God's Word for today

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Scriptural reflections on prison ministry (2)

Passage: Titus 1: 7-8 (NIV)
"Since an overseer manages God’s household, [they] must be blameless — not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, [an overseer] must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined."

How does this passage relate to prison ministry?
People in prison have been fed the message that they are no good, have wronged society, and are deserving of their punishment, and in many ways the Church has been feeding them the same message. Our task as ministers is to show them the correct way, but it is far more important that we live out what we are saying. It is inappropriate for us to come along with a message that is condemnatory, when in many cases we are guilty of the same wrongdoing. The only difference is perhaps that we haven’t been caught!

I therefore believe that the relevance of this passage to prison ministry is not so much in terms of the criteria that are to be applied to the prisoners, but to us as ministers. We are to attempt, as far as possible, to live up to these requirements, while at the same time be real and genuine in cases where we too fall short. In this way, one can create a sense that both minister and prisoner are on a common journey together, both trying to become more Christ-like.

What relevance does this passage have for ministry?
There is an old saying that congregants listen to our sermons with their eyes, rather than their ears, and this creates a sense that people want to see that what we preach is a reality in our own lives as well. Our role as ministers is to be open, welcoming, and pastoral. We are also supposed to be able to “take a deep breath” and not react emotionally, but to be a source of stability and wise counsel.

As is the case with ministry within prisons, as ministers in general we need to recognise that we too are on a journey towards becoming more Christ-like – we certainly don’t have all the answers! However, in my limited experience in ministry, people appreciate it when we are willing to be a bit vulnerable in showing that we have not yet arrived, and are thus more willing to take our hands as we share the journey together.

How does this passage define serving for Christ?
This passage emphasises that serving Christ carries a responsibility – one in which the individual needs to be accountable with their own bearing. Serving Christ is born from a response to Christ’s hospitality and steadfastness – qualities which, as imitators of Christ, we need to emulate, especially as leaders in the Church.

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