Christian Prisoner Fellowship
Dale H. Pace
Behind the bars, walls and steel doors of the jails and prisons are multitudes of lost individuals. The reasons for these prisoners of society and for the length of time which they must serve are various; however, all of them need to have the opportunity to hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Bible days, a shepherd would pull a reed from the brook, hollow it out, and bore holes in it, to make a flute to play as he watched his sheep. Sometimes, he would pick up a reed that had been stepped on and bruised by someone who had passed that way before him. He would take the bruised reed, break it and cast it aside. A useful instrument could not be made from a bruised reed. However, prophets prophesied that when “He” comes, the bruised reed He will not break. He
will take those bruised by sin, straighten them out, heal their wounds, and make beautiful instruments out of them. This is the work of the prison ministry, sharing the gospel message to those who have been bruised by sin, and seeing the Lord heal their lives.
Jesus specifically referred to those in prison in Matthew 25 and stated that when we are caring for them who are in needy situations, we are also ministering to Him. Furthermore, Matthew conveyed that upon those who minister to prisoners will come blessings; on the other hand, upon those who ignored this directive of the Lord will come rejection and punishment.
The writer of Hebrews strongly declared that we should “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them” (Hebrews 13:3).
We, as ambassadors and Christian witnesses, are aware of the Lord’s desire that His gospel would be shared with all men, no matter what the circumstance, for His grace can reach unto all. No one is beyond hope. H Peter 3:9 tells us that God is not willing that any should perish. I Timothy 2:4 states that He wants all to have the knowledge of the truth. Paul pointed to himself as the great example of the grace of God when he described himself as being the worst of sinners: “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (I Timothy 1:16).
The gospel is the only hope for the prisoner, not only in eternity but also for this present life. It provides the way for them to be rid of the guilt many of them feel in their crimes against society, it is the answer to the problems of family, and it brings them peace with God. Jesus took the guilt of the whole world to the cross (H Corinthians 5:21) so that all men can be forgiven, if they avail themselves of the gospel plan. This abundant life which the Lord offers to all includes the prisoner. More than others, they feel the sting of their sin and they suffer degrading diabolical destruction. Jesus said, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
It has been said that over 2,000 jails and prisons in America and Canada offer no type of religious services and no chaplain. Prisons have nearly doubled their population since 1970, and the rate of 12.1% increase in population in American prisons in 1981 was the fastest growth in this century. At the present, the population growth is about 170 inmates a day. There are over 400,000 inmates today in North America, and at the current rate of growth the number of inmates will double again by 1988.
These inmates have many emotional, psychological, and, most of all, spiritual needs. In these prisons and jails is a society of social offenders that is surrounded by fear and despair. This is a field ready for harvest. The Lord is seeking those who are willing to give a small portion of themselves so the multitudes behind the prison walls can know the hope of Christ.
Often those who desire to become involved in the jail or prison ministry are faced with questions such as, “How do I start a jail or prison ministry? What type of literature should I use? What is the value of Christian Prisoner Fellowship. What is the best approach to reach the prisoners? How should the services be conducted?” This manual will deal with these questions and offer some suggested guidelines to assist you in the prison ministry.
After deciding where you desire to start the jail or prison services, you should communicate with the Christian Prisoner Fellowship for information on how to become a prison chaplain. Your next action should be making contact by a visit or a phone call to whomever is in authority of the religious activities at the prison. This could be a full time prison chaplain, the county sheriff, the judge, the district attorney or someone who is in control of the prison system. It is best to arrange an appointment with this person to explain what you want to do.
Once you have introduced yourself, tell the person you are a prison chaplain who holds a chaplaincy with the Christian Prisoner Fellowship. Briefly explain that Christian Prisoner Fellowship is a worldwide prison ministry endeavor. Share your desire and burden with him.
If you have made a contact with someone in the prison, mention this to him and express the prisoner’s desire to have a Bible study,, devotion time, etc. Also inform the person that the prisoner has requested your help as a chaplain. These are important details and they should be honestly presented from your conversation with a prisoner. At this time, you could ask for permission to work under him as a volunteer chaplain.
The person in charge may ask, “What type of a program will you be teaching?” Make sure that you have brought along with you the literature you plan to use. “Exploring God’s Word” is an excellent Bible study program which allows you to show a page-to-page preplanned teaching program. It will give the prisoners an unfolding of God’s Word in both a personal and dramatic way. The Bible study program has been a very successful method in gaining entrance to prison facilities. More than anything, however, you need to show yourself as a person with a deep desire to help the prisoners.
