I’m glad to welcome Alex Gonzales to LifeWay Pastors today to give his perspective on how pastors and churches can minister to police officers in the community. Alex is the pastor of Hickory Tree Baptist Church in Balch Springs, TX. He’s also the Field Ministry Strategist for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, ministering to 250 churches and pastors in the Dallas area. Alex has served as chaplain to the Balch Springs Police Department for the past 7 years. He and his wife Tabitha have two children, Cody and Avery.
I have been a Police Chaplain for the last several years; what follows is from my personal experience.
I have come to love the chaplaincy ministry. It’s not only been a blessing to me, but to our church.
This list is not exhaustive, but I do hope it would spark some creativity within you and encourage you to act.
1. PRAY. There is a need for us to pray that God will give us wisdom and life-giving words in the midst of these outreach endeavors. Before you do anything, pray.
When you can, pray with them. There have always been times in history where officers and their families have questioned their calling. It comes with the territory. In due time some of the officers will open up to you. Let them talk. Just listen. And when the time is appropriate, ask if you can pray with them. Put a hand on their shoulder and pray. Keep the prayer short and simple. Do not try to impress them with what you have learned in Bible college or seminary.
2. PICK UP THE PHONE AND CALL. Call your local police department to ask what is required to do a ride-along with officers on the street. You will likely be required to do a background check which might take a week depending on the department and or you might be required to do the Citizens Police Academy which varies from one meeting to as many as eight weeks.
In my opinion, ride-alongs are probably the best option before you schedule a meeting with the ranking or admin officers. Scheduling an appointment is not a bad idea; however, most officers and police departments want learn about you. You will have to earn their trust. This will not happen overnight. It may even take a few years, especially considering the tension that exists in some communities.
3. PATIENCE. You will need to practice patience. You will need to earn their trust. Officers will have to see you in action not just once or twice but for several months and even years. They will have to see you encouraging and loving them. Most officers will have a hard time receiving encouragement, but you must keep encouraging them, no matter how uncomfortable they feel or you feel. With that in mind, I always tell officers I spend time with that if they do not want me riding with them, I completely understand. I do not push the issue. Like many pastors, sometimes police officers just want to be by themselves.
It is important that you give these officers permission to be themselves around you—cussing, smoking, dipping, and all. When I ride with officers I like to tell them, “I’m in your office, so do what you do.” To break the ice, I will joke and tell them that when they come to my office it’s a different story.
4. PERSISTENCE. If you do not succeed at first, don’t give up! Don’t be a nuisance, but do be diligent. Over time you’ll be able to break through some of the barriers you face. Here are some helpful ways you can do that:
– Bake cookies. (Who doesn’t like cookies?) Find out how many police officers, jailers, dispatchers, etc. that work for the PD, and multiply that number by three. Gather some ladies in the church who like to bake and divide that number up among the ladies who are willing to bake. You might be surprised by the number of volunteers you will receive if you announce it from the pulpit. Remember to bag the cookies (three per bag) and tag them with something that says “Thank you for all you do – your friends at (your church).”
– Sonic drinks. (Who doesn’t like drinks from Sonic?) You can get large drinks in the morning for one dollar or there’s always happy hour (1/2 price drinks) at your local Sonic. Try to cover all shifts in the departments for that week. It can be tricky, but with proper planning you can do it. Be sure to let them know how much you appreciate them and that the drinks are from your church.
– Pizza or tacos. (Who doesn’t like pizza or tacos or breakfast tacos?) Like the other suggestions, figure out how many people are on a particular shift, and sponsor enough pizzas and or tacos to cover that shift.
These are just a few ideas.
Whatever you do for the PD, be sure to communicate with them what you are planning so they can be prepared.
5. PRIVACY. Once you’ve earned the trust of these officers by spending time with them on the streets (in their vehicles) or in their office, please keep your conversations confidential. When you earn their trust, you’ll have their trust. Don’t risk your newfound friendship(s) with a loose tongue.
I hope some of these ideas have been helpful or at the very least gives you some ideas to catapult you in the right direction as you minister to your local police department. If you’ve been a chaplain and seen some other things work, feel free to mention those ideas in the comments.