Some prison chaplains may discover that they have difficulties attempting to reflect on and evaluate their work and ministry, but there are guidelines that can make their process easier. Self-reflection is a valuable way to evaluate one’s own ministry strengths, weaknesses and limitations when providing institutional care.
One difficulty that chaplains encounter in their self-reflection is the lack of reliable information that is available for their ministry (Pace & Beckner, 2014). Most of the information used by chaplains is subjective. Measuring the quality of services, counseling and spiritual impact within a prison setting cannot properly be measured because it can differ drastically from person to person (Pace & Beckner, 2014). There is of course some objective information used in these evaluations such as how many members of the prison population are attending events, but this is not as crucial as understanding if the ministry is serving the members that are attending the services. To attempt to overcome this difficulty chaplains can analyze inmate and fellow staffer’s comments, concerns and praises during the events. This is still not objective information, but it is helpful to receive feedback from the people engaging with the chaplain and their ministry.
Accepted norms in the chaplain profession also hinder the ability to self-reflect on personal progress. There is no general set of required credentials to become a prison chaplain (Pace & Beckner, 2014). There are suggested credentials, but these differ by state and among state and federal prison systems. To become an ordained chaplain, one must be endorsed but these requirements also vary by denomination or the religious affiliation (Pace & Beckner, 2014). Since the requirements to become a chaplain are so varied on every level of the process it is difficult for a chaplain to fully realize where they should be in their level of education and involvement with their denomination or religious affiliation outside of their prison ministry. To combat this issue a chaplain could participate in an organization such as the American Correctional Chaplains Association (O’Dell). This association holds conferences, publishes articles and educates chaplains on national standards and certifications.
When beginning to self-reflect chaplains must consider what they are evaluating. They can evaluate external or internal results. If they decide to reflect on external results they will focus on measuring the product of the efforts of the ministry (Pace & Beckner, 2014). This would apply to how their congregation has grown or decreased, the number of declarations of salvation received and how many different ministries they are providing (Bible studies, prayer groups, etc.). However, if they would rather reflect on internal results they will focus on measuring how often they are able to perform the actions they stated they would perform (Pace & Beckner, 2014). Were they able to start a new prayer group? Did the members of the staff go through a certification program like they said they would? These questions allow a chaplain to evaluate himself and his ministry internally.
The 2014 Correctional Ministry Summit suggested that the acronym “SMART” be used when a chaplain is deciding the objectives they should use when evaluating themselves, their ministry and their goals (Pace & Beckner, 2014). “S” is specific. A chaplain needs to be specific about the areas they are analyzing in themselves and their ministry. It is important that the body, soul, and spiritual needs and goals are reflected upon, but they should be evaluated separately instead of together so that the proper attention is paid to each. “M” is measurable. If a goal or criteria cannot be measured, it cannot be determined when it is met; every part of the evaluation must be measurable. “A” is achievable. The Bible declares that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed nothing is impossible. However, sometimes very large goals should be broken into small pieces so that the goal can become achievable. Otherwise, the goal may become overwhelming and frustrating to the point where it is given up on. Reasonable is “R.” This is very similar to achievable because large goals can be broken into smaller pieces so that they have a better chance of being completed. Lastly, “T” stands for time-bound. If it is not decided when something needs to be accomplished, then it can be postponed indefinitely and thus it cannot be properly evaluated. Every activity and goal in a chaplain’s life and ministry should have a deadline for its completion.
Other factors to take into account when a chaplain is reflecting on their ministry is their mission: how often are they being responsive to God’s direction (Pace & Beckner, 2014)? This leads to an important base of self-reflection because it reveals and separates what must be completed as opposed to what could be completed. Next, how are their resources or funds being acquired and then used for staffing, programing and the meeting areas or offices (Pace & Beckner, 2014)? Perhaps there are grants that they could apply for or their meeting spaces could be optimized. Another aspect to consider during reflection is if the ministry is supporting and creating relationships within their community and fellow staff outside of the ministry. The ministry should be involved with everyone that exists in their community because that is how the chaplain can serve and spread the Gospel to the greatest number of people. Yet, another factor is the restrictions made on the legal, federal, state or prison level (Pace & Beckner, 2014). Each state and prison have their own laws and customs, so a chaplain needs to familiarize themselves with them. This will allow the chaplains to understand the restrictions that they may face and provide them with strategies to overcome them. Finally, what is the view of the prison that the chaplain is working in (Pace & Beckner, 2014)? This is important because the prison may have a specific idea of how a chaplain should be contributing to the prison community. If a chaplain is not aware of the prison’s view tension can arise between the parties and the chaplain may be held back from completing everything that they hope to.
In order for a prison chaplain to be successful in their mission, they must first self-reflect and then act.
O’Dell, T. (n.d.). Acca. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from http://www.correctionalchaplains.org/
Pace, D.K. & Beckner, W.T. (2014). Chaplain & Chaplaincy Evaluation [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://www.cmcainternational.org/cm/1034_Pace_EvaluatingCorrectionalChaplaincesAndCorrectionalChaplains.pdf