If the prison official seems hesitant, then be very careful not to force the situation. Every few weeks get in touch with him and express your desire to minister under his leadership. Being kind and sincere with the help of God will eventually open the doors.
Once you have gotten permission to minister in the prison, there are several important procedures to keep in mind. The chaplain or religious leader of the institute, in most cases, has a policy which he will expect you to learn and adhere to. This may be in the form of an Operational Manual or merely a verbal agreement. You must remember that these institutions have strict regulations and rules that cannot be broken. Most often the chaplain is a fair person who is interested in providing religious services to the prisoners, and he may .offer guidance and assistance. In some situations, there is a probationary period during-which you may be trained and evaluated. Take advantage of any training you can receive because this will help you both with the prison administration and in dealing with the prisoners.
Here are some functional policies that should be followed:
1. Become familiar with the Inmate Handbook.
2. Make sure not to usurp or in any way interfere or circumvent administrative regulations and policies.
3. Do not give anything to an inmate without prior approval of the chaplain.
4. If you purchase anything for an inmate, get specific approval by the chaplain or administrator.
5. Do not take anything out of the prison unit for an inmate without approval of the chaplain.
6. If you want to assist the prisoner, such as see a lawyer for him, make sure to secure prior approval by the chaplain or administrator.
7. Bringing anyone else into the prison unit should have prior approval by the chaplain.
9. Keep your appointments and be prompt.
10. Have proper credentials with you at all times while you are in the prison unit.
11. Follow all security regulations at all times.
12. Keep in mind that the main chaplain’s function is to deal with the spiritual needs of the inmate.
13. Remember that you are a guest and do not request special favors from an officer.
14. Do not be an activist, seeking to change policies or telling the administration how to run the institution.
EFFECTIVE PRISON SERVICES
If you are allowed to have a prison service weekly or monthly, it is best to announce the service ahead of time. Most of the time, the guards will let someone go through the cell blocks and announce the services. Some places will even allow handout bulletins put up with the service times.
The prison service should be as normal as a service in your local church. Do not allow the fact that you are in a prison hinder you. The prisoners appreciate you taking prayer requests. As they request prayer for their loved ones, they will get their minds off the surrounding conditions. Let some testify if they desire, but this must be handled with discretion.
One of the most important things to watch is your approach to the prisoners. In God’s eyes those inside are no different from those outside, so do not show an attitude of superiority. You must show them that you are genuinely interested in them and that you respect them as human beings.
Prisoners like old-time singing. It is best to sing easy songs and invite them to clap and sing along with you. Sing in the spirit of praise and worship and they will feel God’s Spirit moving.
When you get to the preaching of the service, just minister as you would at your local assembly. Let God anoint you, and the prisoners will both enjoy and feel the power of God in your preaching. Preach the message of repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name and the infilling of the Holy Ghost, evidenced by speaking in other tongues. Make sure you explain every part to them, for most often they are not familiar with the gospel message or the gospel terms. Give an altar service. You will be happy to see how many will seek after God. After the service, some may want to discuss the Bible. This is a good time to deal with them, after a fresh move of God’s Spirit.
On the weeks that you are not having a worship-type service, it is good to offer a Bible study. Again, announce it ahead of time. “Exploring God’s Word” is a tremendous Bible program. After getting started, the prisoners will look forward to each study session. After these study sessions, plant the seeds of faith so that there will be faith growing in the prisoners’ hearts for God to move during the worship services.
If you are able to deal with prisoners on a one-to-one basis, you will be able to instill the gospel of hope to them most effectively. Make sure you take your Bible and show them verses of Scripture for what you say. This builds confidence that you are not just giving a personal opinion.
It is always good to find an area where you can leave good gospel literature. This may be a tract rack, table, shelves, etc. Literature is one of the strongest tools you will have working for you. Remember, the prisoner has plenty of spare time in which to search the Scriptures directed by the reading material. This will open doors to discussion and build faith in the prisoner.
