Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 24, 2006


Lay Ministry puts more troops on the front lines of service


          About 30 years ago some man in Missouri had a good idea. He realized that the average pastor needs help in providing care for people who are hurting, grieving, lonely, or discouraged. His solution led him to establish

Stephen Ministries, a not-for-profit organization now based in St. Louis.

          In little more than a quarter of a century, Stephen Ministries has trained thousands of lay people to assist pastors in offering love, hope, and encouragement to hurting people. Sunday we will commission 12 men and women to serve our church as “Stephen Ministers.”

          They are not clergy and do not wish to be. They are simply Christians who feel “a calling” to provide loving care for others who are experiencing tough times. What do they do? They try to care as Jesus would by holding your hand, listening, praying, reading Scripture, and listening some more.

          Stephen Ministers try to love unconditionally, without judging or condemnation, and they do so in strict confidence. They say to people: “Remember, we care but only God cures!” Their aim is to “walk beside” someone who is hurting and “be there” for that person.

          Those who volunteer to become Stephen Ministers must go through many hours of careful training – as much as 40 to 50 hours of group study and reflection. Trainers are serious about making sure these Stephen Ministers are well prepared for this important ministry.

          The trainer for our group is Ray Caudill, a gifted counselor himself and a compassionate Christian. Ray spent a full week in Orlando being trained and certified by the organization. His own training took place in January. Since then he has been recruiting and training the 12 who are now ready to be commissioned for service.  Our church is indebted to Ray for the yeoman’s job he has done.

          The need for Stephen Ministers is sometimes overwhelming. One or two ordained pastors cannot begin to adequately provide the loving care that many people desperately need. When any crisis occurs in someone’s life a wise pastor will welcome having a Stephen Minister assist in meeting the need.

          The mission of Stephen Ministry is rather verbose but the bottom line is that these people know what they are about. This is the stated mission:

          “Equipping, empowering and sending out distinctively Christian, caring ministers to those who suffer, are discouraged or otherwise burdened by life events, by delivering God’s love, care, gentleness, compassion and the eternal encouragement of Jesus Christ.”

          That is a mouthful. But boil it down and what you have is essentially the mission of the church. Jesus often told his disciples to “go.” He seldom told them to “sit.” The more we are willing to go alongside people and share their burdens, the more we look like genuine disciples of Jesus.

          There are some verses in the Bible I do not understand. But the meaning of many others is clear and compelling. Paul said to his friends in Thessalonica, “Encourage one another and build up each other.” And he said to the church in Rome, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Those are practical and understandable admonitions.

          That is clearly what Stephen Ministers are about and I salute them for their much needed ministry to others. Quietly, without fanfare, they show up on the front lines of service. They make a difference – and the world is a better place because they walk among us. + + + +