Prison Diary: From the Revivalistic to the Ethical

What's the biggest challenge of prison ministry?

In my experience, the biggest challenge is shifting from the revivalistic to the ethical.

The theology and spirituality of my prison is revivalistic. By that I mean there's a lot of discussion about grace and forgiveness--Jesus died for your sins--and a lot of testimonies about God's provision or the Spirit moving. And by and large, I'm fine with this emphasis. Given the weight of guilt the men carry, a message heavy on grace is a good thing. And testimonies about God's faithfulness and the Spirit's presence lessen feelings of alienation and abandonment.

But my classes, exhortations, and preaching struggle when I move off of these revivalistic themes to the ethical. Talking about violence is a good example. Or asking the men to view their Christian brotherhood as deeper and more foundational than the gangs (largely defined by race and ethnicity) they run with.

Basically, my biggest struggle is the same struggle most churches have with spiritual formation, how to shift the focus away from justification to sanctification. By and large, prison ministry is focused on revival and evangelism. It struggles to do anything with spiritual formation.

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