Kenneth Haugk, a pastor and clinical psychologist in 1975, knew his congregation had practical concerns that needed to be met with love. The grieving needed a listening ear; the depressed, encouragement; the confused, guidance.
Yet Haugk knew he could not effectively meet all the concerns on his own or neglect his responsibility to teach Scripture and exhort his congregation. How then, he wondered, could he help people in all aspects of life?
Taking the cue from the first church in Acts 6, he rallied committed Christians to see to people’s practical concerns. Then he organized training for this team in how to listen, and support people grappling with grief over death or loss, loneliness and suicide. Stephen Ministry, named after a disciple full of God’s grace and power (Acts 6:5-8) was born.
Its mission is simple: to bring Christ’s care to people one-to-one. “It is Christ caring for people through people.”
I want to tell you a story of how a Stephen Minister helped a lady whose brother shot himself. She was forced into a place, with no feasible escape route, as her dad and mom were heart-broken and confused. She was angry with her brother for his suicide, and hurting the family so deeply. She stayed with her parents for days after her brother died and then had to return to her home. She suggested to her parents that they get some help.
As she was returning to her home, she felt things would be better for her soon. They were not. The regular stress of getting her children clean, fed, dressed and in the car for school took its toll. By the time she crawled into the driver’s seat, she broke down and wept. Where can I turn, was her response? She was weary of dealing with her pain over her brother’s death. She called her pastor who told her about Stephen Ministry, a nationwide program in local churches where Christians provide one-to-one care for people in distress or just needing help. The pastor contacted the church’s Stephen Ministry referral coordinator, who matched her with a woman who consoled her immediately. Her Stephen Minister was a great listener who did not push her to reveal every emotion or tell her what she should be doing, thinking or feeling. She asked to meet with her on a weekly basis, if possible. For months they met together.
The lady wondered why her brother wanted to escape life, but finally realized she would never know; and she could leave that question in God’s hands until she got to Heaven. But by compassionate listening from her Stephen Minister, she sorted through a well of emotions and found the balance of everyday life without her brother. She will always be grateful.
Stephen Ministry is a blessing for every church.