Some good subjects and reading material are:
2. Rapture of the Church
3. Prophecy Update
4. The Name of Jesus
5. Wheel of Prophecy (oneness tract)
6. Divine Healing
7. The Holy Ghost
8. Water Baptism in Jesus’ Name
9. Word Aflame Bible
10. “Exploring God’s Word” (home Bible study)
Once a prisoner has experienced the Holy Ghost and has been baptized in Jesus’ name, he needs further help and teaching. You are not through with him. He needs to be taught and grounded in the Word of God. Furthermore, after these born-again prisoners get established in the Word, they can teach Bible studies themselves. Some convicts resent people from the “free” world coming in and sharing the gospel with them. However, they may be receptive to other prisoners who have found the joy of Jesus Christ. Also, if and when the prisoner is released into the “free” world again, he will have a gospel-saving effect on his family and friends. Seeing the Word of God planted in the fresh young hearts of born-again prisoners is the greatest of rewards, for they will grow to become mature Christians who will reach out to others.
APPROACHING AND TALKING WITH AN INMATE
This may be the most important part of the prison ministry since your personal dealing with the prisoners may often determine your success. Take notice of the guidelines offered here, for they will keep you from making some serious mistakes.
There is no need to establish a facade or to create some kind of special status for yourself in relationship to the offender. Express your feelings genuinely. An honest and unmasked expression of feelings is one important way for you to show concern.
Mean what you say.
Never make a promise unless you have thought it through first and are prepared to carry it out. The inmate will test you, call your bluff, and see if you will deliver. This is an important part of the inmate’s learning to trust you (which will come slowly in any case).
Be supportive, encouraging, friendly, but also firm.
It is part of your job to be honest and objective, disapproving when this is warranted, as well as praising, supporting and encouraging when that is warranted.
This is the keystone, the inmate will not be open with you until he or she respects or trusts you. Conversely, you must respect the inmate’s individuality and basic rights as a human being. There is no room for narrow prejudices or feelings of superiority. Respond to the inmate’s needs and interests, not to your own.
Let the inmate tell you in his or her own good time about the offense committed, the family left behind, or any other deeply held guilt-associated matters.
Accept the inmate.
Accept him or her as an individual who is no better or no worse than anyone else. To pigeonhole or categorize a person is, in a way, to dehumanize the person.
Do not expect overnight miracles. When things have been going wrong for years and years with a person, these things cannot be corrected in a few weeks or months. The positive effects of your relationship with the offender may not make a decisive change in him until long after you have stopped working with him.
Win respect for yourself.
The inmate will never respect you until it is clear that you cannot be conned or manipulated. The inmate’s manipulations may be expressed in requests for you to influence guards, or for you to serve as a witness, or for you to bring something in or out of the institute which may be allowed. Never give him your home address or phone number, never loan money, and never offer a ride to an inmate. If the inmate asks you to do something which you consider “borderline,” say that you will check to see if it is all right. Then ask the appropriate official.
There will be a time when the inmate, overwhelmed by troubles, will confront you with hostility. At such times, do not force conversation upon the person and, above all, do not respond in a hostile, sarcastic, or anxious manner. Do not act shocked. Retain your composure, ignore the hostility or withdraw for awhile. Chances are that the person will regain his composure.
You cannot take the burden of the other person’s problems on yourself. They are the inmate’s problems, not yours.
Don’t expect thanks.
You may not receive thanks or any show of gratitude from the inmate. He or she may feel it but may not know how to express it—may actually feel embarrassed by it. You may never hear “thank you,” but your effort will be, in the long run, appreciated probably more than you or anyone will ever know.
LOCAL JAIL MINISTRY
Possibly the largest potential and most easily accessible for a ministry in the correctional system is the local jails. You may not live near or be able to minister in a prison or the other various correctional institutions, but most of us are within a few moments of a local jail. The jails confine the most people, but the least is being done to minister to them in comparison to the prisoners in other institutions.
Even though both prisons and jails confine people, there are numerous differences. Some of the outstanding differences are: Prison inmates are serving a sentence of which they have been tried and convicted. Those who are in jail often have not been convicted and are pending trial. Therefore, prison population is going to remain stable compared to that of the jails. Often those in jail are there for a short time to be released or transferred to other institutions. The other outstanding difference is the most common situation, in which you are not able to deal with a person one-to-one in a private area. Alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, problem young people, and all kinds of accused social offenders are often in the same area, possibly the same cell. Most often those who spend any length of time in jail are very poor in that they have not been able to afford bail.
What can you do? Several things can be done. First and foremost, the key to having a successful jail ministry is receiving the support of the jail administrator. It is possible that the jail staff may feel a volunteer chaplain would be an intrusion and a nuisance. In these cases, it is necessary to assure them that you will assist them and not interfere with their responsibilities.
