Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Should Churches Have a Prison Ministry?
THE MANDATE FOR PRISON MINISTRY
The mandate for prison ministry is clear in God’s Word, both by scripture and example.
The greatest scriptural mandate for prison ministry is given in Matthew 25:31-40. Jesus said:
. . .“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, `Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: `for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; `I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, `Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, `Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:31-40)
Jesus Christ Himself is our example for prison ministry. One of the main targets of Christ’s ministry was prisoners:
. . . To open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. (Isaiah 42:7)
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound”. . . (Isaiah 61:1)
Even while dying on Calvary's cross, Jesus took time to reach out in love and concern to a prisoner. As a result, that convicted criminal experienced God's love, grace, and forgiveness. During the time between His death and resurrection, we are told that Jesus “ . . . went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19).
Unfortunately, despite the clear Biblical injunction and Christ’s example to minister to prisoners, many believers prefer to pass by on the other side of the street, as did the religious leaders in the parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37).
WHY PRISON MINISTRY?
Why must believers be concerned about prison ministry? Because. . .
1. Prison ministry has a direct Scriptural mandate (Matthew 25:31-40). Throughout the Bible are examples, descriptions, and commandments about prisons, prisoners, bondage, captivity, and slavery. The Bible mentions prison, prisoners, or imprisonment more than 130 times. (See Appendix Two of this manual)
2. We should follow the example Christ set by ministering to prisoners.
3. Prisons meet the criteria of any mission field: Lost people and a need for laborers.
4. God is not willing that any should perish--not even serial killers, rapists, and molesters (2 Peter 3:9). God loves even the “worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
5. Chaplains cannot minister to more than a small percentage of inmates in their care. They cannot do all of the necessary work themselves, as there is just not enough time to do so.
6. Many jails and prisons have no professional chaplains and many have no religious services at all.
7. For every person incarcerated, there are three to five other people affected: Mates, children, parents, etc. Inmates and their families represent a large segment of society in any culture.
8. False religions and cults are reaching out to prisoners. We must get there first with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
GOALS OF PRISON MINISTRY
The spiritual goals of jail and prison ministry may include one, some, or all of the following:
∙ To share the unconditional love of God.
∙ To present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that inmates will embrace it and receive Christ as Savior.
∙ To disciple new believers in the Word and teach them how to study the Bible.
∙ To demonstrate the power of prayer and teach them to pray.
∙ To lead inmates to experience the life-changing power of God that will free them from guilt, shame, negative emotions, and addictions.
∙ To minister to inmates’ families.
The social goals of jail and prison ministry are:
∙ To help the inmate function more positively within the prison environment.
∙ To provide a link between the community and persons confined in correctional institutions
∙ To prepare residents for re-entry into society (physically, mentally, morally and spiritually).
∙ To assist inmates families in practical ways.
∙ To provide post-prison assistance in practical ways.
WHAT THE GOSPEL HAS TO OFFER
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has many things to offer inmates.
∙ Forgiveness from sin.
∙ A chance to say "I'm sorry."
∙ Release from guilt and shame.
∙ Acceptance--when all many of them have ever known is rejection.
∙ New values and perspectives.
∙ Strategies for coping with difficult situations and negative emotions
∙ Basics for true honest relationships.
∙ Life abundant through Jesus Christ.
∙ A new purpose for living.
∙ Eternal life.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE?
Of the millions of active believers world-wide, only a small number are involved in ministry to prisoners, despite the fact that jails and prisons are found in almost every community. Yet the scriptural mandate by both teaching and example is clear.
Every believer should be involved in prison ministry. This does not necessarily mean you are called to actually go into a prison. As in missions--not everyone is called to go to a foreign field to share the Gospel. But--as in missions--every believer should be involved in prison ministry in some capacity.
There are many ways to be involved:
∙ Provide prayer support for prison ministries.
∙ Visit an inmate.
∙ Write to a prisoner.
∙ Assist families of inmates.
∙ Help inmates transition back to society after their release.
∙ Conduct worship services, Bible studies, or group meetings inside prisons.
∙ Write, publish, and distribute Biblically based training material specifically designed for prison inmates.
∙ Provide Bibles and Christian literature for inmates.
∙ Provide financial support to a prison ministry.
∙ Serve as a prison chaplain.