Studying with ‘Christ for all of Life’ in mind
For Stephen Tan, the ‘short answer’ for his decision to study at Christ College was that he wanted to become a leader in the Presbyterian church.
“The long answer is that I went to one of the open nights and I heard the Principal Ian Smith talking,” Stephen shares.
Christ for all of life
Prior to his studies at Christ College, Stephen worked as a lawyer for eight years but always felt that his work was undervalued in Christian contexts.
As he listened to Ian Smith speaking at the open night, Ian began to talk about a part-time student they’d had at the college who was a divorce lawyer, and this immediately resonated with Stephen.
“Every lawyer knows that divorce law has to be one of the messiest and ugliest areas of law to work in. We’re talking about marriages disintegrating and fighting over the custody of children. And so Ian had said something to this divorce lawyer along the lines of, ‘I’m so glad we have Christians like you, working in that space, and bringing the light of the Gospel into a dark place. Christ for all of life’. And it was at that moment that I knew – this is the college where I want to study,” he shares.
Trained in leadership
Stephen enrolled in Christ College and studied a Master of Divinity and the Graduate Diploma of Divinity. He kept working as a lawyer while he started studying, and undertook his studies in a part-time capacity back in 2016. He continued to work and study part-time from 2016-2019, before quitting his job at the end of 2019 and doing his final years full time from 2020.
He finished his degree at the end of 2022 and now works as an Assistant Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church in Sydney. “What really stood out to me, on top of the ‘Christ for all of Life’ motto, were the leadership subjects. At that time it was called the Leadership Development Program. Any bible college worth its salt will train a good Bible preacher or good teacher. But all the statistics and the national church life surveys show that one of the areas where churches are the weakest is actually in the area of leadership,” he says.
“I remember sitting in the first subject ‘Frameworks for Christian Leadership’, and the topic we were talking about was politics and power in churches and how so many people who trained for pastoral ministry don’t really think about the politics and the power struggles that happen. And they wish it wasn’t part of the church, but it is because we’re all sinners and we don’t escape that. And so having this training in leadership was a real standout.”
Stephen says he found the college’s smaller size great because, as a relational person, he got to know everyone.
“I feel like I got to have meaningful conversations with everyone at some point during my time at college, including the staff and the lecturers,” he shared.
“The college community is quite tight knit and I think it’s like any church community or Christian community – you get out what you put in. Once I went full-time, I was quite involved and I loved it. It was great. I just felt so privileged to be doing this full-time with like-minded people who are really passionate about serving Jesus.”
Stephen particularly enjoyed the Wednesday community chapel services, community lunch and pastoral care groups. He says when studying part-time he tried to structure his week around this and chose classes that were on a Wednesday so he could be there.
Encouragements and hopes for the future
“I think the key for me was that college gave me the right footing and foundations to set me up as a Christian for lifelong learning and growing as a Christian. I have good foundations and a good framework that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life,” Stephen shares.
Stephen’s current role is with Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church in Sydney, which is one church with seven congregations, with specific oversight of the Rhodes congregation. In this role, he’s surrounded by sixother pastors, a great, supportive team and he gets to preach almost every week, which he’s found to be a “huge learning curve”.
“It’s the most exciting thing to be finally preaching every week and putting all those things I’ve learned to good use, but it’s also quite stressful and terrifying at the same time. I need to make sure I let the Word and the Gospel first do its work in me and convict me of my sin and my need for salvation and what that looks like to follow Jesus,” Stephen shared.
Stephen also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of further study.
“I think there are two things that I say when people ask me ‘why Christ College?’ – ‘Christ for all of life’ and the focus on leadership within the Church.”