Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.    Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

The author of Ecclesiastes understands that God created us to be in relationship with one another.  As the Lord Himself says in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone”—a sentiment echoed by the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who once observed that “we are social creatures.”  The very nature of the church reflects this reality.  We are not isolated, autonomous individuals—each one connected to God, but separated from one another, like spokes on a wheel—but, rather, more like a human body in which every single part is essential to and dependent upon the whole.  At our best, we work together for God’s glory and, as the entire body flourishes, so does each individual member.

This interconnected, organic relationship, though, means that—again, at our best—we also share each other’s pain.  The apostle Paul puts it like this: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).  In other words, once the grace of God joins us to the body of Christ, we are no longer alone.  At our best, we do life together.

Stephen Ministry takes this fundamental Christian truth as its starting point.

Some of you may be very familiar with Stephen Ministry.  Some of you may never have heard of it before.  So, what is Stephen Ministry?  Well, for starters, it’s something new here at Providence: A way for trained lay ministers in our church to provide pastoral care for members of our congregation and our community who are grieving or in crisis.  Done well, Stephen Ministry both extends the reach and expands the scope of our pastoral care ministry, enabling us to share the comforting, healing, and life-giving love of Jesus with a greater number of people in Charlotte than we could otherwise.

How so?  Well, each Stephen Minister receives 50 hours of training in how to care for people who are experiencing loss—of a loved one, a relationship, a job—or going through a period of unusual stress.  A trained Stephen Minister is then paired with a care receiver, and the two meet regularly for conversation, encouragement, and prayer.  This one-on-one relationship will last for as long as the care receiver needs it to last.  Stephen Ministry is not about problem- solving.  It is, instead, about providing company to someone traveling along a particularly rocky stretch of life’s journey.  It is, simply put, about being the presence of Christ in a time of great need.

Not everyone is called to be a Stephen Minister.  The Holy Spirit gives every Christian gifts to use for God’s glory and the good of the church, and those gifts are many and varied.  Some of you, though, have been given spiritual gifts that make Stephen Ministry a good fit for you.  Maybe you’re a gifted listener.  Maybe you’re a gifted encourager.  Maybe you’re a gifted caregiver.  Maybe you have felt for years that God has given you a heart for ministry but you didn’t really know how or where to put that feeling into action.  If this sounds like you, then perhaps Stephen Ministry is something you ought to explore.

Martha Haigler, our director of pastoral care, and Bill Griffin, who recently completed a term of service as a deacon, will provide leadership for Stephen Ministry here at Providence.  Either one of them will be glad to talk with you about Stephen Ministry.  Elsewhere in this edition of Connections you can find more information about how to apply to become a Stephen Minister.  Our staff ministers, deacons, and coordinating council have all heartily endorsed this new ministry as a way not only to provide better pastoral care for Providence members, but also to bless Charlotte in Jesus’ name as we extend this ministry to members of our community.

What I especially like about Stephen Ministry is the fact that it takes a very Baptist approach to pastoral care insofar as it’s grounded in the conviction that all Christians are called to be ministers to one another.  Every single one of us—not just ordained, professional, seminary-trained clergy—but every single one of us is called to share the love of Jesus as we are called, gifted, and led by the Holy Spirit.  In Baptist-speak, this theological principle is known as the priesthood of all believers, and it’s foundational to Stephen Ministry.

The author of Ecclesiastes had it right.  All of us, at some point, are going to fall down and need some help getting back on our feet.  The promise of Stephen Ministry is that, when this happens to us, someone will be here to lift us up—in Jesus’ name, for as long as it takes—until we can find our way again.  That’s what God’s love looks like in action.

May the peace of Christ be with you!