Late last year, my church decided to support a local ministry that focused on evangelism and teaching in the local community. It is a very "old school" ministry, so much so that they don't even have a website that I can link for you here. My church's sponsorship meant that we would give them some money, and that the elders would be encouraging us members to contribute time to helping out their causes.
It just so happened that right around that time I began to look for ways to be challenged to become a better teacher. I had always assumed a teaching posture in the church as I feel that this is how God has gifted me. I can understand things and explain them to people who don't understand them. I've been a children's Sunday School teacher for a few years now, and I'm an occasional guest speaker for the adult class.
Yes, I know, compared to the Al Mohler's and John MacArthur's of the world, that is really small potatoes. Nonetheless, I count it as a privilege to contribute my little bit to God's people.
At any rate, when the call went out to members of my church to contribute time to the ministry, a particular aspect of what they did caught my eye: Prison Ministry.
For some reason I have always been attracted to this type of ministry. I can remember being in college and reading blogs (they were just starting to become a thing) on ministries in prisons. I remember a particular article that stuck out to me saying that Prison Ministry is usually done poorly. Either those involved are bad or false teachers, or they are good teacher with terrible messages. What particularly stood out was that there were genuine believers behind bars who received no instruction in the word. A prisoner was quoted as saying "I don't even need my Bible, I already know what they're going to say."
Typically, it seems, these bad messages either assume the prisoners aren't saved and only preach the Gospel, or the ignore God's word altogether and try to be a friend to the guys behind bars.
I remember trying to picture myself behind bars and never hearing God's word preached. How frustrating that would be! Yet, the need remains to preach the Gospel because many inmates come to prison ministries not having any idea about how to be saved nor the need to be saved.
No one said it was an easy job, I guess.
Well, all of that was racing through my mind when the time came to make my contribution to the new ministry. I marvel at how God puts things together sometimes. I needed to sharpen my skills, this ministry needed a guy with skills, and for some reason that one article I had read (among the literally thousands I've read since) always stuck out to me. So I volunteered to teach a class to the prisoners if they needed me to do so. I didn't really know what to expect from the ministry in response.
They jumped all over the opportunity to have another teacher in the program and invited me to a meeting last Monday.
The meeting went well, I think. I introduced myself, told them of my desire to be of service to their cause. We discussed some of the ins and outs of the ministry. I decided I wanted to preach through First John. I choose First John because it would offer a good balance between preaching the Gospel to the lost and giving instruction to the saved.
One thing I pulled away from this meeting was that this whole endeavor was going to drive me to my knees. I suppose I expected to walk in to the prison, give my lecture, say a prayer, and leave. I have no idea why I thought that would be the situation, but that was kind of the model I had in my head. As it turns out, there is a lot more interaction with the inmates than I realized. They ask questions and expect you to answer them. They have personal issues. They have spiritual issues; not just that they need instruction in the word, but that they need prayer and counseling, even accountability. Some of them are addicted to drugs. Some of them have shattered family lives. Some of them are simply shells of men. You counsel them, pray for them, talk with them. They look at you, as a few of the brothers at the meeting put it, a breath of fresh air. Beautiful feet, I suppose (Rom 10:15)
Ministry just got very real.
While this is certainly not the only place, this is no less a place that is the "tip of the spear". The front lines. This is where our rhetoric is tested, where our slogans are meaningless, and where people's lives are really affected. Sure, I have some influence over the group of 10 year olds I love to see each Sunday morning. Sure, I can be there to support my brothers and sisters in Christ on Sunday and even lead them to Worship. But in prison, like in the mission field, that doesn't mean a thing to someone who has no idea what to do next with their life. That's not to say that I don't love and admire the many brothers and sisters who work hard within our own camps to do what God has put before them, but it is to say that a ministry like a prison is a different battle. A battle with far less margin for error, and far more at stake.
With me in that meeting on Monday were other men, all of whom had varying experience in this ministry. They looked battle hardened, ready for the fight. Some of them looked well used of God, but they all had a certain fire to them. They knew what they were doing was important, and they knew that God held them to a high standard. It was refreshing to meet more real men of God. I couldn't help but feel like a rookie, a kid, listening to them talk. I knew what most of them were made of.
I guess now we'll find out what I'm made of. . . and I'll be sure to tell you all about it here.
Pray for me brothers and sisters. Pray for this ministry too. God knows we need it.