This thought is against the grain of society isn't it? Don't assume prison ministry is for you. It saddens me to see individuals and teams lose their focus of who they are serving... Jesus Christ. They cannot figure out why their teams are falling apart, disintegrating before their eyes and losing impact for God's Kingdom.
I have seen team members bring suggestions that fall on the deaf ears of arrogant prison ministry leaders. Team members become frustrated and feel useless and unwanted if they have suggestions that are not considered. At times God prompts improvements or excellence through the team. We are the body of Christ. Are you the leader who prefers the "same ol' same ol" method of doing things that you've always done? My friends, be in prayer for how God is molding your ministry. Remember, we are to shepherd, lead and encourage team members as well as the inmates.
A true leader surrenders to God in prayer, listens for feedback (it is your friend) and trusts the Holy Spirit's leading to do what is right for the prison ministry.
First pride, then the crash - the bigger the ego, the harder the fall! Proverbs 16:17-18 (Message)
When I coach ministry teams my go-to phrase is... "Have you prayed specifically on this?" Prayer is the beating heart for any ministry. Remove prayer and I promise you pride and self-ambition start growing like a weed in the ministry. Through prayer, it is amazing to watch God naturally "weed-out" and frustrate the people whose intentions are self-focused instead of God-focused. My prayer is that you are able rise up and shepherd them correctly so their divisiveness doesn't become contagious choking off and killing the ministry.
God assigns places of spiritual ministry and leadership in His sovereign will. When we become empty of self and dependent on God the Holy Spirit will use us.
HOW NOT TO JUDGE CRIMINALS WHO HAVE ALREADY BEEN JUDGED:
"Let's talk God!" Before my first trip into a women's prison, God and I had to have a serious conversation. Some of these women have committed acts I couldn't even imagine.
"God, you have called me to this ministry. Please give me your heart and enable me to see them the way you do. Show me how to love these women unconditionally. I cannot do it alone without your help."
I have interviewed over 250 female inmates in various correctional facilities. I asked them what they need to see, hear and experience at a prison church service in order for the majority of the prison to want to attend? One of the top requests was: To send in people who do not judge them or talk down to them.
One inmate's perspective:
"I feel like I have a sign on my forehead with big letters that says CONVICT". "Even church people make me feel unwanted." "One preacher used to talk down to us and get up in our face, telling us to shut up."
Heart attitude test question:
If Jesus were standing in front of you, how would you treat Him? Are you treating these women the same way? What is your real heart attitude before you attend and when you leave? We should be treating these women the same way we would treat our Lord. With our very best!
The following are a few suggestions that have been helpful for our teams before entering prison
- To refrain from judgmental thoughts and actions you must be bathed in prayer.
- Confess your own sins privately to God.
- Ask for forgiveness for your own sins, thoughts and past judgements.
- Ask for help and power from the Holy Spirit, not to judge but love all who enter. (This is impossible in our own power.
- Love them unconditionally with God's love.
- Allow them to feel special. Greet them individually, thanking them for attending.
- Smile and look at them in the eye. (It might be the only one they receive all day.)
- Have some fun and laugh together.
- When speaking one on one with them, listen to them intently like they are the only one in the room.
- Be prepared! - God wants to "love 'em up" - through you!
Prisoner's sins are no worse than ours... just illegal. We all need God's love and forgiveness.
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much...
Then Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Luke 7:47-50