New President for Bible Society
American Bible Society's New President Speaks from the Heart
Dr. Lamar Vest’s Installation
On February 4, 2009, an installation ceremony was held for the American Bible Society’s new president, R. Lamar Vest.
ABS staff and Board members spoke alongside Dr. Eugene Habecker, President of Taylor University and former President of the American Bible Society as well as Dr. Dennis C. Dickerson, Chairman of the American Bible Society Board of Trustees. They offered words of encouragement and advice to Dr. Vest and his wife Vickie as they assume their new roles in the Bible Society.
Dr. Dickerson said, during the installation, “Dr. Vest is a man of no surprises,” assuring the Board and staff that Vest has a demonstrated track record of leadership and integrity.
After his installation, Dr. Vest and Vickie offered responses. Dr. Vest challenged the Bible Society to excel in relevance, responsiveness and respect and for each person to use the gifts and talents God has provided.
Following is an interview with Dr. Vest, in which he speaks from his heart about the future of the American Bible Society.
Introducing the American Bible Society’s New President
It is with great excitement that the Bible Society’s Board of Trustees appointed Dr. R. Lamar Vest to serve as next president of the American Bible Society beginning January 1, 2009. Dr. Vest comes with a wealth of ministry leadership as a long-term leader in the development and expansion of the Bible mission both here in the United States and around the world.
We recently sat down with Dr. Vest to learn more about his hopes and passions as he begins this new role:
Q. You were invited to join the American Bible Society (ABS) Board of Trustees in 1991. How has your assessment of the Bible Society’s potential for shaping our country and the world changed during that period of time?
Vest: As the Bible Society approaches 200 years of Bible ministry, I find its mission more critical and appropriate than ever for today’s complex world. I’ve watched this 200-year-old organization remain true to its original mission while also seeing that the methods it uses for sharing God’s Word must constantly change. God’s Word is as relevant today as tomorrow’s news report. It seems to me the Bible Society’s mission is limited only to the extent people heed Christ’s Great Commission — to go into all the world proclaiming the Word and making disciples.
Q. What difference has the Bible Society made in the past? What remains to be done?
Vest: There are millions of people who have the Bible in their own language who wouldn’t have without the work of ABS. Of the world’s 6,809 known spoken languages, ABS has been in instrumental partnerships to provide Scriptures in 2,500 of them.
We’ve been a pioneering agency since our inception in 1816. In 1817 we were the first to distribute Bibles to the military, providing for the crew of the USS John Adams. We made a distribution to West Point cadets in 1831 and, in 1846, Bibles were provided during the Mexican war. A full 75 years before Braille was developed, ABS published a raised-letter edition of the Bible. ABS is also the number one provider of Bibles to prisoners.
We continually respond to the need for Bibles and formats that will speak to everyone to carry out the mission summarized by our founders who cited Habakkuk 2.14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
Q. You have said that thinking about the lack of biblical literacy keeps you awake at night. What will you, as Bible Society president, do to change that?
Vest: Few people question that Bible illiteracy is increasing — the question we must answer is, “Why?” It’s because people are not engaged with the Bible nor do they understand its meaning. Unless we reduce Biblical illiteracy, the Church has little hope of influencing culture or carrying out its mission to transform lives.
To accomplish our mission we must aid the Church in its mission; ABS must work through and with body of Christ. As believers we must be engaged with God’s Word so that together, we can engage others. I’m concerned for the rising generation of youth that every year shows a further a decline in Bible literacy. We see a growing discrepancy of principles between the generation following World War I (the Great Generation) and our rising (mosaic) generation. These conflicting principles make engaging the rising generation with God’s Word more difficult.
Q. How do you see the Bible Society’s role alongside other vibrant churches and Christian organizations?
Vest: We are privileged to work in a strong partnership with the Church — the body of Christ — in meeting Scripture needs. The need is ever growing, especially for engagement with the Bible. There are too many people worldwide who still don’t have access to Bibles. In this country, with so many immigrants, there remains the need for Bibles in many languages. ABS develops partnerships and programs to counter the lack of interest in reading the Scriptures and the lack of money to supply them.
In all of this, ABS works with and through body of Christ. Whatever the circumstances of need, we look to form strong partnerships with like-minded ministries — to develop a synergy of purpose and effectiveness.
Q. What do you see as the key work for you as you begin as the next president and CEO of the Bible Society?
Vest: The mission doesn’t change. Whether it’s in programs, publications, publicity or personnel, everyone at ABS is involved in the same mission—to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford. I am responsible to lead the whole organization toward achieving that goal. It’s all about global Scripture ministry — to get people engaged with God’s Word. That’s my life’s mission and passion.
ABS is a great organization, and I am increasingly aware of my duty to lead the good people who work here. I also am accountable to those who contribute to the Bible Society. As president I’m responsible to keep us on course — to increase and enhance a great mission. The very concept of being the CEO of the total organization is a much larger and far-reaching task.
Being president is not just part of my life; it’s what my whole life is about. Missions is not a career for me but a continuation of serving the one who is the God of all of my life.
Q. Has your broadened responsibility changed the way you pray?
Vest: Your question reminds me of a Sunday school teacher who was teaching young children about prayer. He asked his students to think about what they might ask God to do for them. One child yelled out, “Help God, Help!” I desperately need and pray for God’s help. And I ask friends to pray for me — to pray for His help and wisdom. I’m totally dependant on God’s help to get people involved and faithfully execute our mission.
I’ve watched ABS over the years; God has given me some insight. The best days for ABS are not in the past but in the future. But we are dependant on the prayers and support of Bible believers everywhere.
There are so many people who can’t or don’t read the Bible; there is so much work yet to be done.
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