(The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod)
Alma, Kansas
A family united by faith in Christ gathering around God's Word and Sacraments.
To reach out in Christ-like concern and Christ-borne love to each other and to those without Christ!
In This Month's
St. John Witness
Theology for the Day / Stephen Ministry
Stephen Ministry

What is Stephen Ministry?  Congregations equip lay caregivers to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting or are experiencing grief, divorce, cancer, job loss, loneliness, disability, relocation, and other life difficulties. Stephen Ministers serve in a one to one relationship of trust, care, and Christ-like concern. If you think you  might benefit from having a Stephen Minister, please call Pastor Grimm, or talk with one of these servants of God. - Brad Becker, Don Frank, Charlie Gann, Judy Peddicord, Junior Stuewe, Carol White.

If you would be interested in becoming a Stephen Minister, please contact Pastor Grimm.

Below is more information about the Stephen Series & Stephen MInistry.

  • Why is it called the Stephen Series?

Stephen was one of the first laypeople commissioned by the Apostles to provide caring ministry (Acts 6). Series describes the steps a congregation follows to implement the caring ministry system, which is commonly called Stephen Ministry.

  • How many congregations are using Stephen Ministry?

More than 11,000 congregations are enrolled, with hundreds more enrolling each year. They represent more than 150 denominations and come from all 50 United States, 10 Canadian provinces, and 24 other countries. Many congregations have had Stephen Ministry going strong for 20 or 30 years—or longer.

  • What size congregations are involved?

Stephen Ministry congregations range from fewer than 100 members to more than 10,000. Churches of any size have opportunities to care for hurting people in the congregation and community.

  • What are Stephen Ministers?

Stephen Ministers are laypeople who commit to two years of learning, growing, and caring. They receive Christian caregiving training in their congregation and then provide one-to-one Christ-centered care to hurting people. Each Stephen Minister typically has one care receiver at a time and meets with that person once a week.

  • What types of caregiving situations are Stephen Ministers used in?

Stephen Ministers provide high-quality, one-to-one Christian care to individuals facing a variety of crises or life challenges—people who are experiencing grief, divorce, cancer, financial difficulties, hospitalization, chronic illness, job loss, disabilities, loneliness, a spiritual crisis, or other life struggles.
In addition to caring for members within the congregation, Stephen Ministers can provide care to nonmembers, reaching out to unchurched people in crisis.

  • What are Stephen Leaders?

Stephen Leaders are pastors and lay leaders who direct Stephen Ministry in their congregation. They attend a one-week Leader’s Training Course (LTC) where they learn how to effectively lead their congregation’s Stephen Ministry.

  • What is the meaning of the logo?

The Stephen Series logo symbolizes that we are all broken people and that we are only made whole through the cross of Jesus.

Since 1975 nearly a half million Christian men and women from all walks of life have trained and served as Stephen Ministers in their congregations. Most decide to become Stephen Ministers as a way to help hurting people in their congregation and community—but very quickly discover that God gives them amazing blessings in return.

  • What do people say about Stephen Ministry?

“My faith has grown, my prayer life has doubled, and I know how to really make a difference in people’s lives. I’d encourage anyone who has the chance to become a Stephen Minister.”
  George Lund, Architect
  Prairie Village, Kansas

“Being a Stephen Minister has taught me to rely on God instead of always trying to fix things myself. I’ve learned what to say, how to listen, and what to do during a crisis. It’s a great feeling to provide people with the spiritual care and support they need.”
  John Eichelberger, Physician
  Greenwood, South Carolina

“The assertiveness skills I learned through Stephen Ministry gave me the courage and confidence I needed to be a more effective supervisor in my secular job—and to be more assertive in my personal relationships. Thank you for helping me develop these vital skills.”
  Elizabeth McMillion, Rehabilitation Counselor
  Madison, Wisconsin

                                                                                   Theology for Today
                                                            The Divine Call into Public Ministry in the Church
As we have a son of the congregation (Christian D. Schultz) enter the Holy Ministry, called this week to pastor at First Lutheran Church, Paola, Kansas, it may be helpful to look at the process mandated by Scripture and the practices which flow from our understanding of those Scriptures. His ordination into the Holy Ministry will be at St. John May 29.
Excerpts from the 48 page pamphlet: The Divine Call,
Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) © 2003

Summary Observations. As we summarize the biblical data that pertain to the call into the public ministry of the Word, we can say in general the following. First, the biblical writers give us several pictures of how the church actually went about the process of selecting pastors in “normal,” settled situations. Second, the texts that address the issue are largely descriptive and narrative in character… Any guidance drawn from these examples, therefore, will necessarily have to be inferential. We may further conclude that the New Testament appears to be more concerned with the qualifications and characteristics of the individual called to serve than with the procedure for placing him into office. It also seems more important for the church to know that the man who occupies the pastoral office has been placed there by God (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4).

