“Prisons are ripe for spiritual harvest. Many may not think that, but we have seen it through Philippi congregations,” said Ted Lindwall, a prison ministry specialist and contractor for Texas Baptists Philippi Prison Ministry.
Philippi congregations are small but active groups of inmates who, like Paul and Silas in Acts chapter 16, minister from the inside during their time in prison. These groups gather regularly to pray, worship, study the Word, disciple each other and testify to the love and power of God. They are led, not by outside volunteers, but by inmates who have been discipled inside the prison. They gave their life to Christ and dedicated themselves to minister to fellow inmates every day inside prison walls.
“The goal of most other prison ministry models is to bring inmates to Christ. That is an important endeavor, and it is certainly a part of our model, but Philippi Prison Ministry’s primary goal is to win and transform non-believing inmates into Christian missionaries,” explained Lindwall. “Our real objective is not just creating believers but empowering those believers to be missionaries and pastoral workers inside prisons, as well as in their home communities when they return to them.”
Phillippi congregations are currently active in as many as 100 Texas prisons. The ministry is overwhelmingly an inmate-operated effort, with staff like Lindwall and others providing the framework and support needed to help the ministry prosper. Lindwall explained that Texas Baptists funds make Bibles, training and other necessary resources available, but the inmates themselves take ownership over the ministry and are integral to its continued success.
“When inmates become missionaries, they are there around the clock, throughout the months and sometimes years, to make a difference for Christ behind prison walls. They may not have formal training, but it is a teaching ministry. They have had real encounters with Jesus and are passionate about teaching others about the gospel,” said Lindwall.
A ministry uniquely built for prison and beyond
This unique prison ministry model presents several advantages, like satisfying inmates’ desire to have pastoral care from someone who understands and lives their situation. The model also creates opportunities to reach other prisons as inmates are transferred to different facilities and fosters the potential for inmates to continue ministry after they are released.
Rather than creating passive believers, Philippi churches are focused on developing active missionaries dedicated to a life of ministry. Lindwall shared an example of the long-reaching effects of the ministry, which took place in the fall of 2021 at one of the men’s prisons.
“Three inmates were going to be released, and the Philippi members at the facility held a commissioning service for them. They prayed over them and asked God to bless them with fruitful ministry wherever they were going back to. Last we heard, one of them is already ministering back in his home,” he said.
The onset of the pandemic and subsequent restrictions and lockdowns in prisons across Texas only revealed more benefits to Philippi congregations.
“During Covid, Philippi groups were some of the only ministries still operating in the prisons. Why? Because the workers are inmates, not outside volunteers who weren’t allowed in. Almost all programs that relied on outside volunteers shut down during Covid to reduce inmates’ risk of exposure. As a result, we heard reports of increased ministry of Philippi groups, because they were one of the only options,” explained Paul Atkinson, director of Multi-Housing/House Congregation & Philippi Ministry.
Ministry going forward
With the success of Philippi Prison Ministry in Texas, Atkinson hopes to expand the model to other states soon. He and Lindwall are currently working with GC2 Press to publish material written by Lindwall that can be utilized to grow the ministry both in and out of state.
Atkinson and Lindwall also emphasized the need for churches to partner in ministry. It takes less than $20 a month for an individual or church to sponsor a Philippi congregation. This money provides inmates with study Bibles, Bible dictionaries and individual discipleship materials in inmates’ preferred language.
“I encourage pastors especially, but also all Christians, to work in prison ministry. You will be so encouraged. The response is so lively,” said Lindwall. “It’s easy to get on board. We’d be glad to help anyone. Maybe your church is already in prison ministry. We wouldn’t ask you to change your ministry, but we can help you put a new twist on it that can help reach even more people.”
Philippi Prison Ministry is a part of the Texas Baptists Center for Missional Engagement. To learn more or get involved, visit txb.org/philippi.