CERC welcomes back Pr. Jerome Leng and his family
1 Mar 2020
After 4 years in seminary, Pr Jerome returns as CERC’s newest Pastor-in-Training with his family. He reflects on his time as an apprentice, seminarian and now as CERC’s youth pastor amongst other roles.
Pr. Jerome Leng was CERC’s first apprentice in Church Ministers’ Apprenticeship (CMA) back in 2010. Since then, CERC has had 13 apprentices with 27 more committed to doing the apprenticeship. CMA is a 2-year pastoral apprenticeship at CERC which seeks to train, test, and evaluate one’s suitability for full time paid ministry (FTPM). Upon successful completion of his apprenticeship, Jerome went on to pursue theological education with the support of the CERC Theological Education Fund at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), Louisville, Kentucky and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Biblical and Theological Studies, and a Master’s in Divinity (M.Div.). In January 2020, he and his family returned home to Malaysia to begin his new role as a Pastor-in-Training at CERC. 3 months into ministry back home, we sat down with Jerome to hear about his time back in SBTS and his reflections on his new roles in CERC.
Interviewer: Congratulations on graduating from SBTS, and on your new role as Pastor-in-Training at CERC! It’s been 4.5 years since you and Robyn have left for seminary, and we’re delighted and excited to welcome you back to Malaysia as you begin serving the church as a minister of God. This has been an almost 10-year preparation for a lifetime of ministry, so my first question is why did you decide to do FTPM?
Pr. Jerome: Thank you! We are thankful that God has brought us this far. Despite growing up in a Christian environment, I’ve always had unanswered questions about truth, God, and the Bible. Throughout those years as a teen, I talked to many pastors and ministers who could not help me with my questions, and that was a huge point of frustration for the longest time. When I met Pr. Robin, that was when he made clear to me the Gospel, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and how to read the Bible. Knowing that many Christians would probably be struggling the same way I did, I realized there was a dire need for faithful Word ministers to teach and preach in Malaysia. What spurred me on even more to pursue FTPM was realising that God had gifted me for Word ministry during the days of serving my university Christian fellowship. From then on, I had a very strong desire to do FTPM more than anything else, and when Pr. Robin asked if I wanted to be an apprentice here at CERC, I just couldn’t say no to that opportunity!
Interviewer: Well, we certainly are grateful that the Lord has called you to serve Him in this manner as Word ministry is most essential for the church’s health and growth. Let’s talk about the 4.5 years when you and your wife were in America. How was your time in Louisville, Kentucky, and in SBTS as a seminary student?
Pr. Jerome: It was a most eye-opening experience because we saw how God works among our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in America. We formed close relationships with many mature godly people in the Christian community there and we have been greatly encouraged to see their lives committed to godliness and truth. We have also seen how different ministry contexts can be in different countries. With seminary, I had the opportunity to be exposed to the academic Christian world which pushed me on multiple levels, showing me how much I had to learn, to pick up tools that would help me in ministry e.g. the original languages (Hebrew and Greek), and to interact with professors and fellow students who have studied the Bible deeply. Some may ask, “why go overseas for seminary? Can’t we just fly American preachers and professors here to teach us?” You see, we aren’t just asking for content as there exists an epistemological (how we arrive at knowledge or truth) and preaching gap between the preacher and the congregation – the context matters. That’s why it is more beneficial for Malaysians to learn from the Westerners in their context, and translate that to the Malaysian church. Part of the value of going overseas to study seminary is to learn from other Christians who are in a better position than us (eg. better resourced, longer history of biblical rootedness and faithful professors) and have gone way ahead of us. It is also learning to be contextual in all that we do when we’ve gone overseas, and not to become parochial in ministry.
Interviewer: So, I heard that a lot happened during your time in SBTS. You worked on campus, interned, and served at Clifton Baptist Church. On top of that, you were named recipient of the 2018 Clyde T. Francisco Preaching Award (which received a special mention by Albert Mohler on Instagram)! You and Robyn both had your firstborn son, Emmett, so you were both raising a child while Robyn also pursued her MA in Biblical Counselling (on top of her medical degree). And as if that wasn’t enough, you graduated with a 3.97 CGPA. My only question is, how?!
Pr. Jerome: It certainly wasn’t easy. Just to put it into perspective, each week I was doing 20 hours of work, 12 hours of classes, 25-35 hours of studying and doing homework, serving in church in different departments (usher, nursery care, pianist, ran ministry training classes for adults). I tried to give my family time on a daily basis, even if it’s just an hour or so. Night times were for family and studying. We tried to go out during the weekends, but mostly just for grocery shopping which was better than nothing!. At the end of the day, it’s really being intentional and making the best use of your time, which is my philosophy of time. People talk about having “balance” in our schedules, but to be honest, I don’t think balancing our time works. Rather, we should be centred on who we are, on what roles God has called us to, and focus on what we need to be doing in specific seasons of our lives. The preaching award was to remind seminary students of the value of preaching faithfully. It was a competition of sorts, where typically the final year students apply for it. My brothers at Clifton Baptist Church encouraged me to submit one of my sermons they heard me preach at a prayer service because they were greatly edified by it, so I didn’t really have to do something beyond my schedule to prepare it.
