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by Laura Livengood, Lancaster Mennonite Conference
Take a moment and meet two Study and Training for Effective Pastoral Ministry (STEP) students, both pastors currently working their way through the accredited part-time training program jointly operated by EMU and Lancaster Mennonite Conference.
The STEP curriculum is designed specifically for licensed pastoral ministers who do not have college, Bible school, or seminary training, and emphasizes immediate application in a congregation and in personal life. Students earn 10 undergraduate credits each of the three years in the program, which was launched in 2004.
Get to know two of STEP's best and brightest: John Meck and Kurt Hershey.
First-year STEP student John Meck is a natural for the program.
“I appreciate the wide diversity of topics and the practical, hands-on homework that's applicable to me and my congregation.”
Fay Landis, a member of Strasburg Mennonite, concurs.
“I see John becoming more confident and free in his sermons. He was always a naturally gifted pastor, but STEP provides a wonderful opportunity for leaders to continue their education without leaving the area. Students can immediately use many of the teachings and concepts in their congregations.”
In each class session, students focus on a specific area of personal formation. Meck notes the importance of this.
“The DiSC personality profile was very helpful in understanding myself and my natural responses. The personal formation topics have also created good and interesting discussions within my family!”
Learning from each other
Meck also stresses the importance of getting to know the other STEP participants and the dynamics of their church life experiences. (The opportunity for pastors and other leaders to learn together and from each other is often cited by students as a highlight of STEP.)
The program's Field Education requirement asks students to record the time they spend in specific areas of ministry and then discuss their experiences with their lead pastor or bishop. Meck finds that time spent with his lead pastor, Steve Weaver, is invaluable.
But, the most challenging aspect of participating in STEP seems to remain the time commitment.
“My family shares responsibilities throughout the week to allow time for my homework and monthly classes,” Meck says. “My teenage children even enjoy keeping me accountable with my homework!”
And it is a family affair.
“I had some reservations about adding another commitment to our family schedule,” Deb Meck admits when reflecting on her husband’s decision to take part in the program. “But many of the details have worked out better than I could have imagined."
Kurt Hershey, in his second year of the program, says STEP has helped him set healthy boundaries in various areas of ministry, to grow in his roles as preacher and teacher, and to care more effectively for his congregation.
“Kurt has always been a man of energy and enthusiasm. STEP is helping him to channel that energy and vision in practical areas of congregational life,” says David Gehman, lead pastor of Parksburg Mennonite.
A member of Hershey’s church, Karen Gunwaldsen, agrees.
“I think his involvement in STEP is great,” she says. “He has a lot to offer the church, yet he realizes his own need for guidance and growth.”
Time is of the essence
The monthly all-day class meetings are a highlight for Hershey.
“It's good to spend time with other pastors on a similar journey and who understand what I'm going through. Although class days are long, they are very beneficial.”
Time demands are his biggest challenge, though. “I was told that STEP work takes four to five hours a week, but I found it can take longer if I'm fully engaging the material. I have learned, though, that if I don’t want to burn-out, I have to limit the time I spend on assignments.”
Hershey feels blessed that his church allows him to count the time he spends on STEP work as church work. "Some months are extremely busy,” he adds, “and I get up early or stay up late to prepare for my next class.”
Many students are able to cover the cost of tuition with the help of their congregation, district, and/or various grants. In addition to that support, Hershey notes, “It is important for me to invest some of my own money into this educational opportunity because it is very valuable to me.”
What God is doing in me and through me
Spiritual formation is also an important piece of STEP, and part of each class session is spent experiencing and reflecting on it.
“This emphasis has benefited me – and therefore my congregation – the most,” says Hershey. “I have learned that I'm more effective as a person and a pastor if I know what God is doing in me and through me.”
“STEP is good for both of us,” wife Rachel notes, “because it often stirs interesting conversations that challenge both of us in our relationship with Jesus.”
Gehman says, “We strongly encourage involvement in STEP for other congregations who have an interest in developing leaders.”
More information on STEP is available from EMU at Lancaster, 1846 Charter Lane, Lancaster, PA 17605; phone: 866-EMU-LANC; e-mail: . Persons may also contact Karl Landis at Lancaster Mennonite Conference, 717-293-5246; e-mail .