Recently, I spent some time with a ministry team in a prison. Some of the things that I heard that evening made think about how deeply our theology, our understanding of God, affects us.
There was a woman on the team – I’ll call her Carrie – who was feeling very uneasy and uncomfortable being at the prison. For me, going to the prison is the best thing that happens to me all week. I love how the Spirit moves there in our chapel service and I love the hunger for God that the inmates have. I don’t know if it will always be thus, but that’s how it is now. That said, I’m aware that prison ministry is not for everyone. But Carrie felt bad that this wasn’t her thing.
One of the other women said that we should pray for her, so we did. The whole time, I prayed the freedom of Christ over her. While God can and does call us to difficult ministry, it does not mean that in order to be ministry, it must be difficult. That is not in the Book. We are not required to force ourselves into ministry situations that are deeply uncomfortable in order for it to be authentic. She seemed to have a concept of God that led her to believe that she should be at the prison.
Authentic ministry is you giving of yourself, out of the bounty that Jesus and God have granted you, to someone in need. And people in need are everywhere. Not just prisons and hospitals and funeral homes. Those needs are just more obvious. Everyone is in need. Everyone needs a dose of uncommon grace and love. And really, ministry is just another word for caring, for loving.
So Carrie’s thing isn’t prisoners – so what? There are unlimited places for her to care and love for people, I’m sure of it, because “the world cries out.” I feel worried that she is going to either a) stop coming to prison and feel really bad about it or b) continue coming to prison, where she is hog-tied and barely able to minister because she’s profoundly uncomfortable. I would like to offer her the theological ground to stand on for a third option. c) She could leave the prison ministry with a clear conscience and a light heart, knowing that God has plans to use her wherever she will be. Perhaps one day she will feel pulled or called back to the prison, but for now, it can be someone else’s place of ministry. God is not a guy with a list of crap you’re supposed to do before your allowed to be considered a “real” minister. He just wants us to care for people.
I feel like I should have included about six pages of Scripture references in this post. Maybe tomorrow. Seriously. Maybe tomorrow.