Bro. Michael Rickenbaker, tell us a little about yourself and your ministry background.
Raised with no knowledge of Pentecost, I was 21when I attended a Pentecostal church for the first time and gave my heart to God. Immediately, the Lord began to deal with me about reaching others just like me. I knew where to find them, because the Lord saved me before the law caught me.
Within months, and with the approval of my pastor, Bro. C.M. Becton, I gave my testimony at a Tennessee State Prison and felt the anointing of God come upon me for the first time. I have felt that same anointing literally thousands of times in prisons since then.
Christian Prisoner Fellowship is a ministry of North American Missions of the United Pentecostal Church. Men like Charles Mahaney, Jack Younts, Joe Ellis, Albert Dillon and I were in the original team when Christian Prisoner Fellowship began in 1982.
My wife, Allison, and I have three children, all involved in ministry. I pastor Christ Community Pentecostal Church in Henderson, Tenn. and am very much involved in prison ministry. I hold four services a month at my local jail, and three Sundays a month within the Department of Corrections.
Few churches have an active prison or jail ministry. Why do you think this is?
We often direct our ministry and funds toward maintaining the church, both in programs and property. I believe that’s why so few churches have an active jail ministry. Churches are stretched to pay a monthly note, keep people encouraged and involved, and take care of buildings, busses, etc. Jesus spoke of preaching the gospel to the poor and the broken hearted. We find those in prisons.
Churches may also feel prison ministry would be costly. Actually, it is the greatest opportunity to reach into our community with the least possible cost of any ministry we could become involved in. Where do you find a state-of-the-art building, furnished with a chapel, chairs, pulpit and baptismal with a congregation waiting? You never have to pay a monthly note or light bill. It’s an amazing opportunity awaiting local churches.
What are the benefits of an institutional ministry for a local church?
Prison ministry expands the preaching points of our fellowship. We presently run 200 in our congregation, but if you add the men being ministered to in prisons, that’s an additional 75 people. You don’t have to convince prisoners they have sinned. They know that. They just need a Savior. The word penitentiary comes from the word penitence, meaning repentance. The history of prisons shows they were initially established as places of repentance, where men and women could go and be penitent for their crimes and be released with a change of heart.
If all of heaven rejoices over one sinner that repents, I can’t think of any other ministry of the United Pentecostal Church causing more rejoicing in heaven than the true repentance of sinners as a result of this ministry.
What are the common barriers to starting such a ministry, and how can we solve them?
Anything unfamiliar brings some hesitation. In many cases, pastors are uncomfortable, because they’ve never done it. If someone in their church approaches them with a burden to get involved in prison ministry or a halfway house, they are not sure what to do. They can go online at www.christianprisonerfellowship.com and draw from great resources there. Pastors can also send their people to CPF training events held in most districts. A National Conference/Training Seminar is scheduled on February 9, 2017 at Bro. David Myers’ church in Palm Bay, Fla. It includes two full days of training.
Reading up on prison ministry is very helpful, and we have district chaplains all over the fellowship to come in and answer questions and provide video training. The four-hour certification training is also available by registering at www.christianprisonerfellowship.com.
What does the Bible say about this ministry?
The bottom line regarding prison ministry is not how much it costs. Outside of a burden, there is very little cost. We must ask ourselves, “Did we get involved to touch the bruised and the hurting?” And look what Jesus said about the benefits to the sheep on his right in Matthew 25:34, 36, “… Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” Jesus said this in verse 40, “Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
What are some of the success stories you can point to?
Thirty years ago, I baptized a lady in a maximum security facility. She received the Holy Ghost, got out of prison and has remained faithful. For the past five years, she has been going back into those prisons to minister.
We can’t count the number of ministers, licensed with UPCI, who came out of prisons. Chris Aton pastors in Alabama. I mentored Tory Campbell, who spent eight years in a federal prison for drug charges, and I baptized nine members of his family. He ministers in a home missions church in Shelbyville, Tenn. Kelly Caywood’s life was horrible from age 4-40. He now pastors in Iowa. David Doyle spent 28 years in Louisiana corrections, was sentenced to life without parole and sentenced to die in the electric chair. He’s been out for several years and is a licensed district prison chaplain for Louisiana, going back into those prisons and preaching the gospel. The list goes on and on.
Tell us about your book, Breaking into Prison 2.
It was birthed out of the need for training, motivation and direction. We often come together in events and receive motivation but little direction. When I first got involved in prison ministry, the home missions division wanted me to write and publish the materials I was teaching in national and regional seminars around the nation. Breaking into Prison 2 covers over 40 years of prison ministry experience. It addresses the unexpected areas one might encounter in this ministry and provides a study guide to help navigate the prison system and make one’s ministry fruitful. Breaking into Prison 2 ($14.50) is available through www.christianprisonerfellowship.net and PPH and will soon be available through other sources.