Twenty-five years ago, Pastor Tim Snow sent the first class of Stephen Ministers to Berkeley, California, to train to become dedicated listeners. “Stephen Ministry provided a way to meet real needs by utilizing the many gifts of our congregation. And all these years later, it remains a transformative ministry,” Tim says.
Sue Bush is a member of that charter class. “Shortly before going to training in Berkeley, my husband and I had lost a daughter in a plane crash,” she remembers. “I could have used some TLC from a long-term caring person during that time.” Wanting to provide that kind of care—“helping someone go through the process of grief, one step at a time”—to someone else, she signed up for the training and served as a Stephen Minister for several years.
Established in 1975 by Rev. Kenneth Haugk of St. Louis, Stephen Ministry is a national program that trains lay people to come alongside individuals who are experiencing challenges or crises. Named for St. Stephen, the first person ever commissioned in caring ministries for the church, the program has reached millions of hurting people worldwide.
Iosefa Setu, a current elder and Stephen Minister, says, “the work of a Stephen Minister is exactly what Jesus wants us to do. Jesus said: ‘Love your neighbor just like you love yourself.’ That is exactly what we do in Stephen Ministry and that is why I love it.”
Stephen Ministers are trained to listen and encourage people experiencing life difficulties such as grief, divorce, childbirth, and terminal illness. “The training materials are biblically based, but include sound scientific research and tried-and-true principles for helping,” says Karan Dawson about the training. “I learned about dealing with difficult situations, setting boundaries, recognizing potential problems, and how God works in our lives.” Stephen Ministers do not counsel or advise, but instead offer care through prayer, presence, and scripture.
Stephen Ministry National Stats
162 denominations in the United States and Canada
323 congregations in Washington state
11,319 congregations in 25 countries
500,000+ people in the United States and Canada who have completed the required 50 hours of Stephen Ministry training
“Stephen Ministry teaches a process-oriented ministry,” says Rolf Christensen, a Stephen Minister at UPC for two years. “Being process-oriented allows insight into events that occur in our lives. While life’s tests and trials are a difficult portion of the process, they are also opportunities to reveal our spiritual needs and foster growth. It is our response and attitude that brings glory to God. Progressively, we become better conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.”
Sue Bayouth, a ministry coordinator for Congregational Care, describes Stephen Ministry as having a focus on confidentiality, scripture and prayer, and encouragement over advice. There is also built-in accountability. “Stephen Leaders are recruited from the ranks of Stephen Ministers to offer support for care givers,” says Sue. Stephen Ministers meet twice a month in small groups with their Leader to check in. They never talk about the care receiver’s story at these meetings, but they can get general advice on maintaining boundaries and sticking to the topic.
When Jonelle James was considering becoming a Stephen Minister in 2007, she says she was “drawn to this concept of a one-on-one caring relationship with the support of the Stephen Ministry team . . . I have community; I’m not alone in my journey.”
Looking back on 25 years of service, we’re grateful for how Stephen Ministers continually come alongside individuals in our community to “bind up the brokenhearted” with a listening ear (Isaiah 61:1). We look forward to another 25 years of ministry!