What is Stephen Ministry Training Like? Stephen Ministry Part 2
What to Expect at a Stephen Ministery Training Session
Stephen Ministry training sessions are the same everywhere. Your Stephen Leaders have been to their own regional or national training sessions to learn how to train their local Stephen Ministers. My church is quite small. Only five of us had volunteered for training. Initially many of us had participated in a larger study group of interested people, but when actual training and commitment time came, only five of us remained -- one man and four women.
More about Stephen Ministry Training Goals
So What Actually Happens in a Stephen Ministry Training Session?
So what does a training session look like? Typically, we had one two and a half hour session each week. As I recall, it opened with a Scripture reading and prayer. We had been assigned reading and we received a presentation on what we had read and then we discussed it. The lessons were structured for us in the two Stephen Ministry Training Manuals. We then took a short break -- about ten or fifteen minutes to stretch our legs and answer any calls from Mother Nature.
After the break, most of the focus was on learning to apply the information and skills we were learning. That often meant role-playing, watching a video where we saw the instruction we had received being applied, or watching or participating in a skit. Sometimes we made charts. sometimes we filled out sample paperwork. Always we prayed for each other. After the first few sessions we had been assigned regular prayer partners so we could pray for each other during the week.
The after break application session was the hardest for us. We often had to play roles which we'd not had time to think about. We divided into pairs, with one trainee being a Stephen Minister and the other playing a care receiver. We had had only a few minutes to read the situation the care receiver was supposed to be in and think about how we might start a conversation. Then we were on. Most of the situations were extreme, and it was difficult to know what to say or how to help. When our leader called time, each of us reported to the group how we had felt in our roles and then the entire group helped with questions and comments.
During these sessions, which many of us dreaded, some discovered what hams our leader and pastor were. Some of the rest of us were also pretty good, although sometimes we couldn't stop being who we were and gave an occasional aside remark. Sometimes one pair performed for all of us, and these were usually pretty hilarious times. When the men, especially, went at it, they were great actors, and sometimes they had us in stitches as we watched their faces while they were exaggerating their plights.
Although care giving relationships are always same sex, sometimes the role playing was male against female if we were short a person. I remember once having to play care giver to a care receiver who was going to be gone for a few weeks to Hawaii and his job was to get me to agree to call him every day, and mine was supposed to be to keep him down to once a week or so. He came up with every manipulation possible to get me to feel guilty if I didn't agree, and since it's easy for me to feel guilty anyway, his job of manipulating me was easy. I found it was really hard to be assertive against this onslaught.
Do you think you might like to be a Stephen Minister? If so, check out Should You Be a Stephen Minister?
What does a Stephen Minister Learn in Training?
Above I mentioned some of the methods used in our training: reading, study, role-playing, videos, prayer, practicing skills, and discussion. But you may want to know some of the principles and skills we learn, so I will discuss some of those below.
Most of us who apply to become Stephen Ministers are compassionate. We want to make a difference to someone. In our training we are warned against getting too emotionally involved with our care receivers so that we will still be able to remain objective enough to help them. The analogy we got was that if a person falls into a mud hole, the best help is to get close enough to help pull him out rather than getting down in the hole with him where we can't pull him out and will need as much help to get out as he does.
We were also cautioned to maintain boundaries and were given some help in doing so and in learning to be assertive when someone is trying to manipulate us. I personally found these skills to be valuable in other relationships outside of Stephen Ministry.
We learned that our focus was to be process oriented rather than results oriented. Although we all hoped to see our care receivers get better and be able to jump back into life, we learned that our job was to care, and that God was the one who did the curing. We should be walking alongside instead of trying to "fix" the care receiver. We would be there to listen and comfort as best we could, to pray, and to just be there when needed.
We were told that we would not be assigned certain kinds of care receivers, and it was the job of our leaders in their initial interviews to make sure they were giving us care receivers who were either in temporary situations -- laid off from a job, bereaved, divorced, having a child out of wedlock, loneliness after a move, or facing another kind of temporary stress that a normal person needs some help and emotional support to get through and get back into normal living -- or someone who is chronically or terminally ill, and might need more than one care giver over time. It is expected in these situations that a two-year care receiving relationship should be enough. In the case of a chronically ill care receiver, another care giver might be assigned after two years, or the original caregiver might choose to stay until she is no longer needed.
We were told certain people were not eligible for Stephen Minister assignments. We would not be given minors, family groups, those who are mentally ill or suffering from extreme emotional disturbances, those who are severely depressed, abusers of any kind, or those who were manipulative, suicidal, or violent. These problems are beyond the abilities of lay care givers to deal with or simply aren't wise (minors, family groups, couples). We are told what to do if we discover, once in a caring relationship, that these problems are there. Usually we are told to refer a person for professional help, and in some situations we will stay on in cooperation with the professional who is involved if he thinks it's wise.
In other cases we are instructed to call 911 if someone appears to be likely to commit suicide or there is abuse or violence involved. We are trained to recognize when someone is just thinking about suicide as a possible option sometime, and when someone might be likely to try it very soon. This is good information for anyone to have at any time and in any relationship. It's information I would like to have had in 2003 before our best friend commit suicide.
Personal Reflections on Stephen Minister Training
Most of the time I really looked forward to my training sessions because the others in training with me became very special to me. One I had never really become acquainted with before. The others I knew had walked through the deep waters, but I'd never known before just how deep those waters were. My training was not just a time to learn information, but also an opportunity to get to know other members of the congregation I'd not worked on any projects with before. The training gave me a much better appreciation for each person's gifts and a great respect for their perspective on what we learned. What I learned through these other ministers in training was, I believe, just as valuable as what was in the books.
I greatly miss the peer review and the fellowship I was expecting to continue into this year. The Stephen ministry at our church ended in December of last year when our leader and his wife changed churches along with one of the other new Stephen Ministers who had not been assigned a care receiver yet. I was the only remaining Stephen Minister with a care receiver. I still care deeply about her, but illnesses on both our sides have kept us from meeting in person as often this year as we did last year. We are now on a friendship basis and get together when we can and talk on the phone when we can't.
It is only since I lost the leadership and continuing meetings with others in this ministry that I have fully recognized how valuable it was. I am still grateful for what I learned in training, and find that the skills I was taught transfer to many other relationships -- not just care giving. Or, perhaps, all close relationships, including family, should be caring relationships.
Our very last training session was at the home of our Stephen leader and his wife (also in training with us). I remember each of us had to draw a picture. I believe it was of ourselves as a Stephen Minister in relationship with a care giver, but it was so long ago my senior memory only remembers how reluctant I was to draw a picture of a concept when I don't think visually. We got our certificates for completing the course, and then our hosts fed us a lovely dinner. It was the culmination of our training, and like any graduation, it was also the beginning of something new -- our actual Stephen ministry.