This week I take a break from my weekly, pericope-guided devotions to focus on one important ministry of our church that often goes unnoticed: Stephen Ministry.
“What’s a ‘Stephen Ministry’?” You wonder. The short answer is this: “Stephen Ministry is one-to-one lay caring ministry that takes place in congregations that use the Stephen Series system. Stephen Ministry congregations equip and empower lay caregivers—called Stephen Ministers—to provide high quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting.” (From the Stephen Ministry website; click here to discover more)
Stephen Ministry at Trinity Lutheran Church started, through a generous grant in loving memory of husband John, by Mrs. Marilyn Baggett, in 2015. When we first “activated” our church as a Stephen Ministry congregation, we discovered that God had already given us two Stephen Leaders and five Stephen Ministers (trained elsewhere) who were church members at that time. Though three of those folks have since moved from our area and one has “retired” from Stephen Ministry, by God’s grace we have since trained 11 more Stephen Ministers, five Stephen Ministry Group Supervision Facilitators, and graduated two Stephen Ministry Leaders. God has allowed us to provide care to 21 care receivers in the following areas: end of life (2), age-related issues (2), grief (3), family relationships (6), miscellaneous life issues (4), and health-related challenges (4). Eight active Stephen Ministers (Juli Blanke, Therese Milcetich, Sharon Persaud, Dawn Pipkin, Vicky Sandvig, Aaron Schoolcraft, Scott Strickland, and Mary Jane Swift) are currently serving the needs of five care receivers. Susan Thompson and myself are privileged to serve as Stephen Ministry Leaders.
The work of Stephen Ministry continues “invisibly.” Because your Stephen Ministers maintain confidentiality regarding the people they serve, it is naturally difficult to know what is going on and who is being benefited by the many hours they devote to what they do. Even those who are not working directly with care receivers dedicate several hours each month to continuing education and a kind of peer review process called “group supervision” that provides necessary quality control and guidance for their efforts. I am personally benefited, as sole pastor of a church that has an active and engaged Stephen Ministry program, to have trained care-givers on the front lines of caring ministry who assist me in work that would be difficult (and, indeed, impossible) for one person to accomplish alone.
This Sunday we celebrate all that God has empowered us to do to serve one another through the Good News of Jesus Christ, “the power of salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). One important part of that service is Stephen Ministry. Would you or someone you love benefit from this service? Our care receivers don’t often realize it, but they actually serve us by allowing us to live out our calling as members of the Body of Christ for each other! Might God be leading you to be a blessing to another person by becoming a Stephen Minister yourself? We are always looking for people to welcome into this rewarding work…and a new class to train our newest Stephen Ministers will be underway soon. Whether or not you or someone you love chooses to receive care—and whether or not you choose to become a Stephen Minister yourself—please join me in offering up prayers of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us through Christ…and the fruit that Jesus continues to bear through us for those in need.