Romans 10:14-17 “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
According to the Reverend Dr. James Oudom, "Presbyteries are looking for ways to grow Southeast Asian congregations." In response to this need, James founded the Southeast Asian Lay Training Program in 1993 to educate key leaders in basic Presbyterian doctrine and practices as prescribed for commissioned lay pastors in the Book of Order. For twenty-four years, Oudom has brought students to the Austin Seminary campus each summer for intensive course work with members of the Seminary faculty.
To earn the certificate, students take six core courses in Reformed theology, Presbyterian polity, worship and sacrament, biblical interpretation, teaching in the Reformed tradition, and Reformed preaching. Sometimes they also take other courses, such as pastoral care and mission and evangelism. According to Oudom, “Successful completion certifies that the graduate has received adequate education to carry out the duties of a lay commissioned pastor.”
Oudom notes that the absence of commissioned lay pastors has meant that some Southeast Asian congregations have not “celebrated the Holy Sacraments in their own language—often for several years.” Once they have begun the Southeast Asian Lay Training Program, students begin immediately to serve in these fellowships. In other words, “The Lay Training Certification Program is meant to speed, not slow, the commissioning process. Full partnership in ministry and worship is the goal.”
"Teaching for the Southeast Asian Lay Pastor Program is a joy," says Professor Jen Lord who led the "Presbyterian Worship" course this summer. "The pastor-students represent diverse ministry contexts and cultures, exude zeal for God, and treasure learning from the faculty of Austin Seminary. And their cooking and hospitality over meals is a remarkable sign of how every table points to The Table."
In 2003, the program expanded to other denominational groups as well. Participants in the program have included Laotians, Thais, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipinos, Singaporeans, Burmese, as well as African Americans and Caucasians. Among those who have graduated from the program and become commissioned lay pastors are four each in California and Texas; five in Nevada; two each in Iowa, Louisiana, and Minnesota; and one in Massachusetts; two serve in Thailand and one in the Philippines. Others serve as deacons and elders and church members—seminary-equipped lay people with a passion for and knowledge about church ministry.
“Thanks to Austin Seminary that opened the door to this program,” says Oudom. “This faculty has given an opportunity for lay leaders to come and be trained to serve the Lord effectively. As director of this program, this is my blessed volunteer ministry where I can serve the Lord. To God be the Glory! AMEN.”