The Lutheran Confessions emphasize that one must be rightly called in order to function in the public office of the ministry, but they do not say much about how this is to be done or what this means. The clues they give can be illuminated by what the reformers did historically. In general, the Confessions stress two points: pastors are not self-appointed; and, bishops are not the exclusive ones who may ordain. (The Apology of the Augsburg Confession Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope)

Basic Considerations. While affirming and confessing the divine character of the call into the pastoral ministry, we must also submit the human side of the call process to closer examination and evaluation. Although these processes or procedures may be considered adiaphora (practices that are neither forbidden nor commanded by Scripture), it should also be emphasized that not all adiaphora are equal. Some practices reflect the theology of the call better than others. Some obscure the divine character of the call more than others. To provide greater clarity for implementing the call process, a set of criteria for guiding the development of procedures should be established. In light of the resources found within the Lutheran Confessions, such a set of criteria should include at least the following considerations.

The Gospel. The Lutheran confession of justification by faith alone on the basis of Christ’s radical self-giving to us in his sufficient sacrificial death transformed the office of the ministry. No longer was it seen as a sacrificial office through which the priest offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the people or acted as a judge for rendering verdicts on people who could make recompense for their sins. Rather, it became an office whereby the pastor was responsible for delivering the gifts of Christ in Word and sacrament to those brought to faith by the Holy Spirit. The Reformation resulted in a preaching revival because it placed a new emphasis on the importance of the oral proclamation of the Gospel in its purity and the administration of the sacraments in accord with the Gospel. The emphasis thus shifted from a focus on the person of the priest to the publication of the promise. The practice of the call reflects this emphasis.
The Scriptures. It is vital to observe that the Scriptures do not lay down one single procedure for the calling of a pastor. They supply few direct answers to the types of questions that are being asked today. Most of the biblical data consist of examples given in narrative sections of the text rather than in explicit prescriptions or mandates. This does not mean that we are unable to derive principles and guidance from these examples that are congruent with the scriptural text. But we must be clear as to when we are speaking on the basis of a specific directive, and when we are deriving principles and practices from the narratives. Still, the data provided by Scripture— whether prescriptive or descriptive—should receive preferential consideration. This is why the church utilizes prayer and the laying on of hands when ordaining a man into the office of pastor.

The Historic Practice of the Church. In places where the Lutheran Confessions provide glimpses of the actual practices of congregations, we learn that they were cautious or conservative in their practices. This is true also of human traditions (Ap XV), public calls (Ap XIV), and the liturgy of the Mass (Ap XXVI) among other things. The Confessors respected the practices that they had inherited as catholic, and as having been proven to be tried and true. The same can be said regarding subsequent Lutheran tradition and its practices (especially within our own Missouri Synod). The practices that we have inherited should be given preferential consideration and adjusted only after the rationale behind them has been thoroughly evaluated and only when there is a compelling reason or need within the church to do so. As in the case of the Reformers, the historic practices of the church need not dictate how we today develop appropriate calling procedures and practices, but they should shape and guide us as we go about finding appropriate procedures for the divine call in the present and future.

The Consensus of the Church. In a culture and society that prizes individuality and autonomy, it becomes increasingly important that congregations and Districts of the Synod not become a law unto themselves by acting in isolation and without consideration for their commitments to the wider church.

Reason and Common Sense. When it becomes necessary to devise human procedures or policies for administering the divine call, an emphasis on human reason is appropriate. Human beings utilize all of their creaturely gifts to analyze, evaluate, and determine the how, the when, and the whom of the call. One ought not too blithely identify such a process with the working of the Holy Spirit. Neither should one dismiss its importance. An appropriate use of ministerial reason is needed to devise policies, procedures, and rites that can best express and carry out the theology of the divine call into the pastoral office.

