Kathy's Small Group Discussion Topics

This blog is a place that archives topics and stories used in Yokefellow Prison Ministry sessions in a county jail in rural Pennsylvania. You are welcome to use these ideas in your small group sessions. They would be applicable to use in Christian small groups of most any kind.

Location: williamsport, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, December 16, 2016

Back to the Basics

What lessons do you take into prison? What are your real goals with the sessions?

I want to present simple, short lessons that the guys can:

  • Understand / comprehend
  • Remember
  • Utilize in their life right away
For these in prison lessons, I'm drawn to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7. 

The Lord's Prayer is in there, along with the very important concept of forgiveness:
14For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

We must forgive other people in our lives if we want / expect God to forgive us. 

This provides good group discussion questions. 
  • Do you need to forgive someone? (No names please!)
  • What sort of things have been keeping you from forgiving someone?
  • Can you think of a time someone forgave you, that surprised you?
We can talk about the poison that unforgiving can cause in a person's life. Damage done. 

In the following weeks we kept reading a little forward, to the part about not being able to serve two masters. I use illustrations to help dig into the meaning:
  • Why does a car have just ONE steering wheel?
  • Why can a country have just ONE president at a time?
  • Why does an army have just ONE general in charge of it?
We can only serve ONE master at a time. God, or ourselves. 

Last night in the session, I asked the guys to raise one hand. Most did. I pointed out that either the person lifted a hand or not. There is no middle ground. 

Then, I pointed out that at 11:59 pm there were some absolutes:
  • Either I had read the bible that day or I had not.
  • Either I had spent time in prayer that day or not.
  • Either I had shown kindness to another person that day or not.
These are the disciplines of Christian living. As each day passes into history, either we have spent time praying, reading the bible and giving service to another person or we did not.

If we did not, how can we say that God was our Master that day?

After a nearly ten year hiatus, my hubby and I have returned to in-prison Yokefellow ministry.

For that time we had volunteers going in to lead sessions every week, so the work was being done.  Recently the main volunteer had something come up so he wanted a couple weeks each month off. So, we're back in!

We've aged, we have some health issues, some walking problems. But we're still both in love with God, and try to follow him. So, we go!

I wondered what we'd find inside now. How did the prison population change in ten years. What were the inmates like now? Would they be different from men we ministered to years ago?

I was sort of surprised to see that the guys are much the same, dealing with many of the same issues: Loneliness, anger of self, anger at the world, desperation.

This is why prison ministry is so needed. The inmates are hungry for hope. They have been set aside on a side railing of life for a bit of time. They have time to read books and pray and seek God.

I'll be posting our Yokefellow Session notes again. 

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Annual Yokefellow Conference

This past weekend, the Annual Yokefellow Prison Ministry conference was held in Lewisburg, PA at the Country Cupboard. This is an annual event that people from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states come to share a banquet Friday night and get training Saturday.

The keynote speaker this year was Don Smarto. He did a great job.

It's so wonderful to get to meet other Yokefellow Prison Ministry volunteers, share ideas and such. It helps each voluntneer to know that they are a part of a larger picture, not alone.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Catch Up

We had a good sized group of newly trained volunteers this spring (2006) so I've been sitting out most Yokefellow sessions for awhile.

It's important to let room for other people to grow and develop leadership skills, especially in a volunteer organization.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

What God does with tombs.....

We had a smaller group tonight... in county jails it is common to have periods of more and then less people. This can be due to sentencing schedules and state prison transfer schedules and such.

I try not to think too much about the numbers of people that show up to a Yokefellow session. It's not numbers that's important here, it's more about spending time with the inmates, showing them someone cares. By volunteers coming to prison shows them that God cares, too.

Tonight a couple of guys had some questions near the beginning of the session. One wanted to know how he could apologize to everyone he had stolen from. Another wanted to know if all sin was the same evil, or if sin had different levels of badness.

Questions don't necessarily need answers. I know that our tendency is often to answer any question asked, but in Yokefellow the important thing is discussion. A valid response to a question is to say to the group, "What do you think about this?"

Also note that these questions may have different answers for different denominations. We had good discussions with these questions.

We offered prayer, asking God to join us for the session. We sang some songs. We read a Psalm.

I asked the guys what we talked about in our previous session 3 weeks ago. They didn't remember.

Our bible reading tonight was Matthew 23:27 - about whitewashed tombs with rotting corpses inside. We talked about how much of life was a whitewash. Pretending that things were fine when they were not fine at all.

I asked the guys what they think God does with tombs. I suggested that God empties tombs - read.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas in jail

This session was just 3 days before Christmas. We opened the session as usual, offering prayer asking God to join the group, letting everyone introduce themselves, singing a few songs and reading a Psalm.

Then we talked about Christmas. Everyone shared some experiences from their youth. Lou told a story about the birds, a popular story that Paul Harvey tells every year around Christmas.

I said it would be difficult to be away from family and be in a small place during Christmas time. Then I reminded the group what Jesus gave up (closeness to God, vastness of space) to come to earth as a small, vulnerable baby.

I suggested that Jesus knew a lot about being away from family and going from freedom to a small, restricted place. Then men agreed.

