Dear Jesus, we come together to learn how we, as individuals and as a congregation, can better bear one another ‘s burdens.” Grant us courage to care and be cared for, and provide us with insight on how Stephen Ministry can make St. Mark’s a more caring community. Bless our time together. In your name we pray. Amen.
The words “one another” and “each other” are used over 50 times in the New Testament. What this tells us is that God did not create us to be independent. He created us to be interdependent. We are made in his own image—to be loving, caring, forgiving. He created us to need one another. “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
Also note that these passages do not simply say “bear other’s burdens” or “love others.” The “one another” and “each other” phrase gives them a reciprocal meaning: I will bear your burdens, and you will bear mine. In this sense, an openness to Christian caring is not just being willing to care for and help others. It is also being willing to be cared for and be helped by others. For many that part can be much more difficult.
Stephen Ministry is a system of caring ministry we have here at St. Mark’s. In it, Stephen Ministers, specially trained congregation members, provide one-to-one Christian care to people who are experiencing a life challenge or crisis.
St. Mark’s Church has had Stephen Ministers since 1997. In that time several dozen committed persons have been trained and have served; 8 people are actively serving. Active Stephen Ministers as of March 2017 are Lou DeSeau, Kathy Eshelman, Gladys Knauss, Catherine Lundy, Connie Shaible, Barb Thomas, Matt Fortin and Ed Barone.
As a Stephen Ministry congregation, we’re proud of something big. There are over 7,000 Stephen Ministry congregations from over 90 denominations worldwide, Over a quarter-million lay people have been trained as Stephen Ministers. Stephen Ministry was developed in 1975 by Dr. Kenneth Haugk, a pastor and clinical psychologist. who saw that he alone as pastor could not provide all the caring ministry needs in his congregation. So he began training lay persons, called Stephen Ministers, to help provide high quality Christian care. The ministry was so successful that other churches became interested and Dr. Haugk founded the not-for-profit Stephen Ministries organization.
Kathy Eshelman, who directs our Stephen Ministry in the congregation, was trained at a seven-day Leader’s Training Course taught by the faculty of the Stephen Ministries organization. Our Stephen Leader recruits, selects, and trains members of our congregation to be Stephen Ministers. Stephen Ministers receive 50 hours of training in Christian care giving skills. This training involved general topics like listening skills, feelings, assertiveness, and boundaries, and specialized topics like using prayer and other Christian resources or how to minister to someone experiencing grief, divorce, a terminal illness, and more.
Upon completion of their training, we commission our Stephen Ministers in our worship services. This is a way for our whole congregation to recognize that we are sending out these trained caregivers to provide one-on-one Christian care on our behalf to people in need. By commissioning our Stephen Ministers in a worship service, we are all recognizing that Stephen Ministry belongs to all of us—-everyone at St. Mark’s. It is our ministry and a way we as a congregation care for the needs of people in our congregation and community.
Our Stephen Leader pairs up each Stephen Minister with a member of the congregation or community who needs care. To whom are Stephen Ministers trained to provide care? They care for people experiencing divorce, the death of a loved one, hospitalization, loss of a job, a terminal illness, a relocation, the birth of a child, an empty nest, the transition into retirement, loneliness, a spiritual crisis—the list goes on and on. Many of these needs might otherwise go unnoticed or slip through the cracks because we would have lacked the staff to meet them. With Stephen Ministry, we have a team of well-trained Christian caregivers who can provide care in these situations.
Stephen Ministers have one care receiver at a time. They meet with that person in a private, one-to-one, confidential setting for about an hour a week but may touch base on the phone once or twice a week. Here is where we want to underscore one of the key points of Stephen Ministry: It is a confidential ministry. The only people who know the identity of a care receiver are that care receiver him or herself, his or her Stephen Minister, and the pastor or Stephen Leader who linked the two together. Nobody else knows—not even the other Stephen Ministers or Stephen Leader. This way, care receivers can feel assured that anything they tell their Stephen Minister will remain confidential.
Stephen Ministers and Stephen Leaders get together twice a month for continuing education and supervision. Continuing education is a way for Stephen Ministers to be always learning, growing, and enhancing their caregiving ability. Supervision, meanwhile, allows Stephen Ministers to guide and support one another in their ministry— and provide the best care possible to their care receivers. Confidentiality, again, is a major emphasis of supervision. Names are never mentioned and details about the care receiver are never discussed. The focus of supervision in not what is going on in the care receiver’s life—it is on the relationship between the Stephen Minister and the care receiver. This way. care receivers can feel assured that no one will know they are receiving care from a Stephen Minister and that anything they tell their Stephen Minister will remain confidential.
These are the basic concepts of Stephen Ministry. it is important to note that Stephen Ministry is an ongoing ministry. More people may attend a Leader’s Training Course to be trained as Stephen Leaders to replace existing ones to expand the team. More Stephen Ministers are trained as needed. As one caring relationship ends, Stephen Ministers are given a new assignment, so caregiving goes on and on and Stephen Ministry becomes a permanent fixture in our congregation.
Why do we have Stephen Ministry? People sometimes may ask or think, why do we need Stephen Ministers— don’t we have pastors to provide caring ministry? Our pastors are like firefighters—-when a crisis happens, they rush to the scene to put out the fire. But shortly after that, another fire will break - out in our congregation, and they’ll rush to that scene.
They still will provide care to the victims of the first fire, but their time quickly becomes consumed by the second, third, and fourth fires. This is on top of their other duties as pastors.
This is where Stephen Ministers come in. The pastors will always be our firefighters, but Stephen Ministers are people who come in after the fire is put out (and sometimes before) and help the victims sort through and clear the debris arid begin to rebuild. Stephen Ministers continue to give care as long as needed during the rebuilding process—one month, two months, six months, possibly a year or more. They provide the steady, consistent one-to-one follow up care that our pastors want to, but simply cannot provide.
