By Chris Moon
In the midst of the stresses and strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tri-Village Christian Church realized it needed some extra hands—and listening ears.
The church in Pataskala, Ohio, found more and more people—both inside and outside the congregation—needed help in navigating some of the difficulties of life. And there weren’t enough church staff members to go around.
“There were more and more people who were going to be hurting and have needs, and we needed to be able to walk alongside of them,” said Tammie Miller-Wiard, connections coordinator with the church that was averaging 600 to 700 early in 2020.
To help remedy that, the church has launched a brand-new Stephen Ministry that trains lay members of the church to provide basic one-on-one Christian care to people in need of support.
Miller-Wiard and her husband, Herb, had heard about Stephen Ministries, a nonprofit in St. Louis that equips church laypeople to serve as caregivers to people in their community.
So, the couple attended leadership training with Stephen Ministries and then prayerfully began to recruit people into the new Stephen Ministry at Tri-Village Christian Church.
Eighteen people signed up. They completed a rigorous 50-plus hours of training and are just beginning to serve.
“It’s just nice to have someone to walk with,” Herb Wiard said.
‘SOMEONE TO WALK WITH’
Tri-Village’s new Stephen Ministry is pairing caregivers with “care receivers.” The latter are people who are going through a range of life crises, big and small.
For example, a person may need some help navigating becoming an empty-nester. Or someone may be having a rough patch in his or her marriage. Or a person might just have learned of a cancer diagnosis, or suffered a miscarriage or the loss of a job.
Herb Wiard describes it as a process—“kind of like walking on a path with someone through the woods.”
Caregivers meet weekly with those folks to help them navigate their difficult journey. The object isn’t to solve problems but to give people Christ-centered company on their journeys.
“We have to focus on the fact that we are caregivers, but God is the cure-giver,” Tammie Miller-Wiard said.
The online training, provided by St. Louis’ Stephen Ministries, extended from August to December. The 18 caregivers met each Sunday night during that time.
Lessons included the art of listening, the distinctives of Christian care, and how to help someone walk closer with God. Confidentiality also was stressed, as was knowing when to refer someone to mental health counseling.
LETTING GOD LEAD
To find volunteers to become caregivers, Tammie and Herb prayed over people in the congregation to discern whom they might ask to join the ministry, as did senior minister Paul Snoddy and executive pastor David Brown. They each compiled lists of people they thought might be good fits for the new ministry. When they compared their lists, they were surprised at how many names matched up.
“We relied heavily on prayer and letting God place names on our hearts,” Tammie Miller-Wiard said.
Brown said it was important to know the back stories of potential caregivers. Some were widows or widowers. Some were former alcoholics. People who have been through difficult life experiences often can be of help to others.
Brown said the Stephen Ministry allows people who are called and gifted, especially with the gifts of compassion and mercy, to put their gifts to work. Oftentimes, people with those gifts don’t find places to serve in the church.
“Healthy churches need a variety of individuals,” Brown said.
Miller-Wiard added that the Stephen Ministry is for people outside of the church, as well. The ministry can be a good way to introduce people to Christ.
She said the ministry aligns well with Tri-Village’s primary mission, which is to connect people to Christ and each other.
“We’re fulfilling that priority here, too,” she said.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.