No place to call home?

We started with prayer, let everyone introduce themselves, sang some songs, and read a Psalm.

For the lesson, we read Luke 2 and Luke 9 - Luke 9:58 - and talked about how Jesus was born in a borrowed, smelly space. And later when Jesus is grown, it sounds like he has no real home either.

We talked about homelessness. We discussed what it was like to be without a home. Everyone shared their thoughts and experiences.

Then we went to John 14. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God[a]; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Jesus, who came to earth in a borrowed place, makes sure we know we are wanted and will be cared for forever.

Praise God.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Worry vs. Trust

Some of our long time regular attendees are moving on to state prison. The group constantly changes because of new people coming into jail and regulars moving on. Recently we've had a core group of long timers. Now a time of change is here. It means taking time to get to know new inmates, listening to their stories, considering their backgrounds and needs while preparing the lessons for the group.

Prisons have different average lengths of stays. I think this county jail has an average stay of nine months. State prisons may have average stays of several years.

We sang 5 or so songs tonight. The men enjoyed the singing quite a bit. There seems to be something therapeutic in group singing.

We read Psalm 127. It's a short Psalm, so we repeated it several times so everyone could read a verse and be involved. We talked about what the Psalm means to us. We focused in on the first 2 verses. I asked the group what project they have been involved with, without God, that turned out poorly. Many men answered "my life" or "my family".

We went to Matthew 6:19 - 35 and discussed how to involve God in our lives.

Friday, October 28, 2005

How's your Foundation?

We had a large group of inmates come down for the session. I asked 4 of the men to offer prayer, asking God to join the group. Then we went around the group, each person giving their first name and saying how they were doing. We sang 4 or 5 songs.

We read Psalm 104. We discussed what the fellows thought the Psalm was about. I suggested it is about God creating and managing the earth. I asked the group to name the largest things they had ever managed or mismanaged. Many replied "My life", or "My family". I pointed out that God is able to manage the whole of creation. That brings some comfort to our worries, doesn't it?

We read the story of Samuel anointing David in 1 Samuel Chapter 16. We discussed what the story says. I suggested the story tells us that God does not necessarily judge in the same way that we do. In this case, Jesse hadn't even called David in from the fields to join the event. Let us draw comfort from the fact that even if our family rejects us, or judges us as weak or undesirable, that God can be looking for something different.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Living in the presence of Christ

We had a large group of inmates attend the Yokefellow session this week. We took time to go around the circle and offer prayer, then gave first names and comments.

We sang 4 songs. Then read Psalm 37. We discussed how quickly weeds grow in the summer. We looked at how the Psalm says "Fret not" 3 times. We talked about anxiety and shared examples of what we worry about.

The lesson was about living in the presence of Christ. We read John 15: 1-8. We talked quite a bit about the fruits of our lives.

We read the story of Jesus and Thomas in John 20. I asked the group what each person would do if Jesus appeared in the room with us right now. How would they react? How would their day have been different?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Surrender 1

It was good to be back in the prison. About 20 inmates came to the Yokefellow session. We prayed together then we sang together. Our focus was the topic of Surrender (or submission).

We read Psalm 81, each person reading a verse or two. We talked about the wonder of God, and the use of the phrase "the God of Jacob". How assuring that God would reference Jacob, the heel catcher, the deceiver, instead of simply saying "the God of Israel", which makes us think of the prince that has power with God. We can relate much easier to Jacob, can't we?

We visited Matthew 21:28-32 - the two sons, which happens to be bible reading for the upcoming Sunday. What we say is less important that what we actually do.

Then we discussed Submission. What does it mean to submit to God? Who or what has submitted to you?

How does a person submit to God? We shared ideas. The best idea I have for this is to practice the common christian disciplines of daily prayer, daily bible reading, weekly worship, regular giving, service and so on.

I asked the inmates to close their eyes and answer some questions if they felt comfortable. I asked how many of them were baptized. Then I asked if anyone who wasn't baptized would like to be baptized. Around 6 to 8 inmates indicated they would welcome the opportunity to get baptized. I do not know if inmates can get baptized in prison. As far as I know, protestant christian inmates usually get communion once during the week preceding Easter. It'd be good if baptism could happen and regular communion could happen in jail.

Have you ever had a friend that only called you when they were in trouble? Do we act like that to God?

Friday, August 26, 2005


Topic: Obedience
4 Yokefellow volunteers and 19 inmates gathered together to seek God this night.

We started with each person around the circle of chairs offering a prayer. We then had introductions and sang several songs. It's amazing how group singing can build a sense of community among a diverse bunch of people.

We went around the circle, each person reading a verse of Psalm 18 until we had completed the Psalm. Then we went to the Gospel texts listed here.

Bible Scriptures to consider:
Psalm 18:44 “As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me
John 14:23-25 - "If anyone loves me…”
John 15:10 – “If you obey my commands…”
Luke 11:27-29 – “Blessed rather are those who…”
Matt. 21:27-31 – “A certain man had two sons…”

Discussion questions
Do you expect people who love you to obey you?
Do you obey people that you love?
What part does power play in obedience?
Why do you think obedience is important to God?
What commands do you think we are to obey?