We Are All Called to Care
We have Stephen Ministry because God calls every one of us to love and care for one another. Remember the story Jesus told in Matthew 25, when the people asked, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you or naked and cloth you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” Jesus wasn’t telling that story only to pastors; he was speaking to all of us.
Putting Spiritual Gifts to Use
The Holy Spirit has blessed us all with gifts for ministry. Stephen Ministry provides a place where those who have the gifts for caring ministry can put them to use in a meaningful way.
The Needs are There
Why did Sir Edmund Hillary climb Mount Everest? Because it was there. Why do we have a caring ministry to meet people’s needs? Because the needs are there. Sometimes the needs are quiet and can go unnoticed. Sometimes people think, “My need isn’t important enough—I’ll go it alone.” Or we want to look the other way just as the three men did who preceded the Samaritan on the road to Jericho. The needs are there—people’s hearts are wounded, their lives broken. They are in need of Christ’s love and healing. Stephen Ministry helps our church meet the many needs that are out there.
Reaching Out With Christ’s Love
Stephen Ministry can be a wonderful outreach of Christ’s love both our own members and to the community. In the second chapter of his epistle, James tells us, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” He says we need to be “doers of the Word, not just hearers.” Just talking about loving and caring for one another doesn’t automatically make us a loving and caring congregation. We need to be doers! Stephen Ministry is a wonderful way to be doers of the Gospel. We can knock on the door of an unchurched person and say, “Jesus loves you,” and they might listen. But if we meet their needs for care during a difficult time in their life and let them experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness working through a Stephen Minister, they will listen.
Fulfills the mission of Our Congregation
Stephen Ministry also fits in with the mission of our congregation. The basic objective of our Social Ministry Committee states that its purpose is to proclaim Jesus Christ to each other and to all the world by providing the opportunities to share God’s love. To this end the Committee will address social needs by leading the congregation in extending Christian compassion and helpfulness to the iii, aged, orphaned, and persons of all ages in need.
Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission
One final reason for Stephen Ministry. Jesus gave us his Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39) and his Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Stephen Ministry is one tangible way we can fulfill Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission.
Who benefits from Stephen Ministry?
The Person Receiving Care
Who benefits from Stephen Ministry? The most obvious answer is the person who receives care. He or she no longer has to walk alone through life’s struggles. A Stephen Minister walks alongside this person for as long as he or she needs care, bringing Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance to this person. Care receivers often reflect on how close they have grown to Jesus because of the care they received from a Stephen Minister during a time of crisis.
Our pastor also benefits from Stephen Ministry. Stephen Ministry was begun by a pastor who realized that he could not meet all needs for care by himself and needed a way to keep people from slipping through the cracks. Stephen Ministry gives pastors a way to make sure people get the care they need. Pastors can know with confidence that people in need are receiving quality Christian care, for as long as they need it, from a Stephen Minister.
Pastors also benefit from being equippers as well as ministers. Stephen Ministry helps pastors fulfill their calling to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 NRSV) by giving them the means to equip and organize lay people for caring ministry needs. They are part of a community of caregivers. That community also can minister to, support, and care for the pastor in his or her time of need.
Stephen Ministers and Stephen Leaders
The Stephen Ministers and Stephen Leaders benefit. Although they participate in this ministry out of a desire to serve and care for others, they encounter tremendous growth themselves. Because of the confidentiality they cannot tell you who their care receivers were or what happened, but they can tell you how much they have grown, personally and spiritually, be seeing Jesus work through them to change the life of another person.
The entire congregation benefits from Stephen Ministry. People no longer slip through the cracks. People feel cared for in their time of need. There is a ripple effect to Stephen Ministry. Many Stephen Ministers are also active in Sunday school, on church boards and committees, in Bible studies and small groups, in fellowship groups, social events, vacation Bible school, and more. They find themselves using their enhanced caring ministry skills on everyone with whom they relate or interact.
The congregation benefits because fewer people slip through the crack. Where caring needs surface, Stephen Ministry provides a way to fill those needs. Our congregation becomes a more caring community where people know their needs will be met.
Even if you never become a Stephen Minister or a care receiver, you also benefit for a couple of reasons. Probably every one of us has known someone who has faced a difficult crisis—perhaps a neighbor, a coworker, a friend, or a relative. We may have wanted to help somehow but didn’t know how beyond saying, “I’m praying for you,” or sending them a card. Sometimes we might even have avoided that person because we weren’t sure what to say or how to help. Stephen Ministry now gives you a place where you can connect those people to receive Jesus’ love and care when they need it most. You can pull that person aside and lovingly say, “I know you’ve been going through a rough time lately. Let me tell you about a ministry at our church that provides one-to-one Christian care to people going through tough times.” You can put them in touch with a pastor or Stephen Minister who can take the next step and, if appropriate, match them with a Stephen Minister. No longer do you not know what to say or do.
You also benefit from what you might call the safety net analogy. Suppose you were a tight-rope walker crossing the high wire 100 feet above the ground. Would you fell more secure or less if you had a safety net beneath you? Being in a Stephen Ministry congregation is like having a great safety net beneath you. Even if you never use it, it is comforting for you to know that the safety net is there to catch you in the event that you should lose your balance—and to know it is also there to catch your loved ones as well.
Last of all, the church benefits. By church, I mean more than just our congregation. The church as a whole benefits because more people experience Christ’s love in a significant way, are called to Christ, and grow in faith. They become better disciples and thus are better able to reach out with Jesus’ love to still others who may be outside the church.