Tag Archives: accountability

Caring for ex-offenders

This morning Marion and I were privileged to be part of a seminar on caring for ex-offenders, sponsored by a coalition of ministries in the National Capital Region.

For several months now – ever since becoming part of the All Nations church family – we have been waiting for an assignment.  We are loving the relationships in our life group and the bracing atmosphere of a church family that is hungry for the manifest presence of God.  We are also being challenged and stretched by some excellent teaching from our elders and visiting apostolic ministers, complemented by another body of equally probing online teaching coming out of International House of Prayer.  All this is good – we have been receiving much, for which we are grateful – but we are not satisfied just to receive, so we have been waiting for the Lord to show us where he wants us to use our gifts and the lessons we have learned and are still learning.  Since this morning’s seminar, I have been wondering whether we may have found our fit.  It’s too soon to say yet, but I am sensing that God may be preparing us for something.

Working with ex-offenders wouldn’t be an entirely new thing for either of us.  During my years at Queen’s, I served as a volunteer in the chaplaincy program at Collins Bay Penitentiary.  Marion and I were at Queen’s together for several years, and she sometimes came with me to the prison chapel.  I also wrote a Master’s thesis on prison ministry at that time.  That was over thirty years ago, but over the past few years I’ve had a couple of other involvements with men who have been on the wrong side of the law.  In our house church in Russell, Marion and I worked for a time with a young man who had been in the Regional Detention Centre several times for drug-related offences, and was trying to decide whether he was serious about following Jesus and getting off drugs.  More recently, we’ve done some prayer ministry and some informal mentoring with an older man who has spent most of his adult life in prison, gave his life to Jesus while in prison, and is now learning – with some ups and downs – to live as a free man on the outside.

I’m not afraid of, or repulsed by, ex-offenders because I really do believe that fundamentally, every one of these guys is just like me.  Like them, I am an ex-offender.  True, I have never committed any criminal offence according to the laws of Canada, and I have never spent any time in jail except as a chaplaincy volunteer.  Even so, like them, I have rebelled against a holy and righteous God who desires only my good.  Like them – and you – and every son of Adam and daughter of Eve – I deserved God’s wrath, not his mercy.  I have been a recipient of His  mercy, for which I am very grateful, but what I deserved was his wrath.  This is not a popular truth, but it is true nonetheless.  The Scriptures are very clear on this point.  This is why the Son of God spent much of his time with people whom society rejected as ungodly, unclean sinners – because they, at least, recognized their need for mercy.

I am like the ex-offender in another way as well.  I have a tendency to deceive myself and others, and to hide from the light.  True, in my case this tendency has been largely eradicated by years of living as a disciple of Jesus, but I’m not naive enough to think that I no longer need help.  I still need all the help I can get, and I am committed to continuing to walk in the light so that my heart can be fully restored and I can learn to live as a free son of God.  This is exactly what my ex-offending brothers and sisters also need.

I’m convinced that if damaged human hearts are to be restored, voluntary, intentional accountability in a mentoring or discipleship relationship is essential.  This conviction was reinforced by my past attempts at working with ex-offenders.  Because I believe this so strongly, the aspect of this morning’s seminar that especially “clicked” for me was the presentation on mentoring an ex-offender.  This approach is designed for ex-offenders who want to become part of a local church after being released from prison.  Marion and I have worked with discipling relationships for years, and also done a lot of personal prayer ministry – a form of Biblically-based, Spirit-led therapy that assists people to move towards healthier patterns in their emotions, their thought life and their relationships.  We know the power of intentional mentoring to change lives, including our own.  Ex-offenders are no different.  Their problems may be a little more deeply-rooted, but they are basically the same as anyone else’s problems.  They are the problems of the human heart.  They are not problems that are too big for Jesus to solve.  He has been restoring damaged human hearts for years.  What it takes is a willingness to walk in the light, which is impossible outside of committed covenant relationships, because none of us can see our own heart clearly without the help of others.  The Apostle James teaches that we are to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another in order to be healed.  I find this simple remedy to be powerfully effective.

Does this mean that I am soft on crime, or inclined to excuse ex-offenders because “they couldn’t help it”?  Not at all.  It is true enough that many offenders have been the victims of childhood sexual or physical abuse, or other wrongs perpetrated by others, but they have also been perpetrators of wrongs that are just as serious.  This is simply the outworking of the truth expressed in God’s word.  The sins of the fathers are visited on the children, generation after generation, until the cycle is broken by the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus and the word of God.  No matter how badly our hearts have been wounded by the sins of others, we are always responsible for our own actions and their consequences.  Until we accept responsibility we can never be set free. This is one of the key lessons that can only be learned as we walk in the light with others.  However, since our God delights in showing mercy, as disciples of Jesus we should be looking for opportunities to restore the one who has fallen.

