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by Laura Lehman Amstutz
PHILADELPHIA/LANCASTER, Pa. - Tuyen Nguyen is a research chemist and a pastor, but he says that when he's doing God's work, his own work goes better.
Nguyen became the leader of Vietnamese Mennonite Church in Philadelphia three years ago. The congregation had been experiencing a pastoral transition for two years, searching for someone from beyond the congregation for leadership. Finally, the search committee asked him if he'd be willing to lead the church, just for one year.
"I asked the Lord for direction, said Nguyen. "and I asked the committee to vote. They came back with a 100% vote and I thought, 'this must be what the Lord wants me to do.'"
Still unsure, Nguyen later asked the congregation to take a second vote; that response also came back 100%.
"From there I felt like I had no choice. God was calling me," he continued. "I was licensed toward ordination in the Lancaster Mennonite conference a year ago."
Since Nguyen has been leading the church, they have begun an English speaking service and several new Bible studies and prayer meetings. During the pastoral transition, attendance had dropped to 30 people in a Vietnamese-language service. Now, the church has 80 people in its Vietnamese service, 30 in an English service and is starting a daughter church.
Nguyen has been looking for leaders in his congregation. Last year he found one young man who he felt had leadership potential. As he searched for ways to train this man in leadership, he discovered the Study and Training for Effective Pastoral Ministry (STEP) program at EMU Lancaster.
The STEP program is intended to train leaders for congregational ministry.
It meets on Saturdays once a month for three years. Students receive a certificate in pastoral ministry upon successful completion of the program.
"I knew we needed training for young leaders and older leaders in the congregation, in both English and Vietnamese," said Nguyen. "When I found this young man, I thought STEP would be perfect for him."
With a doctorate in chemistry, Nguyen felt he didn't need another degree, but he wanted to mentor and walk with this young man. So they signed up for the STEP program together.
"STEP is excellent for training leaders," Nguyen said, "It has helped me deal with issues in the congregation, and the spiritual formation aspect has been excellent."
"We both look forward to that Saturday each month when we can talk and listen to our friends," he continued. "We learn from each other's experiences in congregations."
Two more leaders from Nguyen's congregation started the STEP program this year, and two more will begin next year.
"I recommend the STEP program to anyone," he said, "It helps current pastors see things to improve on their own ministry, and it has been excellent training for new leaders in my congregation."