Blogging Myself Out of A Job
If you walk into a Christian bookstore, go to the area where Bibles are sold and you will be amazed at how many Bibles there are. There’s the Spirit Filled Life Bible, the Battlezone Bible, The Good News Bible, The Archeological Study Bible, the Apologetics Study Bible, the Rainbow Study Bible, the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, and on and on. Walk in a church and you will find a small group for this and a small group for that. All of this seems to imply that God’s Word isn’t sufficient. We need to dress it up or do things different for one group or another so that it will appeal to individual problems or preferences. This is one of the fundamental misconceptions I want to address concerning prison ministry: that ministry to those in prison is somehow different than ministry to anyone else.
Someone may argue, “But of course it’s different! They’re in prison!” In the movie Pretty Woman, after Richard Gere told Julia Roberts of his plans to set her up in a fancy apartment with money to burn, she said that wasn’t good enough. He said, “It will get you off the streets.” To which she replied, “That’s just geography.” She wanted it all; she wanted to be married and live happily ever after. And in the movie they did! Ministry to men in prison may be different because of where they are, but that’s just geography; they need and want everything the gospel has to offer as much as any other member of your church or any other sinner to whom you might reach out.
They need the gospel, faithfully preached to and practiced before them. As they become Christians, they will need to be baptized and elders to administer communion. They need more than just one pastor to hold a service; they need the body to come to them. They need someone to write them, someone to help them with books while they are in to help them grow. They will need help after they are released. They will probably all have one financial need or another. They will certainly need fellowship, biblical counseling and accountability. They will need a place to work. They may need a place to live so that they do not return to the old neighborhood, friends and trouble. And so, you argue, prison ministry is different. After all, the church doesn’t have to supply food, clothing and shelter to its members. It certainly isn’t in the business of providing cell phones and jobs! Isn’t it?
I am not one who believes that Matthew 25:36 is necessarily a mandate for prison ministry; I think the type of prison ministry with which Jesus is concerned in that verse may be intended for martyrs and the like. But the point I am making is that it is a mandate for the church to be involved with caring for the poor. Years ago I read a book called “Welfare Reformed.” It was a collection of essays about what the Bible has to say about welfare. The one that stuck with me the most was written by George Grant and it was entitled, “Three Essential Elements of Biblical Charity: Faith, Family and Work.” Based on the book of Ruth, Mr. Grant basically laid out that our charity must consider 1) the person’s faith, 2) the ability of the person’s family to help, and 3) the person’s work ethic. I am by no means suggesting that the Bible suggests that the church should give blindly to anyone who asks without due consideration. But what I am insisting is that the Bible commands us to help those in need. And it doesn’t stipulate a background check first.
The Apostle Paul said, “And such were some of you…” (1 Corinthians 6:11). All of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short. All of us have been forgiven great sin (even if the greater sins have remained hidden in hearts and minds and not made it to the evening news as you were being sentenced to prison) (Luke 7:47). We are commanded to preach the gospel to all (Matthew 28:19-20). We are commanded to seek them out (Acts 14:23). And the same gospel we preach to one, we preach to all. The same way we love one, we should be willing to love all. After all, what have we that we have not received? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
I titled this “Blogging Myself Out of a Job” because there shouldn’t be ministries for this and ministries for that, centers for this or centers for that. There should just be the church doing its job. You want to know how to minister to those in prison? Do the same for them that you would do for anyone else. Do the same for them that you would want others to do for you. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching,” 2 Timothy 4:1, 2.
But I know there are many churches that can’t. There are many who are willing but don’t have the resources. There are legitimate questions and concerns about becoming involved in prison ministry. It is certainly true that there are unique issues that must be addressed. But what I want you to get out of this first blog is that if you know the gospel, and you know how to counsel the Word, you already have everything you need to become involved in prison ministry. For those who still have questions, who can’t find the time, resources or volunteers, you have Hope Prison Outreach. And I guess I still have a job!
Posted on February 3, 2012