Evangelism and the Special Needs Ministry
Rev. Jeffrey L. Cottingame, D.Min.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...
St. Matthew 28:19,20a

In this Great Commission Christ accosts us to make disciples of everyone. Ministry begins with the sharing of the gospel with those who do not know the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many churches and Christians have been lulled into a false sense of "arrival", thinking that just because they are born again and involved in the church that they are finished with the work of Christ in their lives. There are countless ways to carry out the Great Commission in our lives. Missions, tent revivals and being Pastor of a church are just a few ways that one can engage in personal evangelism. There are, however, more options that require fewer resources and a less grueling time commitment. Many ministers in the 21st century are "tentmakers". Ministering and vocation are no doubt central themes to all such ministers yet they must make a living for themselves.

What are the other options available to those who wish to minister? There is a great need in the following areas: prisons, jails, nursing homes, hospitals, street ministry and ministry to the physically and mentally disabled.

...I was in prison and you came to me.
St. Matthew 25:36c

One of the most rewarding and challenging ministries in the world can be the prison and jail ministry. There are many useful and resourceful organizations today that lead nationwide outreaches to prisoners in federal and state institutions. In spite of these groups there is still need for more armed soldiers in the field. Prisoners are faced daily with the corruption of the world in a subculture that is a collection of those who have for the most part lived their lives in utter disregard for the law, themselves and mankind, not to mention God. There is perhaps no other group where there is greater need and a greater opportunity with whom to share the gospel.

First an understanding of how to approach prisoners in ministry is imperative. Come to the prisoner as a friend. Just be there and listen to any concerns that they have. They will tell you what area of their life needs ministry. Do not probe nor seek to discuss the details of their crime. Introduce yourself on a first name basis. They are not interested in your degrees or titles. Prisoners will naturally be leery of trusting an outsider. One must remember that prisoners have selective respect for other inmates and you will be no different. You must earn respect from them.

Ministering to the prisoners offers some challenges with which ministers and lay persons should be familiar. Many prisoners are bound by and display addictive behaviors. A large percentage of prisoners were and are involved in the drug culture. Some are addicted to sexual behavior ranging the entire spectrum of perversions. Others enter prison carrying various addictions such as gambling, alcohol and power. It is prudent to keep in mind that the hopelessness and powerlessness that go along with addictions leaves the victim feeling as though they are unworthy of receiving the grace of God. However, God provides a way out of these chains and forgiveness for sins. Communicating the love of God and the grace of Christ is the foremost responsibility of one who is ministering to prisoners. All else will fall in line. For the most part, the prison minister is in the ministry of deliverance. Salvation comes through the acceptance of Christ as our propitiation before God and confessing our sinful nature and need for a messiah to God. However many Christians remain in bondage to sin needlessly. Deliverance comes through confession of our sins to one another and receiving the prayers and help of the body of Christ. Some prisoners that you encounter will already be Christians. Some of those will be in need of freedom from their bondage to addictions and sin. The apostle James tells us to "confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." James 5:16. The Greek word for "healed" is the same word used for the phrase "make whole". In our confession and prayer one for another, the Father acts and makes us whole.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James 1:27

This scripture clearly calls us to be a blessing to those who are without families and friends. To pray with them, read scripture to them and just to spend time with them. There is an abundance of these type people in nursing homes and assisted living centers today. Many of them are churched and in need of fellowship. Some do not know Christ and are the very people that the great commissions beckons. It is certain that while ministering in a nursing home you will encounter those will illnesses. Just by asking, most will allow you to pray with them. Playing a musical instrument can be an asset as well. The experience of just hearing some of the old hymns that they grew up on is a great blessing to so many of the seasoned saints that you are likely to encounter. The nursing home ministry is one of fellowship and love. It is important to be a good listener and not so much and eloquent speaker. You are likely to learn much from just lending a hearing ear. This is a pleasant ministry rewarded by many hugs as well as the respect and love of some who are blessed saints of God.

Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.
James 5:14-15

Another special needs ministry that is worthy of mention is those who are hospitalized. The scriptures make several references to ministering to the sick. The early church saw the miracles of healings. There have been many documented cases of healings and miracles since that time. This type of ministry requires a keen scriptural understanding of the nature of illness and what the will of God is concerning illness in our lives. Varying opinions exist on this subject. It is not the scope of this expository work to sing the benefits of one position over the other, its’ scope is simply to inform the minister that this topic will come up in the course of your ministry. This ministry will span all ages and all illnesses. It is certain that not all that you pray for will be healed. Therefore, it is a ministry that can bring along with it quite a bit of heartache as well. There are many ministerial manuals on the market that contain rites for prayer for the sick in them. Two very good sources are the Book of Common Worship, Pastoral Edition commissioned by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Book of Common Prayer by the Protestant Episcopal Church USA. In this capacity you may be called upon to administer what is known as "Last Rites". This is a foreign concept to many Protestants. However the afore mentioned books will offer further insight into these ceremonies and will help you prepare for this occasion.

Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.
Matthew 22:9
In this beautiful parable, Jesus hints of the acceptance of the gentiles to the wedding. Just like these servants who went into the streets to fill the wedding hall for their master, many ministers feel compelled to go into the highways and streets and invite others to the wedding feast that is to come. Most small towns in America have a "drag" that is a hangout for teenagers and young adults. All large cities have areas that are densely populated with large numbers of people on the street. It is for this reason that street ministry is best executed in the evening and at night. Most people during the day are fast on their way to work or some other pressing task. At night and on the weekends more people are out and about for leisure not business.

In a street ministry there are several considerations that must first be carefully weighed. Jesus sent the seventy out two by two. It is important not to go alone. Always take at least one other person with you for safety and if possible, deploy an entire group that can begin at a central point and recollect at that point at a set time. With the advent of modern technology, it is very possible for each group to have a cell phone available in case of emergency. Do not be pushy. It is not your intention, nor your goal to turn people off to the Gospel. It is your wish to present the lost with the abundant grace of the Father. The best approach is to simply ask a passerby, "Can I ask you a question?" or "Can I share something with you?" Being pushy can cause a confrontation that could land you in jail or the hospital. Neither of which would be the goal of your efforts. Know your city's or town's laws concerning curfew. This is very important if members of your ministry team are part of your youth group and underage. Have literature available. There are many reputable tract companies that provide a wide variety of products at a reasonable price. Most people you encounter that are ready to hear the word will need literature to help them in their choice. For those who make a commitment to follow Christ you can give them a New Testament or a Bible. Although this sounds expensive, it can be a small investment. Check local "dollar" stores and bookstores for paperback versions of the New Testament or the Bible. Many people do not even own a Bible and those you lead to Christ will need the Word to feed them. After ministering to people on the street, make sure that you get a phone number so that you may follow up with them at a later date. Give everyone you lead to Christ the name, address and phone number of a local church where they can receive further help. It is ill advised to give out personal information, such as home address and phone number. Last but not least, PRAY. You and your team or partner should pray together regularly and most definitely before you begin ministry. Pray that the Lord will lead you the ones who are to be won for Christ.

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15

There are varying degrees of mental and physical disabilities that people face. And varying degrees to which those can comprehend and receive the Word of God. Our Saviors heart goes out to those just as it does to every person on the planet. It is for this reason that the amount of space needed to cover this awesome topic is massive and not to be represented in its full scope in this limited work. The best way to pursue this type of ministry is to narrow the focus. Some may wish to work with those considered mentally retarded. Others may wish to work with paraplegics or quadriplegics. Regardless of the physical or mental challenge that these people face, they are still in need of ministry in much the same way as everyone else.

The great commission applies to all men, women and children living. Ministry opportunities are abundant and available everywhere. Prayer and searching will reveal what type of ministry is best suited for you. Many have answered the call to serve God’s people as ministers, but have not found an adequate avenue for their talents. Special needs ministry allows for many ministers to offer themselves as servants of God's people.

copyright 2002 Rev. Jeffrey L. Cottingame, D.Min.
Used by permission.