Just coming by for a short visit, expressing your concern and willingness to listen and give spiritual guidance, makes the inmate to know that someone cares. This is the beginning of any successful soul-winning endeavor. Always remember that you are to deal only with the spiritual religious aspects of their lives, and not to try to act as a legal counsel. Limiting yourself to their spiritual needs will keep you from possible legal problems.
Distributing literature, Bibles, and church bulletins may be possible if approved by the jail administration.
A weekly worship service is the most common ministry in many jails, but Bible study classes and discussion groups may be a good approach. Such programs as showing a film, musical groups, and traveling evangelists are always good if the inmates’ interest is high.
Once the contact is made, it often happens that the jail inmate is soon released. This makes it possible to start a Bible study in his home, thus reaching through him the members of his family and his friends with the gospel.
The tremendous fact of prison ministry is that the opportunity is close to all of us. Every community had some type of jail, and often there are other types of correctional institutions such as juvenile homes, detention centers, and prisons. Every church that is interested in sharing the gospel with a prisoner does not have to go far from its doors. Furthermore, since the Scriptures plainly tell us to go and visit those who are in prison, it is for us to go.
Here are some good steps to follow in getting established in a jail or prison ministry.
First, pray for God to use you and that He will open the doors before you as you begin to act on His will. Second, investigate in your local area and find out what other religious groups are doing, if anything, in prison ministry. If there are any other groups involved in the jail or prison ministry, the possibilities for your church to become involved is greater.
Third, decide what type of direction you will able to go in order to provide the most consistent ministry.
Fourth, prepare for the prison ministry by gathering the needed materials, including literature and program that you want to present to chaplain or institutional official. This is where it is important to have been accepted as a Chris Prisoner Fellowship Chaplain. It is best to project a small start and allow it to grow as you learn and God blesses.
Fifth, your commitment to be consistent is a must if your ministry is going to be successful. However, if you are faithful to this ministry, you can be sure that the Lord will bless in abundance.
SCRIPTURE PASSAGES RELATED TO PRISONERS
Because many inmates have a keen interest in what the Bible says about prisoners, these passages are identified as an aid for those who preach to inmates and teach them. The context of the verses referenced should be examined carefully since often only the core verse(s) of a passage are listed.
Genesis 39:19-41:14 Joseph Imprisoment upon a false charge (attempted rape) and his prison experiences.
Genesis 42:15-20 Joseph imprisons his brother.
Genesis 45:4-8 Joseph’s attitude toward his unjust imprisonment
Numbers 21:1 Arad takes some Israelites prisoner.
Judges 16:21, 25 Samson’s imprisonment.
I Kings 22:27 Micaiah imprisoned for telling the truth.
II Kings 17:4 King Hoshea imprisoned.
II Kings 25:27-30 King Jehoiachin in prison.
II Chronicles 16:10 Hanani imprisoned for his prophecy.
II Chronicles 18:26 Micaiah imprisoned for telling the truth.
Job 3:18 Prisoners rest together in death.
Psalms 69:33; 79:11;102:20 God gives attention to prisoners.
Psalms 142:7 A prayer for release from prison.
Psalms 146:7 God releases prisoners.
Ecclesiastes 4:14 Even a prisoner can become king.
Isaiah 10:4 God’s people are beneath prisoners without Him.
Isaiah 14:17 Lucifer does not open prison doors.
Isaiah 20:4 Prisoners of the Assyrians.
Isaiah 24:22 Eschatological imprisonment of the kings of the earth.
Isaiah 42:7 The Messiah to deliver prisoners from the prison.
Isaiah 42:22 The imprisoned state of rebellious Israel.
Isaiah 49:9 Prisoners told to go forth in day of salvation.
Isaiah 53:8 A prophecy of Christ’s imprisonment.
Isaiah 61:1 The ministry of God’s Anointed to captives (fulfillment in Luke 4:18).
Jeremiah 29:26 Shemaiah to put self-made prophets into prison.
Jeremiah 32:1-3 Jeremiah imprisoned during Nebuchadrezzar’s siege of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 32:8, 12 Jeremiah did business while in prison.
Jeremiah 33:1 The Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in prison.
Jeremiah 36:5 Jeremiah under house arrest.
Jeremiah 36:26 Jeremiah miraculously preserved from arrest.
Jeremiah 37:4, 15-38:13 Jeremiah beaten and imprisoned (even in the mire of the dungeon) after the Chaldean army broke off its siege of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 38:28 Jeremiah’s imprisonment continues until the fall of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 40:1-4 Jeremiah’s brief confinement by the Babylonians.
Jeremiah 52:11 King Zedekiah blinded and imprisoned until his death.
