What do I do to stay humble? When was the last time I served?
These words hung in the air at the end of a church service recently.
If you are thinking about where you can serve, consider Stephen Ministry.
A trained Stephen Minister brings comfort and healing to one person at a time in a completely confidential relationship. The minister meets the person weekly and spends about an hour listening, encouraging, asking helpful questions and praying. If this sounds like it might be a hard job, it is! That is why we do not depend on ourselves to help, but by simply being there, and listening, we allow God to bring healing. As the Stephen Minister sees the hurting person’s relief that comes from having a trusted person to confide in, as the person begins to feel stronger and find his/her own ways of coping, the minister finds that he/she has been helpful and been used by God. There is great joy in this.
Are you a good listener? Are you able to refrain from giving advice? Are you willing to commit to weekly meetings and twice monthly supervision meetings? Look for the Stephen Ministry table at Rally Day and find out more; or call the church and ask for a call about Stephen Ministry. We train new Stephen Ministers about every two or three years.
If you are hurting and would like to speak confidentially with someone outside your friends and family, please call the church and ask for a call about Stephen Ministry or email Pastor Jane Whitney with a phone number where you may be reached and appropriate time to call.
What does a Stephen Minister do?
A Stephen Minister gives one-to-one, lay Christian care.
- One-to-one: Stephen Ministers meet privately with one care receiver of the same gender.
- Lay: Stephen Ministers are trained and supervised lay volunteers, not professional counselors or therapists, pastors, or physicians.
- Stephen Ministers are not authorized to give legal, medical, financial, or any other advice, but Bible-based encouragement.
- Christian: Stephen Ministers are Christians who care in the name of Christ. They are willing to talk about spiritual issues but won’t force them
- Care: Stephen Ministers care by listening, supporting, encouraging, praying, being dependable and trustworthy and maintaining confidentiality in their caregiving.
What Is the Difference between a Stephen Ministry Relationship and a Friendship?
A Stephen Minister is different from a close friend, and it’s important to understand the distinction. In a time of grief or crisis, the care receiver benefits from the care of both a Stephen Minister and close friends. Stephen Ministers have a lot in common with close friends. You can depend on them; you can trust them; you know that they’ll keep confidential whatever you tell them. They’ll be there for you and help you through a rough time. But the Stephen Minister’s role is different from the role of a close friend.
A Stephen Ministry Relationship Isn’t a Mutual Relationship
Close friendships are mutual. Friends are there for each other; they share their good times and bad times and support each other. A Stephen Ministry relationship is one-sided. Stephen Ministers listen, reflect thoughts and feelings, and care. Stephen Ministers don’t share their own problems with the care receiver as a friend might. They focus only on the care receiver’s issues, and they bring in their own experience only when they sense that they might be able to shed some light on the care receiver’s situation. But such sharing is rare and always geared toward the care receiver’s needs, not the Stephen Minister’s.
A Stephen Ministry Relationship Is Intentional
The relationship has been established for a reason–so that the Stephen Minister can walk with the care receiver through a difficult time. The Stephen Minister knows this, and the care receiver knows this. So when the Stephen Minister arrives at the care receiver’s home (perhaps after just a little bit of small talk), the two can dive right into deep emotional or spiritual issues. The Stephen Minister knows he or she “has permission” to ask questions about difficult experiences. Likewise, the care receiver knows he or she “has permission” to share painful feelings. The relationship has been established with a clear purpose in mind.
A Stephen Ministry Relationship Is More Objective
Friends often aren’t very objective. If someone’s hurting, a good friend usually hurts with that person. Friends often take the person’s part even if they might not feel that way if the situation were a little different. Their friendship might cloud their judgment at times. A Stephen Minister certainly empathizes, but he or she needs to stay more objective than a friend. It’s up to the Stephen Minister to keep from “jumping into the mudhole” with the care receiver. By maintaining objectivity, the Stephen Minister can provide balance and perspective that a friend might not. He or she can, for instance, gently probe a care receiver’s idea in such a way that the person might rethink what he or she just said. This isn’t to say that Stephen Ministers aren’t sympathetic, even empathetic. They hurt with their care receivers too! They may hug them, cry with them, even at times be angry along with them. But if they’re going to help the care receivers, they need to maintain boundaries that will help them move beyond those feelings and help the care receiver find a way beyond them, too.
A Stephen Ministry Relationship Is More Formal
Stephen Ministers go through 50 hours of training, regular continuing education, and twice-monthly small group peer supervision. They are trained caregivers–very highly trained caregivers. They have skills in active listening, dealing with feelings, Christian caregiving, setting boundaries, relating assertively, process-oriented caring, crisis intervention, and ministering in a wide range of situations. Their care isn’t casual, as a friend’s might be. Stephen Ministers maintain boundaries that friends don’t–which is why Stephen Ministers are able to help in ways that friends may not. They focus on the process of caring without trying to “fix things” or pushing for results, as well-meaning friends so often do. They empathize without getting tangled up in the person’s feelings. They listen in ways that let the care receiver find his or her own solutions. They may listen to the same story sixteen times and be willing to listen for the seventeenth as well. Stephen Ministers regularly evaluate the caring relationships–in supervision and on their own–always with the goal of providing the best care they possibly can provide for the care receiver. Their caring is a ministry. The Stephen Minister is there as long as the care receiver needs care.
Stephen Ministers Provide Distinctively Christian Care
Most importantly, Stephen Ministers rely on God to direct their actions and help them as they care for their care receivers. Stephen Ministers pray for their care receivers and may pray with them when they welcome prayer. Stephen Ministry care is based on grace; Stephen Ministers strive to be the face of Christ to their care receivers. Friendships may have a spiritual perspective, but Stephen Ministry relationships always do. The Stephen Minister is always sensitive to the care receiver’s needs in this aspect, never forcing prayers or Bible verses into the relationship. But Stephen Ministers often focus on spiritual as well as emotional and psychological hurts as they minister to their care receivers.
Stephen Ministry Relationships End
Friendships can be forever. Stephen Ministry relationships aren’t. The time will come when the care receiver no longer needs a Stephen Minister, and the relationship will close. Of course, once the Stephen Ministry relationship is over, the relationship between the Stephen Minister and care receiver may blossom into a friendship. But when a person is going through a rough time, he or she will benefit from the focused care of a Stephen Minister–in addition to the care of his or her loyal friends.
Stephen Ministers keep personal information confidential. Therefore, you can feel free to share with your Stephen Minister without worrying that everyone else will know about it. There are rare occasions when a Stephen Minister must share confidential information in order to save a life. Those occasions are suicide, homicide, or abuse.
Small Group Peer Supervision
Stephen Ministers meet twice a month in small groups to give and receive peer supervision, which is necessary to help them provide quality care and grow as caregivers. In supervision, Stephen Ministers talk about their caring relationships and their own feelings about caregiving. They may share small amounts of information about their care receivers, but they never tell the care receiver’s name and they do not share information that would reveal the care receiver’s identity. Stephen Ministers may also receive individual supervision from a Stephen Leader or pastor, but the same rules apply.