For years I’ve been totally convinced that jail and especially the longer term of prison time are one of the best instruments of training for a man of God in the making, and could well be more effective and natural than the more artificial classroom setting of Bible college or seminary.
I’ve believed this for three reasons:
(1) The best opportunity for God to demonstrate His grace and show Himself strong is among the dysfunctional, weak, and hopelessly messed-up: people with major, impossible problems. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mk. 2:17b) The Bible has many more answers than any of us have problems for, but those who have the most problems get to enjoy the most solutions and will spend the most time with the Great Physician.
(2) The most valuable commodity on earth is time, for it is the one thing most of us never have enough of no matter how much of everything else we have. Lack of it causes stress, keeps our relationships shallow, frustrates completion of projects and goals, and, most tragically, hinders or stagnates spiritual growth, prayer, and intimacy with God. No matter how hard we try to make room for more time, we rarely succeed at getting enough.
Yet ironically an inmate gets this extremely valuable gift in lavish abundance as a reward for his crimes!
(3) The most valuable goal, in fact the only goal of any permanent value, is wisdom in relationships. Wisdom guides relationships as the helmsman guides his ship. (Pr. 3:15; 4:5-9; 7:4-5; 8:14-16; 16:16; 24:3, Ecc. 8:5-6; 9:14-16, Dan. 5:11-14, Lu. 1:17; 2:52; 21:15, Acts 6:3, Rom. 11:33, 1 Cor. 2:6-7, Eph. 1:8,17; 3:10, Col. 1:9,28; 2:3; 3:16; 4:5, Jas. 3:17)
We were created for fellowship, the main activity of relationship. God gave us the responsibility of taking dominion over this planet, but dominion (rulership and authority) is only the means to restore, maintain, and maximize fellowship.
This is the other irony about jail, that as a reward for breaking the law inmates are handed on a silver platter some of life’s greatest challenges in relationships, like athletes supplied with the very best equipment for their training.
I see these three areas as God’s gifts donated to those we think deserve them least, but whom God knows need them most! That’s why I see jail and prison as potentially more effective for the making of spiritual giants than Bible college and seminary, and I’ve seen many inmates make use of these three areas to great advantage in their spiritual development.
But sadly, something happens in the spiritual birth canal as they transition from jail to the outside.
The above words were copied from my article entitled, Jail and Prisons Should Produce More Men of God in America Than Bible Colleges and Seminaries; Why Don’t They? You’ll find the whole article under the “jail articles” page.
Most people grossly underestimate the value of inmates in our jails and prisons. Jesus pointed out that ministering to them may well be ministering to Him (Mt. 25:39-40). I see them as gold mines. I’ve never seen more gifted, talented, intelligent, and yes, godly men, than I have in the jails and prisons I visit. The “revolving door” idea many have of men who never change may be true of the majority, but there are those who after the 50th time in jail finally metamorphose into their purpose in Christ.
We on the outside have it way too easy, and our “Christian lifestyle” is too often simply the convenience and blessing of following spiritual laws that work, and not the product of being birthed (metamorphosed) into a new (spiritual) dimension through co-experiencing our death and resurrection with and in Christ. That’s why the New Testament teaches so much about the relationship between suffering and the kingdom of God. Paul taught that “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Why? Because in the "comfort zone" we don't really know ourselves, too easily misjudge and criticize others, and have little motivation to seek to be intimate with God or getting involved in helping others. If you’re not into jail ministry, at least read Use It or Lose It: how faithful are you as a steward in the eight areas of opportunity available to you?