Administering a Call. Throughout its history the church has consistently derived certain features of the call process from Scripture and therefore has regarded them as non-negotiable. These include the following: (1) the preparation of an individual that certifies him as competent and fit for the office; (2) the selection of an individual by the church; and (3) the ordination and installation of an individual into the office (see the section on Lutheran Confessions). The way in which these three elements are implemented, however, may vary from time to time and place to place depending on the structures and procedures established by human beings within the church.
Determination of Candidates for a Call. The Scriptures affirm that a man who aspires to the pastoral office desires a good thing (1 Tim 3:1). The so-called “inner call” should be interpreted in light of this principle and should not be confused with personal ambition. One who thinks that he has an “inner call” to serve God as a pastor seeks to have that call affirmed and confirmed by the church. Clearly, his call is a public activity that is carried out in behalf of and for the benefit of the church. The church’s affirmation and confirmation take place through the procedures that it adopts for ascertaining a man’s fitness for the office. A man who is called must be qualified to serve in the office to which he is called. These qualifications relate to a person’s doctrine and life, for both have a vital impact upon the ministry of the Gospel. The need for certain qualifications is evident from the church’s consideration of whom to call. Acts 6, as well as Paul’s lists in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Tim 3:1-8, include such things as being apt to teach and above reproach.

Formation-Preparation-Education A ministry of the Word that engages in the teaching and preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments requires a thorough knowledge of the entire counsel of God as the theological framework within which the Gospel is conveyed as Gospel. Not every mention of Christ necessarily conveys the Gospel. It is not any Christ that bears the Gospel, but a particular Christ. The Gospel includes an incarnational Christology within a Trinitarian framework. Preaching the Gospel requires knowledge of the various Lutheran distinctions that are designed to preserve the exclusivity of salvation in the Christ revealed in the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, the preacher must know his audience and the specific intellectual, cultural, and spiritual impediments to the Gospel that reside in those who hear it. For the Gospel to be conveyed effectively in a given age, the preacher must be able to identify those aspects of it that the persons in his audience especially need. In brief, preaching the Gospel requires hard, intellectual work. Since the Bible itself does not say how much preparation is enough, the church has the responsibility for determining the level of competence that it needs in its ministers, with attention given to the community it serves and the challenges of the surrounding culture.

Depending on the needs of the day, individuals are trained variously through apprenticeships, universities, prep-schools, and seminaries. Practicums such as fieldwork, vicarages, and internships may be included. The length of this training can and does vary. There is nothing sacrosanct about four or six year programs, although there certainly may be good reasons for periods of training such as this. The inexhaustible richness of the Scriptures, combined with the always-changing challenges of ministry, suggest that the education and study of pastors cannot stop with graduation or a first call. These must be lifelong.

Examination/Certification The preparation or education of an individual has ordinarily culminated in the examination and certification that attest to his fitness to serve in the office to which he is called. That is to say, the preparation certifies that this man is able to convey the Gospel and exhibit the necessary discernment for diagnosing the spiritual condition of those who need the Gospel.
Who evaluates the graduates or candidates? While the church is responsible for evaluating those whom it places into the pastoral office, it has usually charged certain individuals or entities with the task of exercising this responsibility on its behalf. Most often the examination is carried out by those who have been entrusted with the training and formation of the candidates—and appropriately so. In the case of our Synod, the responsibility for the evaluation and certification of pastoral candidates has historically been placed into the hands of the seminaries. Through the seminaries candidates are declared qualified for a first call and formally commended to the church. The church may also give to others in its midst—such as interview committees (entrance to seminary), vicarage supervisors, and District Presidents—a role in the final evaluation and certification appropriate to the concerns of their particular office. Such a role should not replace the certification offered by those who are charged with the theological training of the candidates.

Examination and certification assure the church that an individual is and continues to be qualified and competent for the office in which he serves, or for receiving another call. Most Pastoral Information Forms (PIFs) today include some form of evaluation by the District President, Circuit Counselor, and the congregation. It is also possible, and perhaps even advisable, that a more formal examination could take place at checkpoints in a man’s ministry or through some form of continuing education so that the church may continue to receive the highest quality of care from its pastors. Within the Missouri Synod the examination historically has involved a number of evaluations during a man’s seminary training, such as coursework, fieldwork, and vicarage— all of which culminated in his certification for ministry. Most often these evaluations have focused on the means through which God creates and preserves the church as the assembly of believers, namely, the Gospel and sacraments. Hence, they have been weighted, and rightly so, toward an emphasis on the marks of the church.

For pastors in the field, the evaluation historically has taken place through the visitation and conversation of the District President, the congregations, and other pastors. Recognizing the human and institutional side of the church, the Synod now also may include the use of psychological profiles, personal interviews, and Self-Evaluation Tools (SETS) for the evaluation of a candidate. These instruments are not utilized for the purpose of assessing an individual’s personal faith, but for evaluating the “First Article” abilities and skills of the one who is to be placed into the service of the Gospel.

