Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content

Skill Builders

Home > Skill Builders


My 30 Years of Ministry as a Prison Chaplain

12 lessons I have learned leading and preaching to my congregation.
My 30 Years of Ministry as a Prison Chaplain
Image: Wirestock / Getty Images

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” -2 Timothy 3:14

Most of what I learned in prison ministry was not taught in a school of higher education, though I did glean some valuable tools there. What I learned during my three decades in the York County Prison primarily came from the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

My congregation consisted of criminals, from petty theft to drug pushers, to murders, immigration detainees, and everything in between.

Here are 12 lessons I have learned.

1. I have learned from my dad, show up on time every day and early. My dad was a dedicated employee. He walked in the snow about two miles to work which stuck with me as I grew up.

2. I have learned to ask others for help. Many Pennsylvania Dutchmen like me have a habit of doing things themselves without asking for help. I have learned I cannot provide all the services and ministry opportunities by myself. I needed the help of over 300 volunteers the size of a secular company. I have learned how to assemble a team with reliable and trustworthy people.

3. As a result, I have learned to trust people with tasks I do not have the skill set to perform. Chaplain Teresa cared for the females in a way I could not. She was the visionary of my team. In addition, she had an awesome memory. She would remind me of an event or something that I said in the distant past, that made me envious of her memory power.

4. I have learned to prioritize family matters. The Lord called me first to lead my family, before I was called into prison ministry, so family came first.

I took my dad to Chemo treatments, his urologist, both of my parents to dentist appointments, regular Dr.’s appointments … lost time? No!, this was an investment in dad’s life. On his deathbed he confessed Jesus as his Savior. He spoke to me clearly and said “Jesus is my Savior” 3X’s … Praise the Lord!

I took Kristen and Sherry, my two daughters to the dentist, went on a few field trips with them during “working” hours. My wife Carolyn or our girls could call me in the office at any time with the exception when giving a death notification. (By the way if you have children at home or out of the nest take this day to tell them you love them.)

5. I have learned who the enemies of the gospel are. Religious do-gooders, cults, the local cub news reporters, trying to make a name for themselves and other self-appointed preachers.

6. I am not afraid of a scrap; (I was known as the “scrappy chappie” because I am a Vietnam decorated Marine). I have learned to pick my fights. I, along with the prison administration, was named in three lawsuits, we went before the P.A. Human Relations Commission, over frivolous matters originated by inmates and religious outsiders and we won each instance. I have learned how to deal with J.W.’s and inmates who “profess” to be Muslim or Jewish, to manipulate the system for religious accommodations.

7. I have learned to make and keep notes. In the time we live it is imperative to verify everything. The notes I kept and presented at the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission shut the mouths of our accusers.

8. I have learned to always accept gifts offered by a precious child. Some projects that were offered by public schools, private intuitions, or children’s Sunday school classes which may not have been appropriate for a maximum-security prison, but when they came to present to me their project, I accepted it in the spirit it was given. God bless them.

9. I have learned “the task ahead of me was not as great as the power behind me.” I came close to burn out on several occasions. I was anxious about our financial circumstances, fundraisers, banquet preparations, volunteer training meetings, mission conferences, administrative responsibilities, and the list went on. As many of you have learned, through personal trials, loss of a loved one, failing health, cancer, unemployment, and deep concerns regarding the direction of our country. We have all learned: The Lord is still on the throne.

10. I have learned to say “Thank you.” As a home missionary serving with Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, the largest supplier of civilian prison chaplains in the U.S., my home church has been so kind to me as my principal supporter during my chaplaincy. My thanks to them will ultimately be seen in that great gettin up morning, when they see how many inmates, staff, and correctional officers trusted in Christ as a result of their support and prayers. For myself and on behalf of those who have trusted Christ through my ministry, as well as some who will yet trust Christ in our prison resulting from their continued prayer and support …

I expressed to them publicly with a heartfelt … THANK YOU … Well done!!

11. I have learned to remain teachable, the plasticity of the brain is amazing. At almost 73, I enjoy reading and ministering to my fellow veterans, especially those who are still dealing with the flashbacks of the Vietnam War.

12. I have learned I can be replaced. My position in the chaplain’s office can be and since my retirement after 30 years of ministry in the York County Prison has been filled. The chair in my old office has been filled, but my chair around the supper table at home cannot be filled. There it remains an empty chair. It comes back to priorities.

Ron Bupp retired after 29 years as Senior Chaplain in the York County Prison (York, Pa.) and has earned a Doctorate in Biblical counseling.

Related articles

Jeremy Kimble

A Soul Fully Satisfied in God

Our ministry ought to come from the overflow of our relationship with God.
Geoff Chang

Spurgeon’s Preaching Prep Process

4 principles we can apply to our sermon prep.
Jeremy Kimble

Preaching that Leads to Gospel Conversations

Connecting our preaching to our hearer’s everyday lives.