Ministry to prisoners, prison staff and their families can impact as much as one-third of the unchurched population in Texas. Prison staff members hold high stress jobs that can impact them and their families significantly. Prisoners and their families are confronted with the crisis of incarceration and are looking for answers, assurance and assistance.
Churches looking to begin ministering in the criminal justice arena can take some simple steps to begin, according to Emmett Solomon, president of the Restorative Justice Ministry Network.
- Pray. Ask God to guide your actions. He will raise leaders and provide ministry opportunities in your path.
- Form a restorative justice committee or team. Ministering to prisoners, prison staff and those affected by crime requires organization. Pull three-four people together who are passionate about ministry in this arena. They will provide leadership for this effort and advocate for the ministry.
- Begin with prison or law enforcement staff. Meet prison staff and leaders or local law enforcement officials. Get to know them. Let them know they are appreciated. They work long hours and do difficult jobs. They appreciate words of encouragement, people looking to help and warm baked goods. As they see church members who truly care about them, ministry opportunities will arise. Prison chaplains are gateways to serve within prison walls.
- Be creative. Ministry to prisoners, prison staff and families takes many different forms because different churches have different talents. Let a church’s talents and passions shine through ministry. Take bottles of water to prison guards. Take staff members cookies. Watch police reports and attempt to help victims. If someone breaks into a house, have a team that repairs windows and doors for free. Let the Holy Spirit lead.