Gene D. Tomlinson
Barbed wire. Steel bars and heavy metal doors. Guard towers with armed officers. Criminals. This is prison.
Society says, "Lock them up and throw away the key."
Politicians say, "We need to build more prisons."
Statistics say, "80% of inmates return to prison after release--we are wasting our time to try to rehabilitate them."
But Jesus says, "I was in prison, and you came to me."
The prison system is the only "business" that succeeds by its failure. Prison populations grow larger and larger. Often, people come out of prison worse than when they went in. Many commit more crimes, return to prison, and get stuck in the cycle of recidivism, the "revolving door" of crime, prison, and release.
The answer to this is not more prisons. It is not locking people up and "throwing away the key." It is not even the death penalty, as studies have shown that even this does not effectively deter crime. The answer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the demonstration of power.
Prisoners need regeneration not rehabilitation--and Jesus has commissioned His followers to reach beyond the barbed wire fences and steel bars to touch the lives of men and women bound by the shackles of sin. We are to help them to understand their identity as Sons of God, as fellow heirs.
We must elevate them above the cycle of sin and forgiveness which is propitiated by that old misnomer, and belief that we are “only a sinner saved by grace.” We are to help them move past that into a spiritual maturity which increasingly brings the closer to God, through His indwelling Spirit.
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.'"
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)
Jesus declared: "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).
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 by helping them to understand and embrace their identity as Sons and Heirs of God.
· 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.
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.
Begin now to pray for God to reveal the specific way that you are to be involved!