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Conducting Worship Services

In the Criminal Justice Ministry, the area of ministry most often provided is the worship service. Many institutions have an adequate number of services, but usually one of the first requests made by a new Institution is the provision of a service. This God given opportunity holds great potential if the worship leader takes the time necessary to clarify his worship goals (purposes) to make adequate preparation, to learn about inmates and how to listen to them and to develop a comprehensive preaching plan.

In order to do this the chosen worship leader should ask and answer several key questions:

  1. What could be some worship goals or purpose?
    Someone has suggested these three goals.
    1. To provide an authentic witness by presenting Jesus Christ as the only one who can forgive sins and give the gift of eternal life.
    2. To assist believers to develop a Christian lifestyle through the presentation and application of Biblical truth.
    3. To provide an opportunity for worship (praise, thanksgiving, confession and commitment) in the worship service.
  2. What do I do to make adequate preparation?
    1. Begin to learn all you can about prison life, the needs of inmates and the institution in which you will work.
    2. Attend training opportunities, read recommended books and materials and talk with officers, chaplains and experienced workers. Then visit with inmates and listen…listen…listen.
    3. Plan a balanced preaching/teaching program designed to bring inmates to Jesus and to guide them in Christian growth and development. Most preaching in prison seems to address the evangelism factor only.
    4. Plan to use a wide variety of scripture passages, not just well known favorites.
    5. Design a preaching/teaching plan that will teach these concepts that help inmates heal themselves as they learn and apply them.
      1. How to love and be loved
      2. How to forgive and be forgiven
      3. How to accept others and be accepted
      4. How to live ethically
      5. How to use the two keys to freedom:
        1. Respecting other rules of society and taking responsibility for your own actions.
        2. How to dream of becoming a useful member by God’s standards of a family and of other society in which he/she lives and may live in the future.
    6. Get approval for an adequate follow-up strategy and materials to assist an inmate who makes a decision (commitment) to Christ in anyway, in a worship service.
    7. Pray…Pray…Pray…
      1. Pray that Jesus be recognized as Lord and Savior.
      2. Pray that the Holy Spirit will guide your preparation and worship leading with the inmates.
      3. Pray that each inmate will have his/her needs met through participation in the worship services.
      4. Pray that officers or others present may also receive a meaningful witness that the Holy Spirit will use to meet their needs.
  3. What do I do as a Worship leader in a service?
    1. Provide plenty of music time. Inmates love to sing with or without instruments. Help them select music appropriate to the service and appropriate to the cultures represented.
    2. Create a positive atmosphere of worship. Use scripture, themes, features that lift, encourage and bring hope.
    3. Provide an opportunity for personal prayer needs and concerns. Pray for them in a definite way.
    4. Preach/teach in the common man’s language that the inmates can understand and with which they can identify. Use stories, drawings, and objects in messages presentations.
    5. Provide ample time for decisions and praying at the invitation time.
    6. Have a question and answer time to clarify message.
    7. Be sure to get names and identification numbers of inmates who make decisions or need further assistance for approved follow-up assistance.

Always remember to plan far enough ahead in order to give plenty of lead time to get any anticipated program changes; guests, new materials, etc approved by the chaplain and/or institutional authority persons under which you work. Never announce anything to the inmates until full approval has been received.