is safer and easier to raise a family and do ministry.
I do not want to denigrate these theologies, and neither does my Turkish friend. There are such examples in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit has used these theologies to spread the gospel.
However, my friend presents a third theology that ought to motivate our churches, a theology of prophetic engagement.
This is when churches discover a sense of purpose for why God has put them in their context and discover their vital role in reaching their communities with the message of the gospel.
These become missional incarnational churches that:
â— Are focused on the outside as much as the inside.
â— Are convinced that they need to bring the presence of God to their communities.
â— See themselves as agents of the Kingdom of God, agents of transformation and agents of reconciliation for their surrounding societies.
â— Consider all their members as missionaries sent out to their world.
This is our mandate at ABTS: to equip leaders for such missional incarnational churches.
These leaders are not only for church-based ministries but also for marketplace-based and workplace-based ministries, sent out from their churches to live and proclaim Christ in the world.
We serve the church in the Arab world by preparing leaders who become catalysts for transformation in their own churches so that these churches become transformed and transformative.
Our ultimate vision is to see God glorified, people reconciled and communities restored through the church in the Arab world.
Elie Haddad is president of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. A version of this article first appeared in the April 2014 ABTS newsletter and is used with permission. You can follow Haddad on Twitter: @ElieHaddad_ABTS.