Stephen Ministry: Celebrating 20 Years of Specialized Care and Compassion at NMC
You’ve probably heard about them during a Sunday sermon, read about them in an NMC email,or learned about them from a story told by NMC. You’ve probably met one of them at church without even knowing it. But you may not know exactly what they do. Stephen Ministers. This special group of Tablesetters is trained by a national organization and coordinates with NMC leadership to provide one-on-one care to church members in difficult circumstances or crises. Stephen Ministers are there after you get the call, after the relationship ends, or after your world comes crashing down … and there’s no quick or easy resolution in sight.
In essence, they come alongside you when you need it most–and pour into you in ways that others simply can’t. Becky Everette, NMC Care Director, describes the impact of Stephen Ministry best: “Stephen Ministry is a huge gift to our church, but also our pastoral team,” Becky says. “Stephen Ministers are on the front lines of caring for people walking through hard seasons. It would be difficult to fulfill our roles in leadership and meet with individuals long-term, so they provide a great and much-needed service to our congregation.” So this month, to celebrate and honor two decades of this special partnership, we’re sharing what Stephen Ministry is all about: the extraordinary volunteers, their incredible Kingdom work, and how you can get involved.
What is Stephen Ministry and Why Does It Exist?
Founded in 1975, Stephen Ministries is a non-profit Christian organization that trains and equips laypersons to provide emotional and spiritual support to other people–called “care receivers”–going through challenging life situations. By stepping into this specialized role, Stephen Ministers also serve to strengthen and support church ministry teams.
Stephen Ministers are not counselors but volunteers that have a calling in their hearts to provide high-quality, one-to-one, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting. They’re needed most in the weeks and months after a distressing event has happened, such as a divorce, new medical diagnosis, death of a child or spouse, parenting struggle, loss of a job, strained relationship, and more.
Currently, there are over 13,000 congregations nationwide that utilize Stephen Ministers, with an incredible 600,000 persons trained since the ministry’s inception. At NMC, we currently have 21 amazing Stephen Ministers caring for our congregation and supporting our staff.
Virginia Blackwell: Leading the Way For Stephen Ministers at NMC
At the helm of NMC’s Stephen Ministry team is Virginia Blackwell. Virginia started attending North Metro Church in 1998 when NMC was in its infancy.
A few years later, NMC announced its partnership with Stephen Ministries as the church grew and the needs of the congregation increased. Right away, Virginia felt a calling in her heart to apply. As a result, she became part of the first group of Stephen Ministers to care for church members at NMC.
“In 1998, my family had a terrible year,” Virginia says. “But I had good support from family and friends. They walked with me through those hard times. Later on, I realized God was preparing me to do the same for others through Stephen Ministry. We exist to support people through life’s difficulties and help them see God’s perspective. Care receivers are loved for who and where they are, without judgment or condemnation. Stephen Ministry is a confidential, safe place to be transparent and vulnerable and tell your story.”
Virginia has faithfully served as a Stephen Minister at NMC since 2003. She eventually joined the leadership team, completing additional high-level training to help guide NMC’s Stephen Ministry into the future. In the last two decades, Virginia has personally walked alongside numerous people in need, acting as the hands and feet of Christ in their lives.
For Virginia and her team, the calling to be a Stephen Minister is challenging, but full of incredible blessings. She plans on continuing to serve NMC in her role until God tells her to stop–or He brings her home. “It’s hard to see situations that don’t get better,” Virginia says. “But the results aren’t up to us.
They’re up to God. But the greatest reward is seeing lives changed because of a person’s deeper relationship with the Lord–for them to trust Him and lean into Him rather than lean into someone or something else. And it’s encouraging to hear from them later and have the affirmation that our time together made a positive, lasting impact on their lives.”
In addition to Virginia, NMC is blessed to have an additional 13 women and 7 men currently serving as Stephen Ministers.
This incredible team continues to faithfully give of their time and energy, meeting with their care receivers weekly for as long as care is needed, either in person or over the phone. They also gather twice a month on Tuesday nights to hear from guest speakers, complete additional training, and support and encourage one another in small group communities.
What It Takes to Be a Stephen Minister and Why They’re Vital to NMC
As Virginia notes, being a Stephen Minister is a tremendous blessing for everyone involved–but where there is much responsibility, much is required. Each Stephen Minister is carefully interviewed by three seasoned Stephen Ministers and selected based on specific characteristics and attributes essential to the role. These include being Christ-centered, trustworthy, compassionate, humble, spiritually mature, a good listener, and comfortable sharing their faith and praying with others. They also must have a solid relationship with the Lord, as Stephen Ministers rely heavily on their faith as they walk with other people through various difficulties and crises. At the time of their application, they must also submit several personal references who can speak to their character and readiness to serve others in this specialized way.
Then, upon selection, extensive training begins.
Each new Stephen Minister spends 50+ hours taking a deep dive into topics such as caring ministry, assertive relating, spiritual gifts discovery, grief support, spiritual growth, and more. The resources curated by Stephen Ministry are known for their excellence, practicality, psychological integrity, and theological depth.
“Stephen Ministry is a big organization with a very good reputation,” Virginia says. “The basic Stephen Ministry training at North Metro Church is excellent. And the national leadership training class is one of the best I’ve ever been in. Everything from Stephen Ministry is very well done, thought out, and scripted. We have an outstanding training program that prepares us to serve well.” For NMC, the impact Stephen Ministry has on the staff and congregation is beyond measure.
“Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a ministry like this in place at NMC,” Virginia says. “But the staff envisioned growth in the church and more people who would need care. Now, everyone agrees that bringing in Stephen Ministry was a good decision. We’re needed. We fill in the gap when staff cannot spend an extended amount of time with people who are hurting. We walk with them, point them toward God, and show them the unconditional love the Lord has for them.” Virginia and her team pray consistently, knowing the Lord will touch people’s hearts and prompt them to respond, whether they need care through a difficult situation or desire to become a Stephen Minister themselves.
What To Do If You Need Care From a Stephen Minister
If you’re walking through a difficult season, we want to help. You don’t have to go it alone. Stephen Ministers are ready to come alongside you and support you–and getting connected is easy and confidential.
How To Become a Stephen Minister at NMC
Chances are, there are a few of you who resonate with Stephen Ministry and feel the gentle, persistent nudge of the Holy Spirit to get involved. If that’s you, we encourage you to learn more and consider applying to be a Stephen Minister at NMC. We’d love for you to join this amazing and critically important team!