Walk with the Lord and you will have opportunities to minister to people.  There are times where this is easy, “Can you give me a ride to the airport? or “Can you pray for me?” Those are fairly easy to do. By easy, I mean, do not require me to break out of a comfort zone or do something unfamiliar. Yet, situations and serving opportunities will come up requiring me to get heavily involved. At some point, a friend struggles or needs more than just a ride. The Lord engages us to struggling people. A friend comes to you with a problem. Now what? How do you help the person? Do you simply pass him or her off to a pastor? Maybe. But to be honest, this person has come to you with the problem. God called you to love the person by serving him.
You may say, “That’s what a pastor gets paid to do.” Yes he does, kinda. Ephesians 4:11-16 is clear. The Lord calls every saint to minister. The pastor equips you to minister. You, brother and sister, are called to serve. In God’s providence He assigned you to this situation. So what do you do? How do you get involved, serve, and minister? Here are four practical steps you need to employ.
First, get involved. Paul says, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
A person comes to you with a problem. What do you do? Put this in perspective. The Lord decided it was time for you to minister to your friend. He orchestrated your friend to come to you for help. Helping people requires time, sacrifice, energy, and effort. It also requires compassion, kindness, mercy, grace, truth, and patience. Get busy helping your friend by getting involved with him in this situation. A very important nuance here: you did not go and get yourself involved in a mess you were not invited too. “Like one who takes a dog by the ears Is he who passes by and meddles with strive not belonging to him” (Prov. 26:17). There is a difference between being a busy body and helping when asked!
Tell yourself, “The Lord called me to serve here, how can I help?”
Second, gather information. Your friend presents the problem. Before offering advice or solutions, are you sure you understand the problem? Can you rephrase the problem in your own words and have your friend say, “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!” There is nothing worse than giving advice to the perceived problem and not the real problem.
“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13
So ask questions. You be the student. Learn the problem. When you have asked questions, ask some more questions. When you have gathered much information on the problem, then summarize the problem to your friend.
What kind of questions do I ask? Ask questions probing the heart, motives, and provide clarity. If your friend says something you do not understand, ask for clarification. Be patient and listen. Never hesitate to say, “That sounds odd, can you clarify?” Listen more than you talk.
When your friend presents a conflict with another, remember he presents his own side. He will think he is right. He may be, but he may be wrong too. “The first to plead his case seems right until another comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17). So, remember, your data will be incomplete without the other side of the story. Leave room for not having all the information.
In a conflict situation, you can only help the person you are talking too. You cannot counsel the other party involved through your friend. You can only counsel your friend. A husband comes to me about his wife. I cannot counsel the wife through the husband. I can only tell him how he needs to respond in a way that honors the Lord. “Friend, I can really only encourage you to be faithful to the Lord.”
Before you give hope and counsel, determine what kind of problem and where the person fits into the situation. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells us of three different kinds of people and the type of help he or she needs: unruly, fainthearted, and weak. Each one receives different counsel. But no matter what the problem is and how the person responds, “Be patient with them.”
Third, give hope and instruction. Assess whether or not the friend is a believer. If your friend is an unbeliever, the only thing you can tell him or her is the Gospel. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If someone does not fear the Lord then you cannot provide any biblical wisdom. Therefore tell the person the Gospel — the hope we have in Jesus Christ, His death on my behalf, his resurrection, and the hope of eternal life in Him. Point out the problem is really sin but God has a remedy for the problem.
If a person is a believer, remind him of the Gospel and show him what the Bible says about the situation. Remind him how we are supposed to respond to the situation. Use the Bible. It is His Word for our edification (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Make sure the instruction is biblically accurate (2 Timothy 2:15). Finally make sure it is biblically appropriate to the situation (1 Thess 5:14).
God changes people and He provides hope to us. Make sure a person knows there is hope! Jesus provides grace and mercy when we come before His throne. Draw near to Him. Encourage your friend to be teachable and humble. God looks and informs the humble one who trembles at His Word (Isa 66:2).
When helping friends, God comforts me by knowing He conforms believers into His image. This can be a slow process. But He who begins a good work in people, He will complete it (Phil 1:6). Rest assured, God is at work in His children’s life.
Fourth, give homework. This is important. Give a person study material, prayer requests, and actions necessary for the situation. Our goal is help change thinking and living. Guide the person in necessary steps to do so. Provide biblical material to study, memorize Scripture, and/or write out how to live out the Word in situations. The person should start discerning the situation biblically and know how to respond biblically.
These are very brief (probably too brief), but this is a good starting point and grid to help people in ministry. This list is not just for “trained professionals” but for born again believers. If your faith is in Christ, then you need to plan on doing ministry. It is a part of our calling (Eph 2:10). Prepare yourself now to help others.
 This article originally appeared in shepherdthesheep.com