Leader Studies

Leader Studies awards scholarships to exceptional Majority World Christian leaders pursuing doctoral-level education in theology and related disciplines.

This program is often the foundation for our lifelong relationships with global leaders, as their doctoral studies are a seed that we nurture together for lifetimes of mature impact. 

Many of these remarkable women and men serve as faculty and executives at Christian institutions around the world. They found schools, pastor churches, establish ministries, and write books and curricula for global believers who, in turn, impact millions for Christ.

In Leader Studies we offer much more than just financial support. Acceptance into this program includes spiritual care, writing tutorials, research colloquia, professionalization resources, and access to a robust global fellowship in which young leaders can realize their full potential.

55

current Christian leaders supported

28

nations represented

31

institutions studied at

Athena Gorsope

Explore One Story of Scholar Leaders’ Impact from the Philippines

Like all cities, Manila has a storied past. It was a walled Islamic settlement before being invaded and colonized by Spain. China attacked it in the 1500s. The Dutch plundered it in the 1700s. The city was leveled in the twentieth century when the U.S. recaptured it from Japan at the end of World War II, ending three years of Japanese rule.

Over the years, foreign powers – including Spain, China, Japan, Britain, and the U.S. – have controlled the city. Despite a history overshadowed by foreign occupation, today, the capital of the Philippines, Manila, is a thriving economic center in the Pacific region. Philippine native, Athena Gorospe, walks its streets on a mission.

Athena came to Christ as an 11-year-old. She immediately used her own money to buy New Testaments for her classmates because, she says, “I wanted them to hear the Word of God.” Her college years, however, were the Marcos years, years of dictatorship. She recalls, “I was taking journalism, and my classmates were out protesting, but I could not relate my faith with what was happening in society.” This gap pushed her toward spiritual darkness. A mentor committed suicide; relationships failed. Remembering those years, she says, “Sometimes in my Christian community, you are affirmed if you are doing well, but if you fail you get marginalized.” Eventually, she dropped out of school.

Grieving what she perceived as her failures, Athena read the Bible. She found the promise that God “is able to keep you from falling and to present you blameless before Him with great joy. I said, ‘I don’t feel that I’m blameless,’ but there’s this promise!” To grow in her faith and Christian service, she started studying at Asia Theological Seminary (ATS) in Manila. During a course on Christianity and society, a professor wrote on an exam, “I hope you would go for further studies, Lady Theologian.” With that encouragement, Athena earned her MDiv at ATS.

When she finished, ATS invited her to pursue a PhD and become full faculty. For decades, ATS had had only non-nationals as faculty. As Westerners retired, ATS began to develop its first Filipino faculty. Athena said yes to joining ATS’s faculty: “I really want to study God’s Word, and I really want to share God’s Word,” she remembers thinking.

So, in 2000, with support from Scholar Leaders’ Leader Studies program, she began a PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary. She successfully graduated in 2006 and returned to ATS.

Athena still sees herself as speaking for the marginalized. She has directed ATS’s Contextual Theology PhD program and written a commentary on the Book of Judges, among other works. Athena is training the next generation of Christian leaders to address society.

Social problems continue to have a distinct edge in the Philippines, so as well as her academic work, Athena engages in activism. In June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines thanks to explosive anti-drug rhetoric. He encouraged ordinary people to kill anyone suspected of drug involvement. Though almost a decade has passed since then, the situation is still so drastic that “[P]eople kill people and then wrap them in masking tape with a cardboard sign saying, ‘I’m a drug user.’ And that means that you’re worth being killed,” Athena explains. Athena and her colleagues have used social media, protests, and petitions to call for social change and justice.

For Athena, this is one of the Bible’s primary functions: just as the prophet Nathan confronted David about Bathsheba, so Scripture forces us to look from society’s problems to ourselves. In such intense situations, Athena asks students, friends, colleagues – and her international community – to consider “how Scripture can speak to the issues of today.” She says that “Christians often have a naïve understanding of what goes on in society: ‘Just because I read it this way, then it is this way,’ when actually, there are other factors going on.”

Athena does see growth in the Filipino Church, partly thanks to emphases on social action and evangelism. Regarding poverty especially, she says, “I think we have matured so much in that area…. There are ministries to children, ministries to women in prostitution.”

From the beginning of Athena’s mature academic career, Scholar Leaders has walked alongside her, supporting her theological work. But these relationships are never one-sided. They are inevitably and gloriously reciprocal. When ATS joined the Vital Sustainability Initiative, Athena participated in the meetings as part of the administrative team. Athena also helped guide the inaugural Women’s Peer Leader Forum, which Scholar Leaders designed to support women in positions of theological leadership. Training new leaders for the church to confront the injustice of sexual violence, she has traveled and lectured extensively.

Athena’s story is but one of many that demonstrate how Scholar Leaders’ ministry comes full circle, from supporting young scholars in their training to assisting them as they lead institutions and social movements for lifetimes of impact.

Since 1984…

339

exceptional Christian leaders supported

64

countries in the Majority World

60%

hold executive leadership positions at their institution or organization

95%

complete their degrees successfully and return home to serve

50%

Fewer than 50% now enroll in traditional residential programs at Western institutions.