(You can watch Jerome’s sermon on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 which won the 2018 Clyde T. Francisco Preaching Award here)
Interviewer: How has all that helped to prepare for ministry here in CERC?
Pr. Jerome: My time in America helped prepare me for ministry in CERC by broadening my thinking, learning new skills (e.g. reading the bible in Hebrew and Greek), forming relationships with people, understanding Christianity as a culture there, and building bridges so our Malaysian churches can partner with American churches in the Gospel. It was also an introduction to good Christian resources which are so much more accessible in America. Connections to seminary professors are also something I value and see as a privilege. In fact I just emailed Tom Schreiner to ask him a question! So, in a nutshell, seminary not only expands your knowledge, it teaches you to speak and preach better, think more critically, and form relationships with people.
Interviewer: What are some roles or ministries you are involved in here in CERC?
Pr. Jerome: As a Pastor-in-Training, I’m largely involved in the word ministry of the church as a preacher and youth pastor, ensuring the quality of our small groups (Growth Groups), training and encouraging the Growth Group leaders, writing Growth Group studies, and training and preparing current apprentices for seminary. Church planting is also in the picture at some point. For the areas of work ministry, I’m involved in the MC and music team for Sunday gatherings, and I’m in an advisory role for our church’s fundraising team. Aside from all that, I’m also very much involved in the parachurch ministries that our church is active in.
Interviewer: You’ve been in this role for about 3 months now. What are some of the encouragements and challenges so far?
Pr. Jerome: It kinda feels like way more than 3 months! But I’ve definitely been greatly encouraged by the maturity shown by the congregation here in CERC. The people show that they are not just knowledgeable in the Word, they are also servant-hearted and wholly dedicated to God’s ministry. Working in a community of Christians like this makes me deeply grateful for my fellow brothers w mi ho are in this with me. As for challenges, to be honest, my family and I are still trying to settle down here. It hasn’t been easy, and my schedule has been intense. Preaching has been particularly challenging for me, as it is a huge task to deliver God’s Word to His people. Knowing that the Bible is God’s truth means that preachers such as myself have to speak it in a way that resonates deeply with the truth itself, and that takes a lot of effort. It definitely isn’t easy to be a minister of God and there have been some disheartening times, but that’s why I’m grateful for my fellow brothers who can help spur me on.
Interviewer: With the COVID-19 pandemic and Movement Control Order (MCO) in place by the Malaysian government here for 2 weeks now (and possibly longer), what has it been like preaching and doing ministry during this time?
Pr. Jerome: My schedule hasn’t changed that much, actually. We have just been forced to use technology to continue ministry. Of course, that does mean that we’re limited in our meetings and what we’re able to do, but I’ve still been able to meet students online and do Bible studies with them. The frustrating thing is that we don’t see each other in person, and it can get tiring staring at screens all day. We’re still constantly trying our best to figure out how to care for the people on the ground. For example, in youth ministry, instead of just producing entertainment, we want to produce good content with our online resources and also still be able to evangelise the youth. With the university students, we’re figuring out how best to do Bible studies online because the medium does affect what you teach in a way. So, we’re pretty much figuring things out on a daily basis. My wife, Robyn has had to learn to be a tech person and she was the one who recorded my Sunday sermon last week. I’m just grateful for her, and of course for technology in this trying time so that God’s ministry can carry on because it must.
Interviewer: In the face of COVID-19 and also in the long run, what is your hope for CERC and the churches in Malaysia?
Pr. Jerome: I hope that the church will not lose sight of the matters of importance, to continue to contend for the gospel, to fulfill the mission, and make disciples. COVID-19 isn’t a time when we can take a break from ministry! We must continue to get the gospel out in creative ways. I hope that the church will respond in love instead of fear because isolating ourselves from people can make us forget that Jesus has called us to love people, so we should be mindful of how we can love the body of Christ, and figure out ways to be merciful in caring for those who are suffering (both physically and economically). In the long run, I hope that churches in Malaysia will take the Word and truth of God seriously. There is a tendency for us to be distracted and tempted by “success” (e.g. producing bigger churches, appealing to society, etc.), but those aren’t the measures of success according to Scripture. The church must understand ecclesiology or what it means to be a people of God based on Scripture because the threat of individualism is looming over us. Today, there is an unhealthy lack of rootedness as we decide that we are free to travel whenever and wherever we like, with no commitment to our local church communities. That kind of lack of commitment is unhealthy because, at the end of the day, we must take truth seriously, and see that Jesus is worthy of our obedience.
Interviewer: As you undertake this role of Pastor-in-Training, how can we pray for you and your family?
Pr. Jerome: Please pray for me to become a man of God whose entire devotion is to Him, who won’t compromise the truth, and who will be dedicated to God in the ministry He has given me. Pray that I will work diligently and sacrificially, and to be wise about it as well. For my family, please pray that the Lord would strengthen their faith as they serve with me in ministry. Pray also for my son to be a Christian, and that my family will be outward in mindset, not insular, and that they will form strong relationships in church. People don’t know that being a ministry family is a lifestyle, a whole way of life, and it can put a lot of pressure on them when I’m busy with ministry. So, please do keep us in your prayers. Thanks!
You can also follow Pr. Jerome’s blog here for regular ministry updates.