Selection and the Extending of a Call.  A man may aspire to the pastoral office and prepare himself with a view to presenting himself as ready for service in that office, but he cannot place himself into the office. The office of preaching the Gospel belongs to Christ. One may not usurp what is only Christ’s to give. Rather, God identifies and selects an individual through the church for a particular location. One can see this in chapters 1, 6, and 14 of Acts.

What should one do upon receipt of a call? When a pastor receives a call, he has an obligation to inform his congregation, the Circuit Counselor, and the District President of that fact and not keep it to himself. He also has an obligation to acknowledge receipt of the call to the calling congregation. Upon informing his congregation, a man should not treat the call as a bargaining chip in order to obtain, for instance, a better financial package. Furthermore, the congregation should be a part of the decision process and should be encouraged to pray for the pastor. When a man accepts a call to serve elsewhere he should seek a peaceful release from the congregation that he has been serving. The reason for such a practice is that the Christian congregation is not an aggregate of individuals, but is part of an organic union called the body of Christ. Christian congregations, therefore, are mutually responsible and accountable to one another.

But the integrity of the divine call must always be preserved and nothing done that will cause people to manipulate or pre-ordain the results of the process. In all calling situations congregations should be encouraged to remember that God’s Holy Spirit is at work throughout the process.

How should names be solicited or nominated? In past practice, if a congregation desired to call a seminary graduate, it submitted a request to the seminary through the District President. The seminary and Council of Presidents together would then attempt to match a graduate with the needs of that congregation. If a congregation wanted to call a pastor from the field, it ordinarily invited its members to suggest names of potential candidates. Those were then shared with the District President who would take them into account and perhaps remove or add names (based on availability of candidates and the needs of the congregation) to the recommended list. The congregation would then consider that list, modify it if so desired, and call an individual from it. These remain good and sound procedures.

Ordination-Installation Ordination is the public recognition by the church that a particular man is qualified, has been elected by a congregation, and is recognized by the wider church as the pastor of a congregation and as an occupant of the pastoral office. Ordination follows the church’s approval for service in the pastoral office through its structures for assessing aptitude, and acceptance of a first call to a specific field of service. The District President or his designated representative administers ordination with the assistance of other colleagues in the office. In this way the entire church affirms publicly that the man has been placed into the office of the ministry and assigned to the particular congregation. The Specific Contents of the Call In light of the two dimensions of the church (as an institution, and as a spiritual reality) and thus the two dimensions of the call issued by the church, it is important to distinguish between those aspects of a call that are “by divine right” (de jure divino) and those that are “by human right” (de jure humano). In as much as the church properly speaking is the assembly of believers, the call from Christ entails the responsibility and obligation to proclaim the Gospel in its purity and administer the sacraments in accordance with the Gospel. The pastor, therefore, feeds and guards the flock of God as an undershepherd of Christ. This is the essence of the call and is the one component that is common to the call of every man who serves in the pastoral office. The pastor possesses and carries out this task by the authority of Jesus Christ. Christ himself commissions him through the Holy Spirit and so when he speaks the words of Christ within the church he speaks for Christ (Luke 10:16).

In so far as the church possesses sociological characteristics as an institution within society, the congregation may include in its call specific tasks that can be assigned only by human authority. Such things would include a congregation’s asking its pastor to carry out administrative tasks, leading it through a building project, and assisting it in charting out a course or “vision” for its future. These are important functions, but they play a supportive role for Word and sacrament ministry, just as the location and size of the building or the time of worship provide the setting and context for the proclamation of the Word. Since the pastor carries out such tasks by human authority, he cannot claim that one particular responsibility, practice, or method is uniquely “God’s plan”—any more than he can claim that a particular meeting time or architectural style is ordained by God. Moreover, these particular tasks will vary from congregation to congregation. They are not applicable to all who serve as pastors. Thus the call issued by a congregation includes elements that are by “divine right” and others that are “by human right.” But these elements must be distinguished. Christ has called the pastor through the congregation faithfully to administer the means of grace for the expansion and edification of the assembly of believers. The congregation may authorize the pastor to carry out leadership, administrative, and counseling responsibilities for the expansion and well being of the congregation. While they overlap, these two dimensions are not identical or coextensive.

Conclusion. The Word of God is a precious gift that the Lord has given to his people. Indeed, the Word is the instrument or channel through which God forgives and recreates his people. The formal responsibility and high privilege of administering the Word publicly in behalf of the whole congregation has brought excitement and delight to those who serve within the office of the public ministry. Pastors and all those whom they are called by God to serve will strive diligently to honor him and the ministry entrusted to them by properly exercising the call into this holy office.