How Do You Become a Stephen Minister?
Entrance to Emergency Room at Twin Cities Hospital in Templeton, CA
What Does a Stephen Minister Do?
To put it simply, a Stephen Minister is a Christian who has been through official training under the auspices of his her church to learn how to walk alongside a person going through a normally temporary crisis and be there for him or her. That's my definition. It didn't come out of any official manuals. None of what I will say in this series comes from any official Stephen Ministry channel or publication. It comes from what I learned in my training and through my personal experience.
After a person who believes she is called to this ministry has been accepted into training and finishes that training, she becomes available to a person in need of her services as determined by those leading the Stephen Ministry program in her church. Someone from the leadership will call on the person who needs the Stephen Minister to make sure that their situation is one where having a Stephen Minister will be appropriate. Then the leader will call an available Stephen minister and, after letting the Stephen Minister know some of the details, will assign that Stephen Minister to this care receiver if she is willing.
The call might come right after a person (who might have no family locally) has been taken to an emergency room and needs someone there for her. It might come when a member of the congregation is suddenly bereaved or divorced or has been diagnosed with a terminal or chronic disease. It can be any crisis to which adjustment is normally temporary and can be walked through within two years, the term for which a Stephan Minister is normally assigned to one care receiver.
Does your church make this ministry available to people?
Does your church have an active Stephen Ministry?
Why I Became a Stephen Minister
I was looking for a way to serve in my church that was compatible with my age, my current life situation, and my spiritual gifts. I have a lot of empathy for people who are suffering emotionally, and I have a lot of experience with bereavement and grief issues. I also have dealt with personal losses. I was hoping some of these experiences would help me bring comfort to others who might be experiencing these tough times. It's something that comes naturally to me, but since I am self-employed and rarely see anyone besides my husband, I don't come across people I know are hurting in my daily encounters. I believed that by becoming a Stephen Minister, I would be matched with someone I might be able to help and also would receive training to make me better able to help. So I signed up for training and was accepted into the Stephen Minister program.
I received my first care receiver in January 2010. Although my commitment as a Stephen Minister is for two years, the Stephen Ministry at our church ended at the end of December 2010. I was the only remaining Stephen Minister who still had a care receiver. Our Stephen leader had changed churches, and I was alone, with no further official help. I had to tell my care receiver that I would be her friend, but I was no longer her official Stephen Minister. So, for the past three months, that's how it's been.
What Is Stephen Ministry Training Like?
If you are thinking of becoming a Stephen Minister at your church, here are some things you should know. Stephen Ministries is an international organization to administer and assist distinctively Christian caregiving. It controls every aspect of the training so that it is uniform from state to state and even from country to country. When you become a Stephen Leader or Stephen Minister, you are, in effect, becoming a small part of a very large organization, and if you don't like conforming to official procedures, you will often be frustrated, especially during training.
Every local church ministry uses the same training manuals and reads the same materials. Every Stephen Leader will also use official training materials and is not supposed to depart from them. Members of my training class were all pretty experienced in ministering to people. Some of the exercises we had to go through were aimed at absolute beginners and for our group were almost a waste of time. It sometimes felt as though we had come to a creative writing class and they first had to teach us the alphabet and the Dolch list of sight words before letting us actually start writing. There was not a person in training who had not weathered a lot of personal storms. There was not a new Christian in the bunch.
That's not to say that the training was not useful. It's just that it would have been more valuable if we had been allowed to spend more time at the secondary than at the elementary level of our discussions and training instead of following every part of the manual outline and exercises. I realize that some training classes may have many people who need to start with the elementary principles and I'm not knocking that. I just wish our leader had been able to be more flexible so the training would better meet the needs of our particular group. I will be writing another hub that covers the actual training of a Stephen Minister. Meanwhile, if you want to see parts of an actual training session and learn more about the Stephen Ministry, you can watch the video on Stephen Ministry on the PBS site.
What kind of Stephen Minister Would You Make?
After reading this far, do you think being a Stephen MInister would be a good fit for you
What Does a Stephen Minister Need to Have?
- A genuine desire to help a person through a crisis, not just a desire to be a caring person who would actually help a person through a crisis experience. For many people helping people is about their own need to be needed rather than a desire to focus on another person's needs. You need to really care about the person's needs.
- An ability to function and appreciate being part of a large organization with its own way of doing things, from which you may not depart. There are rules and paperwork and procedures you will need to follow. If you are a lone wolf or don't like reporting all your contacts with your care receiver to a leader and a group and keeping a paper record, this is not for you.
- Good personal communication skills. Some techniques you can learn, but most of your work will be on a one-to-one basis with a person of the same sex, and there will be no one there to pick up the conversational ball but you. It helps if you can read people's body language and pick up on things that aren't said.
- Compassion and empathy
- The ability to care and pray without letting another person's problems overwhelm you emotionally to the point where you can't go on with your own life or be of much further help to your care receiver.
- Be a committed Christian believer who is willing to seek divine guidance, apply Biblical principles, and rely on God for help, wisdom, and strength. This should have been first, but I was assuming it and thought I had better spell it out. Stephen Ministry is distinctly Christian, and that's how it differs from secular ministries who might use similar methods of caring.
- Commitment. You must be committed first to not missing any training sessions unless you are ill or an unexpected crisis comes up. During the time I was in training, my estranged daughter killed herself. I did not miss training the next night, though my leader would have excused me. I couldn't think of anything more therapeutic than being with my group. I did miss a session a couple of weeks later to attend and participate in Sarah's memorial service out of town. After you have a care receiver, you are expected to stay with her for two years unless her need of you is gone before that. There are procedures for bringing the relationship to a close.
- The ability to keep a secret and maintain confidentiality. The identity of your care receiver cannot be revealed to even your spouse. Your spouse will have to be comfortable not knowing your location for an hour a week, though, in an emergency, he could have your Stephen leader contact you there.
- The ability to make use of advice from others and participate in getting and giving feedback from and to other Stephen Ministers in training and in peer review meetings after your official training period is over.
- The willingness to remain involved in continuing education and peer review after your training period, in addition to seeing your care receiver regularly, normally for an hour a week.
How Do I Become a Stephen Minister?
First, your church has to have a Stephen Ministry. If it doesn't, maybe you can talk to your pastor and see how your church leadership might feel about starting it. It's a huge commitment for a church, as well as for people participating as Stephen Leaders and Stephen Ministers. Our church was not able to keep a two-year commitment to the program. It simply wasn't large enough to have enough human resources to keep it going when our Stephen leader moved. My previous church was starting a program when I moved 17 years ago. They no longer have a program, but I don't know why. It is more likely that a larger church will have the necessary resources than a small church.
If your church has an active program and you'd like to be a Stephen Minister, talk to your pastor or the Stephen Leaders and see if they will accept you into the next training program. I hope I've given you an idea of the commitment you would be making to a group and a person who wants your help. If you decide to go ahead, God bless you. You can make a difference.
For official information on the Stephen Ministry, go to the Stephen Ministry Home Page.