Did I say that I wasn’t sure yet about getting involved in this ex-offender ministry?  Hmmm – it seems I may have talked myself into something.  But before I get ahead of myself, I’d better talk to my wife – and Ben, who encouraged Marion and me to attend this seminar – and a couple of our elders.  Lord, thank you for your amazing mercy and goodness.  If this ministry with ex-offenders is something you want Marion and me to be involved in, would you make it clear?  We only want to walk where You lead.



I am fascinated by words.  I guess that’s not surprising, for someone who likes to write. In particular, I find that exploring the etymology (origins) of a word often gives me a much richer understanding of shades of meaning that are not obvious at first glance.

Take the word integrity for example.  It comes from the Latin word integer, a term that is still used in mathematics and computing science to refer to an unfragmented number – a number that can only be whole (no decimals, no fractions).  The word integrity stems from a root that means not touched.  As well as referring to moral soundness and honesty, it is also used to refer to the quality of data (data integrity), the soundness of a structure (the integrity of a ship’s hull), and so forth.

One of my goals in life is to be a man of integrity.  In pursuit of this goal, recently I took some time to return to the ancient wisdom of the book of Proverbs.   I was reminded of the following words which a wise man spoke to his sons many years ago.

Above all else, guard your heart
For it is the wellspring of life

The author of this pearl of wisdom was Solomon, the King of Israel and author of the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, renowned as the wisest man of his day.  Solomon told his sons that he himself had been given this same advice by his own father, David, when he was still a little boy and the only child of his mother.

Solomon’s mother, of course, was Bathsheba – with whom Solomon’s father David had committed adultery in the greatest failure of his kingship, a scandal that had huge repercussions. So when David told Solomon to guard his heart, he knew what he was talking about.  David, to his credit, was never one to hide his sins. When he erred, he was quick to humble himself, admit his fault and turn back to God in repentance. And so, not many years after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, David – probably recognizing that it was pride and presumption that had led to his own downfall – impressed upon Solomon the importance of keeping his heart surrendered to God in single-minded devotion.

At first it seemed that Solomon was getting the message.  As a young man he showed great humility.  When God appeared to him in a dream early in his kingship, offering him any gift he might desire, Solomon — recognizing his inexperience and his need of God’s help to be a good ruler — asked above all for wisdom.   Tragically, later in life he didn’t follow his own advice.  His heart became divided and he allowed his pagan wives to lead him astray, worshipping their gods as well as the Holy One of Israel – with disastrous results.

Farther along in the book of Proverbs, Solomon wrote that the integrity of upright people guides their choices, but that people who practice duplicity (deceit) end up being destroyed by it.  Solomon discovered the truth of these words to his own cost.  His own duplicity – his breach of faith with God, and therefore with the people he served – led to the destruction of all that he had laboured to build.

Self-deception is the easiest thing in the world, a malady from which none of us is immune.  We are all capable of convincing ourselves that something is right when it is what we want to do.

That is one of the reasons why accountability relationships are so important.  My friend and mentor Larry Kreider, who is the international director of a family of churches and ministries, considers this so important that he has submitted himself not only to an apostolic council with whom he shares the leadership of DCFI, but also to a team of leaders  from other streams in the Body of Christ.  He has learned the value of a yielded heart.

Recently Marion and I felt directed by God to seek out a new church affiliation.  (If you’re interested in knowing why, read my previous post).  To us, this is a big decision, not a small one.  We want to bring a blessing to our new church, and help it to be effective.  We are hungry for genuine Biblical community, because we understand its power to transform lives.  It’s our heartfelt desire to leave an imprint, to influence the next generation with the values of the Kingdom.  For this to happen in an age of cynicism, we need to demonstrate that we are credible by living transparent lives. We find that many people are looking for someone they can trust, someone who is believable. To be trusted, we need to demonstrate that we are believable people.

This does not happen overnight. Trust can only be gained over time, but it can be lost in an instant.  Trustworthiness is a quality of character, the fruit of a lifetime of turning away from self-deception and cynicism, and choosing instead the way of humility and integrity.  It’s about the daily choice to run into God’s arms instead of running away when we’ve stumbled, the choice to run towards community instead of into isolation when we’ve been hurt or have failed in some way.  To have a believable testimony we need to be people who live without pretense.

For this reason I am very grateful that one of the elders at my new church has agreed to keep me accountable by reading my personal journal.  It’s in a protected blog, but I’ve given him access whenever he wants it.  Why would I do this?  Because life is too short for religious games.  I want reality, and the only way to get it is through honesty.  If my brother sees something in my journal that he is concerned about, he can ask me about it any time he wants.  I want my heart to be an open book before him. The only protection I want is the protection that comes from walking in the light.  That’s the only way to have genuine Biblical community – the kind of community that produces people of integrity who are prepared to be worldchangers.