God’s Word is clear that one of the primary responsibilities of the Church is to care for the needy. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” In general, I’ve observed that we evangelicals stress moral purity and keeping ourselves from being “polluted by the world,” but sometimes we neglect our duty to the needy, whether they are the “orphans and widows,” or the dying and the incarcerated.
One of the finest ministries with which I’ve had the privilege of being involved – one that I truly believe fulfills this biblical mandate – is Stephen Ministries founded by Lutheran pastor and psychologist, Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk: https://www.stephenministries.org
For several years in the late 90s, our church, South Suburban EFC, had this ministry, and I personally believe it helped many of our members and friends in their time of need. It was a great privilege for me to be a Stephens minister during this time. I learned so much through the experience.
The three things I appreciate most about Stephens Ministry are:
- It is local-church based – designed to be an extension of the pastor’s care ministry. A pastor is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.”
- Stephen ministers are assigned to a person to visit over a prolonged period of time. For example, I met for some time with a man in his fifties whose wife had died. Later, I met with a man in his forties who had lost his job and was facing some other challenges.
- It provides great training and accountability on an ongoing basis for the caregivers. We Stephen ministers met every other week for training, reporting confidentially on our own individual care ministry, seeking guidance from each other, and praying for one another and those for whom we were caring.
The book I am reviewing today was part of our training, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Much more detailed training for Stephen ministers is available – written materials, DVDs, etc. Because I am fifteen years more experienced now than I was when I was involved in this ministry, the counsel given in Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life makes even more sense to me now than it did then. Though Haugk occasionally expresses things a little differently than some of us are accustomed to, it’s obvious that he truly knows Jesus as his Lord and Savior and he believes the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. His great desire is to minister to people in a distinctly Christian manner, which, at the appropriate time, includes sharing the gospel with those who are not believers.
Introduction to caregiving
I would recommend Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life as an introduction to caregiving. It is clear and workable. Dr. Haugk does a good job of integrating biblical truth with insights from psychology in a practical way. This resonates with me because I believe that all truth is God’s truth, and I believe in what theologians sometimes call “common grace.” Among other things, common grace implies that God allows all people, not just Christians, to discover great truths in His creation. Thus, scientific research, including from the social sciences, can often provide wonderful insights for believers.
To give you a flavor of the book I will conclude with a number of direct quotes:
- “Christians are responsible for care. God is responsible for cure.”
- “When you as caregiver realize that God is the Curegiver, you are freed from worry and false expectations.”
- “A heightened consciousness of God’s presence can cultivate in you, the caregiver, and in the care receiver as well, an attitude of trust in God.”
- “The distinctiveness of Christian care lies not only in what we do but in why we do it.”
- “As the message of God’s love grips Christians, we are filled by the Holy Spirit, who moves clay-footed Christians to use our God-given gifts for others.”
- “In general, people desire the loving care of fellow Christians. It is our privilege and responsibility to share this.”
- “Christian caregiving has significant advantages over any other method. The primary advantage is depth.”
- “Christians need to recover something that they once possessed, but recently lost: theology as the primary source out of which caring and counseling flows.”
- “Psychology, sociology, and medicine cannot give the entire answer to the human condition. There is a significant gap left for theology, and it behooves Christians, both clergy and laity, not to disavow their authority, but to step in and fill the gap.”
- “Your genuineness and willingness to use traditional resources, including prayer and the Bible, will help provide an atmosphere of acceptance.”
- “You need to be alert to detect spiritual needs, expressed or unexpressed.”
- “There are many religious clichés and pat phrases in common use. Be careful to avoid using them in your helping relationships.” (For example, “All you need is faith.” “Praise the Lord anyway.” ”Don’t worry, God loves you.”)
- “By jumping into the mud hole and becoming totally submerged in the other’s problems, you forfeit the objectivity necessary to get the other person out (not to mention yourself.)”
- “Genuineness stems from being in congruence with yourself. It is being who you are.”
- “The forgiveness you offer is distinct. Christian forgiveness is based on what Jesus earned on the cross and offers to everyone.”
- “Communicating acceptance does not mean you overlook or approve of all the attitudes and actions of others.”
- “After listening to their feelings and allowing them to unburden themselves to you, you will want to share with them the gospel message of forgiveness.”
- “When forgiveness is offered too quickly it is rendered meaningless. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this ‘cheap grace.’”
- “Questions you always need to ask yourself are these: Am I here to help the other person, or am I here to help myself, to further my own goals? Am I using the tools of Christian helping to fulfill my own needs or the needs of the other person?”
- “Effective caring entails listening skills to discover the person’s needs and life situation before you do anything else in the helping relationship. You must always be sensitive to each individual’s situation, what the person needs are, before you use any traditional tools for Christianity. You need to listen attentively and explore an individual’s frame of reference before you can minister effectively to that person.”
- “When you pray with another person, God is the third party in a caring relationship.”
- “Don’t pray when you are ready to pray, but when the other person is ready to pray. Careful listening will help you ascertain when prayer is appropriate. Your prayer is to be a natural part of your conversation, not an intrusion or interruption.”
- “There is always the danger that prayer might be used as a means of manipulating another into action that you want to see happen.”
- You can say to the person you’re helping, “I would be glad to pray with you. Before I do, I’d like you to share with me what you’re thinking about and what your needs are at this time. I think we could share them better with God that way.”
- “You listen, you diagnose, and you use the Bible as a resource when it is appropriate.”
- “As you talk about a (biblical) passage be sure to do a lot of listening. This will help ensure your discussion meets the needs of the other person.”
- “Just as timing is important when praying or using Scripture, so it is important when you deliver God’s blessing. Most often, blessings or benedictions will be appropriate at the close of a visit, but you might decide that a blessing is called for in the middle of a visit or at some other time.”
- “Jesus Christ does not stand on the sidelines waiting for us to use the right signal words for him to step in and be there. Rather, he is right in the middle of the situation. He’s only waiting for us to see that.”
- “Sources like prayer and Bible reading are important, but giving a cup of cold water is important as well. It’s not an either/or proposition. It is a case of both a cup of cold water and traditional, explicit resources. Both are distinctively Christian tools. Both have their place.”
- “True Christian evangelism is caring; distinctively Christian caring is one vital aspect of evangelism.”
- “Good evangelism and good caring are inseparable; each embodies the other. Evangelism shows forth a love for people and a love for people show forth the good news of Jesus Christ.”
- “Results are great, but they belong to God, who chooses to let you share in the pleasure of them. Don’t stalk them; let God send them to you.”
- “One of the most distinctively Christian resources yet to be considered is hope. Part of the unique nature of Christian hope lies in its origin.”
- “Avoid telling success stories about heroic Christians who soared through severe storms of life with flying colors. The person might not feel very heroic and become depressed by making an unfavorable comparison in his or her mind with someone who exhibited tremendous personal resources when dealing with a problem.”
- “By communicating acceptance to others despite their problems and their sins – just as Jesus does with you – you can produce great hope in others.”
- “Remember what power you bring into every situation – the Bible, prayer, confession, forgiveness, servanthood, hope and other distinctively Christian resources. To me the power of God and the potential of these resources are thrilling!”