You Came Unto Me
A Training Manual For Jail And Prison Ministry
Conducting Group Meetings
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
Upon conclusion of this chapter you will be able to:
∙ Identify various types of group meetings that can be conducted in jails and prisons.
∙ Summarize guidelines for conducting group meetings.
Many jails and prisons offer opportunities for group ministries to inmates. This chapter identifies various types of group ministries and suggested guidelines for conducting the groups.
TYPES OF GROUP MEETINGS
There are many types of Christian group meetings to conduct in a prison:
∙ Worship services
∙ Bible studies
∙ Music classes
(to train vocalists, musicians, or a choir for the prison worship services)
∙ Musical and dramatic presentations
∙ Christian writing
∙ Small groups offering a Christian approach to addiction and/or emotional problems
∙ Parenting classes
∙ Bible college courses
∙ Discipleship classes for new believers
Remember to follow the guidelines given in Chapter Three of this manual for preparing and submitting your proposal to the institution.
CONDUCTING GROUP MEETINGS
Here are some general guidelines for conducting group services in a jail or prison.
Correctional institutions are run on a strict schedule. All group meetings should begin and end on time.
Music for worship services in prison should be encouraging and uplifting. Songs that could be misunderstood by residents as condemning or as "put down" should not be used, e.g., "Rescue the Perishing." Neither should depressing music like “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.” If you are using overheads, song books, or sound tracks, have these items ready. Always receive clearance from the chaplain before arranging musical activities which are different from that which your team normally does (special groups, cantatas, etc.)
Here are some suggestions for prayer time:
∙ Keep prayers short and to the point unless the Holy Spirit moves in a special way. A lengthy prayer could not only make the worship tedious but could be misunderstood by the prisoners as saying, "These people need long prayers."
∙ No particular position or posture is important, but when there is a large crowd (50 or more), it would be advisable to leave the congregation seated or standing while offering prayer rather than calling them forward to kneel. (This is for control purposes.)
∙ Spend most of the time praying for the physical, social, mental and spiritual welfare of inmates--their concerns and those relating to their families. Pray also for institutional staff.
∙ It is okay to keep your eyes open a bit (or have a member of your team designated to keep their eyes open) for control purposes.
The person reading the Scripture, during a worship service, is "echoing" the voice of God and setting the tone for the sermon or lesson. Have the text read with expression, reverence and impressiveness (see Nehemiah 8:8). Announce clearly, before beginning to read, where the Scripture is located (book, chapter and verses). Allow time for those who have Bibles to find the passage. Project your voice to those in the back of the room. Stand erect and speak clearly. Read God's Word so impressively that the prisoners' emotions will be stirred and their hearts turned heavenward.
If you are asked to give a testimony, do not view this as your golden opportunity to preach. Do not use denominational jargon such as, "Since I came into the message" or "After I accepted the truth." It is better to use such phrases as "Since I became a Christian" or "After I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior."
Keep your testimony Christ-centered and follow the ABC's of testifying:
A. Always tell what Christ has done for you and/or your family, telling things that are relevant to strengthening the faith of the prisoners. Don't glamorize sin by telling explicit details.
B. Be sure to keep it as short as possible, preferably 2-3 minutes. Don't try to tell it all. Remember that you are working in a scheduled time frame. The more you talk, the less time the speaker will have to deliver the Word.
C. Check your volume. Speak clearly and loudly, especially if no microphone is available, so you are heard and understood by all.
PREACHING OR TEACHING:
Messages prepared for preaching or teaching in a prison should not exceed 30 minutes (unless, of course, the Holy Spirit is moving in some dramatic way). Many inmates have limited attention span. You also want to leave time enough at the end of your message so that you can conclude things properly and visit awhile with the residents (the fellowship is important to them).
Make your messages relevant to inmates. Adjust your presentation to what you know about your audience. Character building and encouragement messages are always good. When making a point about wrongdoing, always use "we" to include yourself.
The following things should never be done in a message:
∙ Never scold the residents. Enough of this has been received from relatives, lawyers, judges, etc.
∙ Never make statements that can be misinterpreted by prison staff as a breach of security.
∙ Never downgrade other religions.
∙ Never present a "holier than thou" attitude.
∙ Never ask antagonistic questions or assume the group disagrees with you.
∙ In small groups, wherever possible, use the circle seating arrangement.
∙ In small groups, encourage class participation. The question and answer method is effective. Don't let one person dominate the conversation.
∙ Make sure everyone has a Bible and encourage them to read along.
∙ If you have to eject a disruptive student from a group, be tactful and courteous, but be firm. If necessary, get the cooperation of a correctional officer.
If you ask for response from the group at the end of a message--to accept Christ as Savior or rededicate their lives--be very clear about exactly what you want them to do and why. If you have a large group, it is best to have them raise their hands rather than come forward (security precautions).
Encourage inmates to be part of the service. For example, have an inmate sing a solo or share his testimony. Exercise caution with regard to the content and length of inmate participation. Keep in mind that you are working within a set time frame and you can allow only a minimum amount of resident participation at each service. If necessary, have a "waiting list." Be sure to screen solos inmates want to sing, as some who are new believers may not pick appropriate music. Always maintain control. Do not let any inmate take control of the group meeting.
