Yokefellowship Prison Ministry is a relational ministry where Christian men and women meet weekly with inmates or returning citizens who are searching for a better way of life. Our mission is to help inmates and returning citizens “yoke themselves to Christ for salvation and changed lives,” – Salvation and sanctification! We do this through small group discussions and teaching and encouraging participants to lead disciplined lives.
Small Groups – Redemptive Fellowships
Yokefellows small groups are redemptive fellowships. Redemptive fellowships are communities of believers who minister to each other to bring about new life and spiritual refreshment. Redemptive fellowships love, accept and affirm one another through the grace and mercy of Christ. Its members grow in faith, encouraged by a special kind of fellowship that allows members to recover a sense of meaning in their lives. We experience God in redemptive fellowships.
re·demp·tive – adjective – acting to save someone from error or evil. “the healing power of redemptive love”
Why Small Groups? — It’s biblical!!! Jesus focused most of His ministry on small group leadership, spending the majority of His time with the twelve disciples while never neglecting the crowds and other disciples. Jesus Christ’s small group approach and the impact his disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, subsequently had upon human history is good reason to employ small groups to bring about Christlike behavior and attitude in others. And, Christ promised us that he would join us!
“For where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.”
— Matthew 18:20
YPM Small Group Definition — 3-10 inmates or returning citizens who voluntarily meet weekly for 1-2 hours, who are led by 1-2 YPM volunteers, and who have the shared goal of changing their lives through commitment to Christ, discipline in daily life, spiritual fellowship with one another, and ministry in and to the world.
Small Groups in Prison — Small groups can be even more effective among prisoners than among ordinary citizens. Prison life is a dismal existence. The inmate is stripped of identity and life becomes a wearisome routine. Fear, guilt, hostility and other grim prison “ghosts” haunt the prisoner’s every waking hour. There is no privacy and inmates live in close quarters with other inmates who have emotional, spiritual and social problems, sometimes sharing 8′ x 8′ cells. Inmates desiring a new life in Christ face continual ridicule of other inmates and have difficulty maintaining their conscious Christian discipleship. In a YPM small group, inmates can share their “common predicament, common penitence, and common faith. In an atmosphere of love and confidentiality, volunteers and others share the Word of God directly applicable to the topic at hand and their own life experiences that demonstrate the transforming power of God’s Word.
A Place to Learn — In small groups, participants learn to:
- “…be transformed by the renewing of the mind.” Romans 12:2
- “Be devoted…. and give preference to one another.” Romans 12:10
- “Accept one another.” Romans 15:7
- “Love one another.” 1 John 4:11
- “Encourage one another and build each other up…” 1 Thess 5:11
- “…speaking the truth in love….the whole body….grows and builds itself up in love.” Eph 4:15-16
- “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently..” Gal 6:1
- “…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16
- ….. and much, much, more!
The Basic Elements of the Yokefellows small group are:
prayer ~ worship ~ fellowship ~ guided discussion ~ sharing
All these work together to provide a redemptive fellowship through which persons may be led into the liberation of the Christian way of life amid bleak surroundings. An atmosphere is created in which participants can find the love and support of others who support their individual efforts to live the good life in the midst of a cold and alien environment.
Two Journeys — Yokefellow volunteers are to walk along side those who are participating in their small groups as they experience two simultaneous journeys. One is the inner journey where they learn about their true selves and their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The other is the journey where they are developing positive relationships with one another.
Guided Discussions — A Yokefellow small group may use endless topics and media to initiate dialogue. But regardless of the topic and means of communications, the facilitator needs to focus discussions on discovering God’s Word as it directly applies to participants’ lives.
Leading a Small Group – The following video contains presentations on leading a Yokefellows small group in any setting. The first half is presented by David Bowen, former Executive Director (2013-2018) and explains what small groups are and what they are not. The second half is presented by Nessie Whaley, YPM’s Northeast Regional Director.
“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.” – Harry Truman
Self-Discipline — It is one of Yokefellowship’s primary goals to teach and demonstrate self-discipline. In order to start making good decisions, self-discipline is absolutely critical, especially for those going from an environment where they have few decisions to make to an environment where the number of decisions to be made on almost a minute-by-minute basis is overwhelming.
It is important to distinguish between imposed discipline and self-discipline. Imposed discipline is all about structures, controls, and limitations. Imposed discipline has its value, but it is really the self-discipline that has intense value in our lives. Because prison is already a highly structured place, inmates tend to resist discipline when it come to religious matters. But it is the church’s responsibility and it is one of Yokefellowship’s primary goals to teach self-discipline. It is the essence of a successful prison ministry. Many prisons have opened their doors to Yokefellowship just for that reason. They know the value self-discipline has on life on the inside and outside.
Without structure, controls and limitations, life becomes distorted and unbalanced. Only discipline permits the spiritual nurturing that transforms people. Meditation, prayer, study and worship become superficial or nonexistent activities when there is no time allotted for them. Inmates need to know that discipline is essential for all aspects of life, including their spirituality.”
—Rev. Henry Covert, Ministry to the Incarcerated (recommended reading)
Spiritual-Discipline — Yokefellow volunteers use the “Yokefellows Seven Spiritual Disciplines” to teach and demonstrate self-discipline. There is no better lesson plan than the one God wrote in his book.
- The Discipline of Prayer – To pray everyday, preferably at the beginning of the day. (Luke 18:1)
- The Discipline of Scripture – To read reverently and thoughtfully, every day, a portion of Scripture, following a definite plan. (John 8:31,32)
- The Discipline of Worship – To share, at least once each week, in the public worship of God. (Hebrews 12:28)
- The Discipline of Money – To give a definite portion of my annual income to the promotion of Christ’s Cause. (Malachi 3:8-10)
- The Discipline of Time – To use my time as a sacred gift, not to be wasted, striving to make my daily work, whatever it may be, a Christian vocation. (Ephesians 5:15-16)
- The Discipline of Service – To try every day to lift some human burden. (3 John 1:5-6)
- The Discipline of Study – To develop my mentaql powers by careful reading and study. (2 Timothy 2:15)
An excellent study on the spiritual disciplines was written by Nancy Sickler, longtime YPM volunteer and former YPM Chairperson. The study has multiple scripture references for each discipline, as well as discussion questions and excerpts from Dr. Elton Trueblood’s books on the same topic: Study & Discussion Guide for Yokefellow Disciplines (PDF)