the shape of leadership

Consider the Call to Prison Ministry

What can your church do to help?

Daniel Odean on May 4, 2018

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics through 2016, approximately 6.7 million adults in America are under the supervision of correctional systems. This includes more than 2 million in state and federal prisons and local jails and millions more who are under the authority of probation or parole agencies.

Allow me to put this in perspective for you: This is roughly the equivalent of the combined populations of America’s second and third largest cities, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Are we following the scriptural directive to “remember those in prisons” (Hebrews 13:3) by addressing the needs in our own local communities? At various levels, these needs exist everywhere in America. The issue is pervasive, and it is impacting your city and neighborhood.

May 6 is Prison Sunday in the Assemblies of God. This is a great time for your church to consider and answer the call to participate in prison ministry.

What value should we place on prison ministry? Let’s make it personal: What value do you place on prison ministry? The responses will vary from person to person, but if you seek the Lord, you will determine that He places the highest value on it.

Referring to the Final Judgement, Jesus says in Matthew 25:36, “I was in prison and you came to me.” Jesus places a mandate on the call to prison ministry in this passage by concluding, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (verse 40).

There are so many ways to make a difference in the lives of prisoners, their families and others in your community.

Prison ministry does not seem to be optional for the Church.

Recently, while attending the annual American Jail Association conference, I met a retired 30-year law enforcement officer. This man is now involved in prison ministry in various ways by visiting jails, helping those returning to society, and supporting parents who have children in prison. As we talked, he explained his motives. About five years ago, his 27-year old son was arrested and later sent to federal prison to serve a 30-year sentence.

As you can imagine, this man and his wife were devastated. These have been the toughest years of their lives. Working in and around jails as a law enforcement officer for many years, he saw families visiting their incarcerated loved ones. Yet he never understood their pain until his own son went to prison. Now he empathizes through his own personal pain.

When a loved one is serving time, other family members serve time in a way, too. This retired officer decided to work through his grief by reaching out to minister to others and make a difference in his community. He considered and answered the call.

You don’t have to wait until you know someone in the criminal justice system. Loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself means you will want to care for the hurting people in your community, wherever they may be. The challenge is finding out what and where the needs are.

Granted, prison ministry is not glamorous. In fact, it is downright difficult and complicated at times. However, the growth of the local church depends on the personal spiritual growth of its members.

Prison ministry offers unique and vital opportunities for spiritual development as people get personally involved in spiritual basics, such as witnessing, Bible teaching, counseling, worship, encouragement, etc.

There are many ways to deliver the message of hope through Christ. A few examples include onsite prison or jail ministries; community corrections ministries; ministry to the children, spouses and parents of incarcerated individuals; reentry ministry; mentoring ministry; and ministry to the correctional staff.

There are so many ways to make a difference in the lives of prisoners, their families and others in your community. Ask local authorities what the greatest needs are. Then prayerfully consider answering the call to prison ministry.

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