In small group meetings--especially Christian groups dealing with addictions--provide opportunity for all inmates to participate and share. You may be jarred by one inmate verbally attacking another in such sessions. Intervene by directing the group back to issues rather than dealing in personalities.
Inmates who indicate their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal Savior during an appeal at the close of a group meeting--or at any other time--should receive follow up care while still in the institution.
If possible, their names should be secured and one copy given to the chaplain and another retained for you to follow up. Encourage them to attend Bible study sessions, Sunday services, and other opportunities offered in the institution.
If the institution provides a way for them to be baptized in water, they should receive instruction on this and opportunity to do so. (One prison has a horse watering trough which the chaplain fills with water for baptismal services.)
New converts will be like young children taking their first spiritual steps. Most of the time, their environment will be alien and opposed to their new beliefs. Constant support, encouragement and prayer is needed. They should:
∙ Be kept as spiritually active as possible by participating in worship services, Bible studies, and other Christian activities.
∙ Be given some responsibility in the ministry as soon as they are ready to accept it. Many are quite talented and their appropriate talents should be utilized for God's service. A study of spiritual gifts will help them identify and begin to flow in the gifts God has given to them.
∙ Be encouraged to continue regular attendance at worship services and Bible study sessions.
∙ Be encouraged to develop friendships with other Christians within and without the institution. You may want to assign a "spiritual buddy" to each new convert. This person will visit and/or write the resident regularly, as well as keep in touch after his/her release from prison. If the prisoner with whom you are working is transferred to another institution, the “spiritual buddy” can continue to write and provide encouragement and spiritual guidance. (Caution: Be sure the “spiritual buddy” is the same sex as the convert.)
ENTERING AND EXITING THE ROOM:
It is important—especially in large groups—to have established procedures for entering and exiting the room to keep things orderly. Some institutions require inmates to sign in so there is a record of their participation. Assign some inmates to remain behind and put the room back in order: Erase boards, secure equipment, put up materials, pick up trash, and straighten chairs and tables.
A Journey To The Harvest Field
The Approach: You can see the lights from ten miles away, illumined against the western backdrop of a glorious sunset. The road we travel is lined on one side with fig, peach, and nut trees which are now yielding their rich annual harvest. On the other side of the road the combines are harvesting hay. But ahead of us . . . where the lights burn in the distance . . . is the greatest harvest.
The Entry: As we drive onto the prison grounds, we first pass a guard post with numerous warning signs:
-You are entering a restricted area: No weapons, guns, knives, or drugs.
-You are required to consent for search of your person and belongings.
-You are entering an area with known AIDS infection.
-In the event of a prison riot, we have a policy of non-negotiation for hostages.
First we enter the visitors center. There we must remove all jewelry, any items in our pockets, our belts, and watches. A search is made of our Bible and book bag and we pass through the metal detector. We are then logged in, given a badge, and our arms are stamped with an ultraviolet identification code. We exit the visitors center to a small cubicle and wait for the large gate to slide open. When it does, we step inside another small cubicle. The gate behind us clangs shut with a loud crash, then the gate in front of us opens and we proceed on to the control center. At the control center, we ring the outside bell. The gate is opened, closes behind us, our identification is checked, and another large door opens. At last . . . we are inside the main yard of the prison facility. We are surrounded by tall fences topped with razor wire. We cross the grounds to a small room on the east end where the harvest awaits.
The Harvest: Simple wooden chairs fill a plain, rectangular room. There are no stained glass windows, no carpet, or comfortable pews. But the room is packed with the harvest of human lives. Women fill the chairs, line the walls, and sit on the floor.
-Let us introduce you first to AG, who is serving 15 to life for killing a drug pusher. Her life has been miraculously changed by the power of God. She is personally responsible for many other “lifers” who fill the classroom. They came to have their own lives changed when they saw the difference in her life.
-SK was a teacher until that fateful night when she drank too much, got into her car, and struck and killed a pedestrian. SK is now a born-again Christian.
-DL came from a background of Satanic worship. She was a high priestess in the church of Satan. As a child, she was abused by her step-father and had her first child at age 12. Serving time for kidnapping and drug related offenses, she bas been saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and obtained her college degree from a Christian university while incarcerated.
-AM came from drugs and prostitution. She never completed anything in her life that she started until she finished a course in the prison Bible college. She is paroling tomorrow, and tonight she stands with radiant face to give glory to God. She walked in these gates alone. She walks out with God.
We wish we had time to introduce you to each one of the students. They are former thieves, addicts, embezzlers, prostitutes, and murderers. What education, rehabilitation, and counseling could not do, the power of the Gospel has done. As we minister the Word of God, you will see tears of repentance. You will hear voices lifted in praise to God. You may even see dancing and shouting before the Lord. Although they are still behind bars and rows of razor wire fences, these women have found freedom in Jesus Christ. This is the true harvest.
SELF-TEST FOR CHAPTER SIX
1. Write the key verse from memory.
2. List various types of group meetings that can be conducted in jails and prisons.
3. Summarize guidelines given in this chapter for each of the following areas:
Preaching or teaching____________________________________________________________
Entering and exiting the room______________________________________________________
(Answers to self-tests are provided at the conclusion of the final chapter of this manual.)
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