While most of the time I get to work with entrepreneurs and business owners, I also spend a significant amount of time working independently with people who are struggling through job loss, divorce, loss of a loved one or some similar tragedy. Several months ago, I was contacted by the Stephen Ministry organization, a non-profit dedicated to helping people one of one during times of crisis. It seems that they had heard of some of the work that I, and others like me, have been doing to relive the suffering of people who are dealing with life altering circumstances.
Helping one another is a biblical mandate. Most notably, in Galatians 6:2, we are told to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And what is that law? To “love one another as I have loved you.” At least according to Jesus Christ. Now I have been doing a fair amount of helping over the years, and I know many others who have served selflessly as well, but it is easy to get burned out and overwhelmed. I know a number of pastors and other members of the clergy who have left the ministry because they just can’t take it any more.
They still love Christ, but the need is so great and the workers are so few. How can we ever mount an effort that will be successful in dealing with all the struggles of God’s people? It’s no easy task. Even when I was surrounded by people who led incredibly God centered lives, it became difficult to constantly reach out and serve others. Somewhere along the line, it becomes easy to get de-sensitized. You can build up a wall that deadens your sense of feeling a little; and sometimes you just want to turn away and not deal with the issues any more.
Years ago, my ministry partners and I worked tirelessly leading a weekly career transition group. We did it for years. At times, it was a thankless job. Now I know that we are to serve in anonymity, and not worry about whether we are sowing or reaping, but in the real world, a little encouragement goes a long way. I recall people who had been out of work for years finally landing employment; and then being reluctant to even come back to the group because they didn’t have anything in common with “those unemployed” people any longer.
Or how about when we finally decided to charge a minimal amount so the people in the group would have a little investment in the outcome. One day, an unemployed man, one of our regulars, didn’t have the $10 for the meeting. I was all set to cover his charge when he whipped out a $5 Starbuck’s and let me know that his priorities were such that he hoped I would understand that he needed his morning coffee, as opposed to investing in his future with our group. That day was the last day I taught the group.
As I look back on it, I think that was the day I finally threw up my hands in disgust. Enough was enough. Overwhelming need with so little help. Even today, I find myself reluctant to work with some groups of people. And I realize that the longer I write this evening, the more cynical I sound. But, in the spirit of truth and open communication, that’s the way I feel. It would be so much easier if we could raise up legions of people to help so that we didn’t get burned out.
Enter the Stephen ministers. This group was started back in 1975 by a man who realized the needs of his congregation would quickly outgrow his ability to serve them. So he trained 9 ordinary members of his church and assigned each of them to shepherd someone who was in need of special assistance. The results were terrific and the idea caught on. Today, Dr. Haugk and his team have ministered to more than 1 million care receivers, one on one, in more than 11,000 congregations representing more than 150 denominations. More than 500,000 care givers have been trained.
Truly, the idea of sharing the burden has gone mainstream, thanks to this great non-profit organization. So yesterday, I was privileged to teach one of the local chapters things they can do to reach out to the unemployed and their families. I was invigorated by the experience.
The verse for this evening comes from the core verse of the Stephen Ministry. Their missional mandate comes from the book of Ephesians, Paul’s letter to his most mature church body in Ephesus. In Eph. 4:11-12, speaking of Christ, we are told, “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”
My encouragement this evening is to remind you that God works through all of us to advance His kingdom. Part of our responsibility is to help raise up others and to help build the body of believers. My prayer is that God will place someone in your life to walk beside you and continue to equip you to do His service. Likewise, I pray that you will pour you life into several people who you have been equipped to serve so that the idea of loving one another may be spread out among God’s people. Grace and peace,