I've had several requests for more information about Stephen Ministry, so here are some main points.
1. Stephen Ministry is a world-wide, confidential caring ministry based in St. Louis, MO. It is inter-denominational. Their website is HERE.
2. It offers extensive, extremely high-quality training to those who want to provide Christ-centered care for people who are hurting. Stephen Ministers receive 50 hours of training from Stephen Leaders within their congregation who have gone through intensive training themselves. Once commissioned, Stephen Ministers have ongoing training throughout their service in the form of twice-monthly continuing-education meetings. There is no online training, though online support is available to those who are already trained and commissioned.
Stephen Ministers are not counsellors, nor do they offer advice. They are trained to listen and support people during times of pain. When that pain becomes excessive and professional counseling or medical care is required, Stephen Ministers can only serve a person with the permission of a doctor, psychiatrist, or other professional counsellor who is caring for them. Stephen Ministry training covers ways to help those who are having trouble bearing the "ordinary" suffering of life, and we are not trained to serve those suffering addiction, those in prison, or those suffering serious mental illness.
3. Stephen Ministry is NOT a preaching ministry, nor do Stephen Ministers promote particular points of doctrine. Stephen Ministers do NOT bang people over the head with the Bible. Care receivers need not be Christians to receive Stephen Ministry care, and it is the care receivers who establish what level of discussion--if any--about the Bible and God and faith takes place in the caring relationship. Stephen Ministers, however, spend a great deal of time in private prayer and Bible study as they care for others. The care receiver may not feel a connection to Christ, but the Stephen Minister can't imagine caring without that strong faith that Christ is the healer.
4. Stephen Ministers are not trained and then cut loose to work on their own. Peer supervision gives them the support they need to care for others whose pain may at times feel overwhelming. During peer supervision, which takes place twice a month at the same meetings as continuing education, Stephen Ministers share non-identifying details of their care receivers' situations and ask for advice and help on how to provide the best care possible. If the peer supervision group sees areas of concern (say, the Stephen Minister is over-identifying with the care receiver), they will offer guidance and support to keep the Stephen Minister on track. Peer supervision also helps Stephen Ministers make referrals to professional services (social services, professional counselling, medical care, etc.) when needed.
5. Stephen Ministry is confidential, and this sometimes unfortunately makes Stephen Ministry feel like a secret society within congregations. Stephen Ministers do not discuss their care receivers outside of peer supervision, and even in peer supervision, names are not used and identifying details are not shared.
Care receivers, however, are free to discuss their Stephen Ministers as they wish. Some will introduce their Stephen Ministers to their friends; some will avoid their Stephen Ministers in public because their pain is deeply personal and they need that care to remain confidential. In some cases, care receivers share things with Stephen Ministers that they have never shared with anyone else. To do this, they need to trust their Stephen Ministers completely.
6. Going through Stephen Ministry training will change your life. It will help you help others who are in pain, and empower you with the confidence to lean on God as you touch others you encounter in daily life who are suffering unbearable pain. I recently had to call a friend whose adult daughter died in a horrible car accident. For the first time in making such a call, I felt God's guidance and no fear or anxiety that I would say the "wrong" thing. I felt only sorrow and compassion for this wonderful woman going through this horrible loss.
Stephen Ministry training got me to this point by giving me the tools to speak the truth in love, to listen with prayer and compassion, and to take my cues from the person suffering. When we are no longer self-conscious and worried about what to say or do (which throws our attention to ourselves and not others), we can truly listen and care for others. Christ is in charge, and we're just here to help Him show His love for His children, because as He told the disciples at the Last Supper, "I give unto you a new commandment, to love one another as I have loved you."
There are many ways to love as Jesus did. Stephen Ministry is just one calling among many. If you feel that call, I encourage you to answer it. If you need a Stephen Minister, please call your local churches to locate a Ministry in your area.
I'll be happy to answer questions about Stephen Ministry in the comments.