By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
OLIVER SPRINGS — It might seem to the casual observer that Matt Reed can’t avoid people who have life-controlling issues and/or have broken the law.
Reed has ministered in jails and prisons all of his ministry, which began 14 years ago at age 39, when he preached his first sermon in a jail. Reed felt called to the ministry while he was a fire department captain.
So he wasn’t surprised when in 18 months he saw 20 men make professions of faith in a 1-5-1 Harvest Plants group his church started at the Morgan County Recovery Court in Wartburg.
“I’d rather preach in jail than church,” said Reed. “The people in jail know that they’re sinners. The people in the church pew think they have done a few things wrong but they don’t think they’re sinners.”
Of course, his church is the exception, he quickly added. Reed is pastor of Orchard View Baptist Church, Oliver Springs. For instance, three or four members of the church help him lead the weekly meetings at the recovery court, a 100-bed facility for male drug offenders. The Recovery Court is a statewide institution and is the first in the nation.
Harvest Plants are off-campus efforts (outside the four walls of the church) geared toward people who don’t know Christ as their Savior for the purpose of sharing the gospel, discipling people, and starting churches. Churches that embrace this strategy make a commitment to start no less than 1 plant in the next year, making an effort, with the Lord’s help, to reach, win, and baptize 5 people through each plant, with the goal for each plant to start 1 plant by the end of the first year.
The 1-5-1 group is very popular at the Morgan County Recovery Court and draws from 15-20 people each week.
“They really look forward to our Bible study,” said Reed, who learned about the 1-5-1 strategy of the Tennessee Baptist Convention at a regional training event held during 2014 in Knoxville.
The residents of the recovery court who attend the 1-5-1 group which they call Focus Group also hold prayer groups during the rest of the week “at somebody’s bunk, so it’s been really good.”
The relationships formed between church members and court residents also led Orchard View Baptist to hold a Christmas party for the residents of the recovery court, which drew about 50 men. The church draws about 80 folks to Sunday morning activities.
Amazingly, Reed himself also has seen God expand his ministry to youth who have struggles some of which have to do with breaking the law. A bivocational pastor, Reed works as a teacher’s aide at an alternative school in East Tennessee. Alternative schools have some students who have been suspended from public schools.
All of his ministry “is about seeing people given a second chance. Most people would have closed the book on most of them,” said Reed, referring to people at the recovery court and even the alternative school.
Reed cited the many lives he has seen changed at jails and prisons where he has preached revivals including at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Petros, before it closed. Brushy Mountain was known for at least one inmate, James Earl Ray, assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. The pastor also has worked with Focus Group Ministries of Knoxville which has developed jail ministries at Anderson County Jail and Roane County Jail.
Jail and prison ministry “has been a blessing to me. We’ve seen some amazing things happen through the years,” said Reed.
The pastor also looks to the future which motivates him. As these new Christians leave the recovery court, jail, prison, or alternative school and move out into society where they begin attending churches and witnessing to folks, they will spread what they have learned about a walk with Christ, noted Reed.