You Came Unto Me
A Training Manual For Jail And Prison Ministry
Qualifications And Preparation
. . . be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1st Timothy 4:12)
Upon conclusion of this chapter you will be able to:
∙ Summarize the spiritual qualifications for a prison ministry worker.
∙ Identify four areas of preparation vital to effective prison ministry.
Those who minister with inmates must be sure of their relationship with Christ, set a proper example, and always be ready to give an answer for the hope within them. While a person called to this ministry should demonstrate all the spiritual virtues taught in the Word, this chapter emphasizes the essential qualifications prison workers should possess:
Entering a jail or prison to minister--whether on a one-to-one or group basis--is outside the “comfort zone” for most believers. It is not unusual to feel a bit uneasy the first few times you are in a penal facility---but remember, God will take care of you whenever you are in His service. In most cases, the prison chapel is a safe place and inmates are open and friendly. If you feel apprehensive, remember that God does not give a spirit of fear--so recognize where fear comes from and conquer it in the name of Jesus!
There are many different persons in a prison society. As a volunteer--in addition to the inmates-- you will primarily be involved with correctional officers (also called guards) and a chaplain or supervisor. Most people you meet will probably treat you with courtesy and respect. Be sure to treat them courteously, speaking to them and shaking hands with them where appropriate, using their names when reasonably possible. A good prison worker knows how to cooperate with others--administration, other volunteers, and especially the chaplain, if the jail or prison has one.
It is important for you, as a volunteer, to have some understanding of the work of jail and prison chaplains. Chaplains work long hours under difficult conditions. Each day chaplains must deal with many responsibilities such as the personal crises of inmates, providing programs to meet the spiritual needs of inmates, and fighting the frustrations and disappointments which are an integral part of prison chaplaincy.
Most full-time prison and jail chaplains have more training and preparation for their work than do many ministers. Before they can be accepted into many prisons they must have seminary training and be endorsed by their denominations. Often they are required to have served in a pastorate before coming into chaplaincy. Chaplains must also be acceptable to the warden of the prison in which he/she is to work.
A chaplain functions as the administrator of a religious program for the entire institution.
He/she provides for the traditional preaching and worship functions, oversees religious education programs; spends much time in personal counseling; recruits, trains and supervises volunteers; and performs many administrative activities (letters, meeting, reports.)
It is important for volunteers to maintain good relationships with the chaplain. It is a grave breach of trust to use your access to the prison to undermine the chaplain's reputation or to discredit his programs. If there is a problem, always talk with the chaplain first.
Be real! Inmates are adept at identifying phonies. A person should not visit the prison with an improper motive like seeking a spouse or showing off his/her abilities. Prisoners are extremely perceptive. They can quickly spot the person who joined the team out of curiosity. Selfish motives and "holier-than-thou" attitudes have no place in this ministry.
Maintain a humble spirit. Remember--you are there to serve. Always be in subjection to those in authority (the chaplain, guards, warden).
Foster a forgiving spirit, recognizing that but for the grace of God, you could be in a similar situation. Realize that God’s forgiveness extends to what society calls “psychopaths” and the “vilest of individuals.”
Society, friends, and family have given up on many inmates. They don’t need someone else to reject them. Be patient. God has promised you will reap spiritual fruit in due season. Volunteers who start and then quit demoralize the inmate, disappoint the chaplain and the prison staff, and give a bad image to the efforts of the church.
Be faithful, constant, and trustworthy in the performance of your duties, especially in keeping promises and being on time for appointments or services. The prison chaplain depends on you, as do the inmates. A visit that may just be another in a long list of things you have to do can be the highlight of an inmate’s week. Don’t disappoint them. Be faithful to this great privilege with which God has entrusted you. Commitment to be consistent and dependable is a top ranking quality valued by chaplains who work with volunteers.
Empathy is the ability to feel with people as though you were in their place. In the Old Testament, the Prophet Ezekiel sat with the captives by the River Chebar before he shared God’s message to them. They were ready to listen, because they knew he understood. He had “sat where they sat” (Ezekiel 1:1).
SENSE OF MISSION:
A sense of mission is a desire and determination to give this work priority (at the times designated for it), a belief that this is what you would rather be doing (at that time) than anything else in the world!
You must not only lead inmates to new spiritual growth, but likewise you must be willing and anxious to grow. Spiritual growth is a lifelong process. If you ever feel that you have "arrived" in either knowledge or virtue, you are simply showing how immature you really are.
It is important that you can handle your own emotions: Anger, depression, up one day and down the next. Prison is a depressing place and inmates don’t need more gloom and doom.
Study 1st Corinthians 13. The greatest motivating force behind any ministry--and especially prison ministry--is love. Love for God. Unconditional love for the inmate. Love for the mission to which God has called you.
There are four vital areas of preparation for those who desire to be effective prison workers.
PREPARE IN PRAYER:
As in every ministry, effective prison ministry is fueled by prayer. Here are some specific prayer targets:
∙ The chaplain of the institution.
∙ Individual inmates.
∙ Families of inmates.
∙ The warden and administrative staff.
∙ Correction officers.
∙ Safety for prison volunteers entering the institution.
∙ Parolees: For their spiritual and practical needs--jobs, housing.
∙ Revelation knowledge to meet the needs of inmates.
∙ Spiritual revival.
∙ For God to raise up strong spiritual leaders within the prison church body.
∙ Inmate prayer requests: Many prison chapels have a prayer request box. Inmates write out their requests and put them in the box for the chaplain and volunteers to pray specifically for their concerns.
PREPARE IN THE WORD:
The prison volunteer should have a good working knowledge of the Bible and basic Christianity. Most inmates are not interested in the finer points of theology, but they do need a clear, understandable presentation of the gospel. If you do not study and understand the Word, how can you help someone else learn to study and understand it? To be an effective prison worker, you must continually be studying God’s Word.
PREPARE FOR YOUR SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITY:
Prepare for your specific responsibility in ministry. If you are to sing, have your sound track cued and ready. If you are to teach, spend adequate time preparing your lesson. If you are using video or audio equipment or an overhead projector, have these items ready.
PREPARE FOR THE SPECIFIC INSTITUTION:
Prepare yourself for the specific institutional setting you will enter:
∙ Know the rules for dress and conduct of the specific institution. These vary from institution to institution.
∙ Know the chain of command--who you are responsible to as a volunteer.
∙ Know what you are allowed to take into the institution with you.
∙ Get a general understanding of the ways in which acceptable Christian ministries can be carried out within that system.
∙ Attend training and orientation classes offered by the institution or chaplain.
The Lady Behind The Walls
By Kassie Logan
At times it is a lonely place,
No loved ones to be found,
A search for inner happiness,
Yet depression keeps you bound
As I sit and look outside the fence,
At the traffic passing by,
The amazement of it all,
Makes me stop and question "Why?"
Why has the Lord bestowed on me,
Such an awesome cross to bear?
Why would the loving God I serve,
Allow something so unfair?
Time to me is nothing new,
Must accept as best I can,
For I know that in the scheme of things,
My Jesus has a plan.
And someday, out those gates I’ll walk,
When the Lord's voice gently calls,
And I will tell my story,
About "the lady behind the walls.”
SELF-TEST FOR CHAPTER TWO
1. Write the key verse from memory.
2. Summarize the spiritual qualifications for a prison ministry worker which were discussed in this chapter.
3. Identify four areas of preparation vital to effective prison ministry.
(Answers to self-tests are provided at the conclusion of the final chapter of this manual.)
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