Jeremiah 52:31-34 King Jehoiachin’s imprisonment.
Lamentations 3:34 God does not willingly crush prisoners.
Lamentations 3:53-55 Jeremiah’s prison prayer.
Daniel 3:1-28 Three Hebrews in the fiery furnace.
Daniel 6:16-24 Daniel in the lion’s den.
Zechariah 9:11-12 God’s deliverance for prisoners
Matthew 4:12 John the Baptist put into prison.
Matthew 5:25-26 Advice to avoid prison by out-of-court settlement.
Matthew 11:2 John the Baptist sends a question to Jesus from prison.
Matthew 14:3, 10 John the Baptist loses his head in prison.
Matthew 18:30 A debtor put into prison.
Matthew 25:36, 39, 44 Jesus blesses those who visit prisoners and curses those who do not.
Matthew 27:15-21 Release of the prisoner Barabbas.
Mark 1:14; 6:17, 27 John the Baptist in prison and his death
Mark 15:6 Release of the prisoner Barabbas
Luke 3:20 John the Baptist in prison.
Luke 4:18 Ministry of the Messiah to captives.
Luke 12:58-59 Advice on how to avoid prison.
Luke 21:12 Imprisonment of Jesus’ disciples predicted.
Luke 22:33 Peter’s willingness to go to prison for Christ’s sake
Luke 23:19, 25 Barabbas, his crime and release.
Acts 4:3 Imprisonment of Peter and John
Acts 5:18-23 Imprisonment of the Apostles and their miraculous release.
Acts 5:40 Apostles beaten for preaching and released.
Acts 7:54-60 Stoning of Stephen.
Acts 8:3; 9:2, 14, 21 Saul’s imprisonment of Christians.
Acts 12:1, 2 James killed by Herod.
Acts 12:4-17 Peter’s imprisonment and miraculous release.
Acts 12:18, 19 Guards executed for a prisoner’s escape.
Acts 14:19 Paul stoned and left for dead.
Acts 16:22-39 Beating, imprisonment of Paul and Silas, plus an earthquake, result in salvation of the Philippian jailer.
Acts 17:6-9 Jason’s bond provides freedom for Paul and the missionary team.
Acts 20:22-24; 21:11 Paul’s advance knowledge of his imprisonment in Jerusalem.
Acts 21:30-35 Paul beaten by a mob in Jerusalem.
Acts 22:4 Paul’s reference to his putting Christians into prisons.
Acts 22:24-29 Paul almost beaten while a prisoner.
Acts 23:1-10 Paul’s hearing before a rowdy court.
Acts 23:11 God’s assurance to the prisoner Paul.
Acts 23:18 A guard heeds a prisoner’s request.
Acts 23:23-35 Paul transferred to another prison because of a threat on his life.
Acts, Chapter 24 Paul’s hearing before Felix.
Acts, Chapter 25 Paul’s hearing before Festus and his appeal to Caesar.
Acts, Chapter 26 Paul’s hearing before Agrippa.
Acts 27:1-28:15 Paul’s trip to Rome in custody.
Acts 28:16 Paul’s house arrest in Rome.
Acts 28:17-20 Paul’s description of his imprisonments.
II Corinthians 11:23 Paul refers to his imprisonment.
Ephesians 3:1; 4:1 Paul, the prisoner of Christ.
Ephesians 6:20 Paul, the ambassador in bonds.
Philippians 1:11-18 Paul’s imprisonment advances the gospel.
Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus, Paul’s fellow prisoner.
II Timothy 1:8 Paul, the prisoner of Christ.
II Timothy 1:16, 17 Onesipherus ministers to Paul the prisoner.
II Timothy 2:9 God’s Word is not bound because the preacher is in prison.
II Timothy 4:16-17 Paul abandoned by friends at his trial.
Philemon 1, 9 Paul, prisoner of Christ.
Philemon 10 Onesimus was saved in prison.
Philemon 23 Epaphras, Paul’s fellow prisoner.
Hebrews 13:3 Remember prisoners.
I Peter 3:19 Christ preached to spirits in prison.
II Peter 2:4 Fallen angels in chains.
Jude 6 Fallen angels in chains.
Revelation 2:10 Satan will cast some into prison.
Revelation 2:13 Antipas martyred.
Revelation 20:7 Satan is released from his prison.
The article “Christian Prisoner Fellowship” written by Dale H. Pace was excerpted from Christian Prisoner Fellowship, Home Missions Division, UPC, 1986.