Last week we attended the annual Summit of the Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association (CMCA), which we’ve attended since 2016. Over the years we have observed a wonderful shift in perspective toward prison ministry. The workshops, plenary sessions, and mealtime conversations were laced with talk about empowerment, where we help prisoners use their gifts to serve the Body. In years past, the talk was more about what people could do for the prisoner, that is prisons were seen as a mission field, a place where the gospel needed to be shared with the unreached. The truth is, there is already a vibrant church with bona fide leaders who are incarcerated. In other words, prisons have become part of the mission force.
Our colleagues Mark Walker and Quentin Valdois (The Cell Church) are dedicated to strengthening the prison church. They gave a magnificent workshop at CMCA, making the case that there is already an indigenous church on the inside and we can come alongside to strengthen them, rather than repeatedly coming in to share the gospel and count conversions. In other words, we can trust prisoners who follow Jesus to do the work of evangelism in their cultural context without us. This is a powerful idea and a paradigm shift for many in prison ministry.
Our Completion Global Board member, Mary Flin of TUMI Topeka, also presented a workshop at CMCA about the legitimacy of the prison church. In fact, in each of the four workshop slots at CMCA, we had colleagues who advocated for the credibility of the prison church to do the work of ministry in their prison culture. These include Matt Thomas of Firm Foundations and Charles Anderson of Epiphany Life Change. And we were especially happy to have a group of five people from our home church, One Community Church, led by Gabby Reed, present a workshop on our new prison ministry.
We are on the leading edge of this shift from mission field to mission force: prisoners serving as evangelists, elders, and missionaries, equipping the saints and leading people to Christ. They are doing this, not only inside prison, but as they are deported to other countries, and when they are released to serve in the local church on the outside.
Please pray for us as we consider a structure to accelerate the equipping of the Prison Church across America.