Listening for the Word
Years ago, I was an active Stephen Minister, and then a Stephen Leader. Since then, my ministerial urges have been responsible for this website. I recommend Stephen Ministry or any other kind of wholesome action or discipline as part of a balanced religious life. This is adapted from a talk I gave in my former congregation.
The typical Stephen Ministry recipient is a strong person who must bear a burden of pain, physical or emotional illness, or personal misfortune that no one should have to bear alone. He or she has been reminded suddenly that we are fragile: that we live a heartbeat away from death and a thought away from despair.
As a Stephen Minister, I try to remind the people I visit, or "helpees" as we call them, that we are also surrounded inside and outside of ourselves by Grace: that, if I may repeat words ascribed to Jesus in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, "The Kingdom of God is already spread upon the Earth, but people do not see it." To me the Kingdom of God is like the moment when Dorothy opens the door into the Land of Oz, and suddenly a world that was black-and-white and shades of gray is now in glorious color. It's available to you right now, perhaps when the doors open and you step out of this building.
It's not a change in the world so much as a change in seeing it.
But since no amount of preaching can make a person, especially a troubled person, realize that he or she has already been Graced — that he or she already walks in God's Kingdom, that every door opens into Oz — I don't preach to my helpees. In fact, what I have to say is unimportant. What my helpees have to say is what needs to be said. And what needs to be heard.
I don't tell my helpees, "God hears you." Instead, I hang in there with them, I listen, I ask questions, I try to understand. And the simple fact of my active, listening, caring presence sometimes seems to remind them that God is present — and that they already have spiritual resources that, like Dorothy's ruby slippers, can bring them home any time. And that they are never truly alone with their burden.
They and God do the rest. Sometimes my helpees witness to me of the ways God has worked in their lives, or the times they have been particularly aware of His presence. Such times are really special to me, because I need to hear that message. I need to be reminded that I walk in the Kingdom, too. And I am reminded — by my helpees, and by the wonderful fellowship of the other Stephen Ministers, our Stephen Leader, and our Pastor.
So I can't tell you who gets helped more by the Stephen Ministry relationship — my helpees, or myself. Certainly by doing something, by being there for someone else, I have experienced something about God's Grace and God's Kingdom that I have tried to share with you. My wife has even remarked that I seemed to become a nicer person after getting involved in Stephen Ministry.
I've also learned that I can't walk in the Kingdom just by being preached to, even by the most talented pastor. I have to get up and walk, figuratively speaking — to do something to have to get involved. Stephen Ministry is my way of getting involved. Perhaps it will be your way, too.
In closing, I would like to share with you a fragment I wrote after a session with a man who needed to hear a Truth that I could not speak to him.
And there it was, silence. Not the swift sweet silence of contemplation, but the tense slow silence of the NOW stopping our conversation. Speak to me, I thought, not to him, but to Him. And he spoke His Truth, which he could no longer ignore, because he himself had spoken it. Later He and I left, arm in arm, and He stayed with him, as well. It's amazing what happens when you take Him with you into Stephen Ministry.