How is it like to live as a engineer by day, and a part-time theological student and cell group leader by night?
Steven Toon is my ex-student from my first year teaching in Anderson Junior College (AJC). He is now 31 years old, works at Seagate as a process engineer. He is also studying part-time at BGST for his Master in Divinity programme, as well as serving as a cell group leader in his church. I was curious to know what drives him behind all his endeavors, and was thrilled to meet this energetic young man over brunch at the Ang Mo Kio Library café for catch up cum interview on a Saturday morning.
After catching up with each other about our latest happenings, I dived right in.
On finding one’s calling
Marcus: So, at this point in time – what do you see as your calling in life?
Steven: I would see my calling, at this point in time, to be to work for human flourishing at my workplace (Seagate), while doing my postgraduate theological studies part-time for my MDiv, in order to serve God in a full-time capacity in the future.
Marcus: That’s a really noble goal! How do you arrive at this calling? Were you as fervent for God as you are now when you were in junior college?
Steven: (laughs) Well, I guess you could remember, in AJC I was more distracted, doing so many things everywhere. Those 2 years were kinda like my transient period. During that time, I was also attending church since 14. But it wasn’t because of Jesus – it was more like for friends, community, etc. Those were my growing up years. I was about 25, 26 when I graduated from university. At the same time, I was also completing a 7-month Bible training at my church. I started working as a process engineer in Seagate in January 2015 after that course.
Marcus: Was becoming an engineer your Plan A all along?
Steven: Not really. Although I was an engineering graduate, my original dream was to get into business school. But I couldn’t get in because of my A-level results. So, in the first year when I started out as an engineer, I also signed up for a part-time diploma in business at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. I would work in the day and attending classes at night.
Marcus: I guess that habit of part-time study started back then!
Steven: Yes! I was quite an avid learner. I simply love to learn new things.
Marcus: I remember you as an inquisitive student back in JC.
Steven: Haha, I haven’t changed a bit. Although truth be told, my new job as a process engineer was a steep learning curve, as there was a lot of things to learn. But after one year, I’m more or less settled in my job. And I realize that one doesn’t get exposed to new things as frequently and as intensely in a manufacturing environment as when one was in school.
Marcus: You crave for the kind of intellectual stimulation in a classroom.
Steven: Yes. So I started to look for courses to attend, besides doing my business diploma. I figured that the cheapest way to learn was to read extensively, since I was still paying back my tuition fee.
I would see my calling, at this point in time, to be to work for human flourishing at my workplace (Seagate), while doing my postgraduate theological studies part-time for my MDiv, in order to serve God in a full-time capacity in the future.Steven Toon
On the role of reading
Marcus: You’re certainly an avid reader. I could tell from the postings and insights on your Facebook! What kind of books were you reading back then?
Steven: At first I started with secular self-help books, then I also picked up Christian books. My reading ratio at that time was about 70% secular and 30% Christian books. But the Christian books I picked up at that time weren’t really deep and may not be very Christ-and-gospel-centered.
Later, I found out about the resources from The Gospel Coalition, and began to read solid writers who had a really deep theological grasp of the Bible. The authorship of the books I read started to shift. I stopped reading the shallower books and moved on to solid food, so to speak. It was a slow process, and honestly, a rather lonely journey for me, as few around me were reading the books I was reading. But I began to discover and relish the theological depth and spiritual wisdom of these authors.
Marcus: Interesting. Was there any writer or book that particularly struck you at that time?
Steven: Eugene Peterson! His love for God, which includes His Word – the Bible, and his love for people as a pastor is inspiring and positively provoking. His books and writings never fail to help me understand Jesus and His Church better. A. W. Tozer is another pastor and author who admonished me to pursue God above all else. I would also add that Timothy Keller’s books which are relatively easy to understand also brought me deeper into my walk with God.
Marcus: Wow! Yes, I know all the authors. Peterson always communicates truth in new and refreshing ways. Tozer writes with a deep fear of God. And Tim Keller is a personal favorite of mine too!
On theological training
Marcus: I’m sure that season of reading prompts you to have a deeper desire to be trained theologically?
Steven: Yes, so quite soon I started my studies at BGST. I found this impetus to help the people I know in church to grow in the Word. There was a myriad of people and events that led me to where I am in today. You see, after some time I realize that my church teaching was actually quite “shallow” and with that I mean the needs of men are somehow overshadowing the primacy and glory of God in Christ, and at the same time I am drawn to knowing the Lord and His Word better. I really want to learn how to read and study the Bible for the glory of God and not take verses out of its biblical context and thus making God say or mean things He didn’t say or mean. I would also want to equip myself biblically and theologically so that I can be a better witness for Jesus.
Marcus: So you feel that you have received a call to full time ministry?
Marcus: How was it like?
Steven: Well, it starts with the deep burden to want to help my church people, especially my cell group mates, to learn the Word of God rightly. Then there were people who came up to me and said, “I think you are very good at teaching the Bible.” And my desire for the Word deepens as I take on the courses at BGST. I am still clarifying this call.
I enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies, in view of progressing also to the Masters of Divinity (MDiv) programme at BGST, and have met many wonderful lecturers. I hope to talk to them towards the end of my programme, and seek their advice as to how I can pursue this full-time calling, based on what they know about me and my attitude towards my theological studies.
Marcus: What are some of the BGST courses you are studying now?
Steven: I am taking quite a number of courses in biblical and also interdisciplinary studies, including the biblical language of Biblical Hebrew. I believe that, in order for me to contribute to the conversation at my church, I must make sure that my understanding of the Bible is theologically sound and biblically accurate. In short, I want to make sure I really understand what the biblical authors are saying, and to rightly divide the Word of God.
…I must make sure that my understanding of the Bible is theologically sound and biblically accurate. In short, I want to make sure I really understand what the biblical authors are saying, and to rightly divide the Word of God.Steven Toon
If my life circumstances allow, I want to do a Masters in Theology as part of my ongoing learning and growth in knowing God through His Word, the Bible. I am open to the Lord, to go wherever He wants me to serve.
Marcus: Excellent. And in the meantime?
Steven: As I’m still doing MDiv for the next 4 years, I will be in my job in the meantime. But already, the way I see my current career is very different. I am no longer climbing the corporate ladder for the sake of worldly prestige and success.
On thinking theologically about work as an engineer
Marcus: What’s your work like? How does your theological studies influence the way you approach your work?
Steven: I am a process engineer. I oversee a particular section of the manufacturing chain. There are also some of the other job specifications I do as an employee of Seagate. I find that these are actually more ‘me’ than engineering. For example, I am a Seagate ambassador and I perform the role in terms of internal and external relations. I’m currently also the Chairman of the Seagate Young Professionals chapter in Singapore. So God has been opening doors for me to interact more with people.
My objective in my current job is, I want to make the workplace more human – and Jesus Christ is the only perfect human being i.e. He is the ideal and goal. Specifically, I want to bring Christlike humanity to the workplace I am in. This is how I want to live counterculturally to how the corporate culture around me operates. I find that when people work for money, they tend to see other people in utilitarian terms, and their competitors as threats. I don’t want that. I want to live counterculturally. I believe this is what it means to live as salt and light. As Christians in a secular workplace, our security is in Christ. We don’t worship our career advancement or job security or any accomplishments. There are people who live like that, always worried about losing favor with their boss, or losing their jobs. This results in insecurity and fear. We have nothing to lose. So we can value our colleagues and even our competitors as fellow human beings, with intrinsic dignity and worth. And we can love them by serving them. Even when I speak with people who are way higher up than me, I don’t have to fear or succumb to bootlicking. My conscience is clear.
I want to make the workplace more human… Specifically, I want to bring Christlike humanity to the workplace I am in.Steven Toon
This is the kind of legacy I want to leave at my workplace, should I step into full-time ministry one day. The kind of counter-cultural life that shows others that there is a different way to live. That we don’t have to live in fear and insecurity, but with the confidence that we are perfectly secure in Christ.
On church ministry as cell group leader
Marcus: That’s really encouraging to hear. Let’s talk about your current role as a cell group leader. How do you manage your time between your work, your studies, and leading a cell group? What motivates you?
Steven: Time management, I would say, is simply an outworking of our priorities. We cannot do any and everything. In short, if God is my first and foremost priority, my family and loved ones are also my priorities, followed by cell group ministry, work, and studies, I need to say “No” to basically everything else [laughs]. It is not about the quantity of stuff that I do, but rather, how God wants me to serve Him and His people in these areas of my life. He wants me to go in a particular direction as much as He wants me to be faithful to Him i.e., stewardship of relationships, time, and other resources and gifts. In all these things, my motivation is to bear witness to Jesus and bring Him glory. It would take more than mere words and deeds. It would take a life totally transformed and lived. On a last and particularly important note, our own daily quiet time i.e., walk with God in Word and Prayer, is really important!
Parting advice: how to find your calling?
Marcus: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. As a last question: what advice would you give someone who’s seeking his/her calling in life?
Steven: First, know God through His Word, the Bible! Among many things, the Bible is our guide in life. To be well-versed with the Bible is to know God’s heart, character, will, thoughts toward us. Only with that, can we know whether we are in the right direction or not.
To be well-versed with the Bible is to know God’s heart, character, will, thoughts toward us. Only with that, can we know whether we are in the right direction or not.Steven Toon
Second, pray and seek the Lord to guide, provide and clarify the “calling” including through people and experiences in life.
Third, start serving in areas related to whichever “calling” and especially giftings that God has given us! Our calling is very often related to the gifts and talents that God has graciously given us to steward.
Last, but not the least, be a part of a community of Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians who will encourage you truthfully and lovingly along the way. Christians pursue God and live for Him in community, not in isolation.
Marcus: Thank you so much, Steven!
This post is part of a ‘Interviews’ column, in which I share conversations and interviews with Christians working out their faith and calling in the workplace and church ministry. Let me know if this post has encouraged you in any way, or drop a comment below so I can improve. I really appreciate your feedback on this.