Eletter, September 2014

WINNING WALK MINISTRY September 2014 ELetter

leading the disciple shift

What’s the most effective way to make disciples? By following this step-by-step game plan! Designed to equip small groups to multiply followers of Christ, this 12-week course helps you assess spiritual maturity, understand what it means to be an intentional leader, learn how Jesus used relationships purposefully, discover how the training process works, and much, much more.

Leading the Discipleshift Becoming a Disciple-Making Church is the goal for the church in the East Unit of the Arizona State Prison Complex – Florence. The facilitator of the course is our In-Prison Missionary, who with God’s guidance has selected seven other mature Christians that will go through this 178 page, 12 week course.

The group will discover the practical steps for transforming the congregation into a disciple-making church! Equipping the seven mature Christians with the tools and insights needed to bring the team together as a team that will succeed.

This 12-week interactive source encourages the group to assess their own ministries, create customized action plans unique to their environments—and find renewed purpose.

The Winning Walk Ministry Board of Directors are enthused about this concept of disciple-making and how it will enhance the prison church and also be carried out to the “free church” by the incarcerated upon release.

I ask you to pray for the participants as they go through the course and apply the knowledge and wisdom that God will give them as they interact with the church body.

Prison Religion

People often have “come to Jesus” moments in times of crisis, like while lying in a hospital bed with a critical illness or while holding on for dear life during an earthquake. These moments can instantly illuminate the frailty and brevity of life, causing a sudden realization of our dependence on God. One might question the authenticity of a faith conversion made in such dire circumstances: Is the decision genuine or is it spurred only by fear in a last ditch effort to “make it into heaven?”

As one can imagine, a similar phenomenon happens behind prison walls—to such an extent that it’s been coined “jailhouse religion.” Men and women get locked up and, in a moment of regret and despair, come to faith. Although we at Winning Walk Ministry rejoice when any inmate comes to know Jesus, we must also be aware of the tendency to make rash decisions without fully understanding the commitment.

spiritual jackets

Spiritual Jackets

Over many years of prison ministry, I have seen my fair share of “jailhouse spirituality.” As I work with volunteers in effective prison ministry, I have learned the importance of not only preaching and teaching, but also allowing room for real transformation to occur.

If faith-based volunteers are not careful, they can unknowingly create “spiritual criminals.”

“A spiritual criminal is one who wears religious values like a coat,” it’s external. You can take it on and take it off at will, depending on who’s around. It’s really not a part of you.

This “spiritual jacket” can actually do more harm than good, because it gives the volunteer false joy, and it denies the inmate the chance for a real, life-altering transformation. I caution volunteers to avoid the trap of enabling inmates to fake spirituality.

We have to marry two things together in order to be effective. We have to target the behaviors that contribute to criminal behavior and recidivism. But we also have to deliver this content in such a way that the ‘Aha!’ moment comes. The paradigm shifts and the new grid is in place so that new content can go on the new grid and the heart is changed. Otherwise, we’re just handing out “jackets.”

Transformational Learning

Dr. Jack Mezirow of Columbia University has long studied transformational learning—a level of learning that “induces more far-reaching change in the learner than other kinds of learning, especially learning experiences which shape the learner and produce a significant impact or paradigm shift.”

Three common themes that characterize Mezirow’s theory are experience, critical reflection, and rational discourse. These themes are not only present in the classroom, but in prisons as well, and they’re key to ensuring the opportunity for true transformation.

By taking into account a prisoner’s life experience, one can better understand their spiritual journey. For instance, if an inmate has never been to church, then certain red flags—like using overt Bible lingo—can help gauge their spiritual authenticity.

Furthermore, it’s vital to allow inmates to think about biblical principles and apply them internally, rather than just passively listening to a sermon. Mezirow considered critical reflection to be the distinguishing factor of adult learning, and the “vehicle by which one questions the validity of his worldview.”

I agree. Don’t just give information, provoke them to think.

And finally, Mezirow recognizes rational discourse as a channel for transformation, as “it induces the various participants to explore the depth and meaning of their various worldviews,” and articulate their thoughts. In group discussions, inmates are given the opportunity to speak with one another about spiritual matters, which in turn causes them to think about what they believe and the reasons behind those beliefs. This is imperative to their personal transformations.

A Catalyst for Change

Mezirow describes a transformative learning environment as “one in which those participating have full information, are free from coercion, have equal opportunity to assume various roles, can become critically reflective of assumptions, are empathetic and good listeners, and are willing to search for common ground or a synthesis of different points of view.”

As we focus on inmates, it is essential that our aim is to see the real change that only God can bring. Romans 12:2 speaks of this very transformation: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

So, perhaps there is a positive side to jailhouse religion. Everyone comes to faith for different reasons, in different circumstances. For inmates, we pray that even during their darkest hour they find the peace and love that can only be found in Jesus Christ. And, as responsible volunteers and mentors, we strive to walk with them as they discover their newfound faith, so it becomes an authentic, lifetime commitment.

A Working Relationship

the hardest thing for people who do turn to religion while incarcerated is that it’s not just about saying I believe in Jesus now God help me; that it’s about a working relationship with their Father God and Creator. The more that I encourage them to participate in their faith by praying and studying and seeking God and witnessing to others I feel that when they get out of prison they might actually be changed enough on the inside not to go back to their old lifestyle.

Want to make a difference? Help us by volunteering.

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