It’s Time for Correctional Ministry to Wade into Deeper Water

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People who are hurt the worst need the best discipleship.

Correctional ministry, whether a juvenile hall, jail, or prison, is shallow by design. This is in large part due to the correctional setting itself: limited time frames for ministry availability, lack of quiet and secure meeting spaces (especially for clergy-confidential counseling), an overload of request demand coupled with too few chaplains and volunteers, and finally—and with much consternation—a deliberate lack of support for religious programming by some institutional line staff.

Religious requests by inmates are derisively called “snivels” by line staff who see correctional ministry as naïve do-gooders pathologically coupled with whining and/or manipulative anti-social personalities dedicated to hustling the naïve do-gooders.

Much of this structural and systemic cause for shallow ministry will never be effectively remedied, and therefore in social sciences is a “root cause” for the very reason that is systemic at its core.

However, there is a secondary cause for shallowness that brims with missiological optimism.

This secondary cause for shallowness is the result of decades of perpetuated flawed ministry practices. The good news is these are practices which can be easily addressed for incremental improvement. To better understand this cause for self-imposed shallowness, let’s look at how correctional ministry is normally conducted.

If the facility has a chaplain (and most do not), the religious coordinator will make primary use of church teams. Several local churches will field a small team of volunteers and rotate church services and Bible studies on a monthly basis, usually. These church teams are made up of volunteers who have received a bare minimum of orientation …

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